|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
As a former member of the Griffiths committee, it seems to me that this debate has a sense of deja vu because the speeches today are almost identical to those of that time. The reassuring effect of that is that nothing terrible has happened in the past six years since then. However, that is not to say that something will not happen. The main value of the code, as produced, is that it demonstrates the awful
We should aim for a sense of proportion. I shall be very brief. The only problem that I have with declaring my own shareholdings--I also practise as chairman of an investment company, which has a sizeable amount of shareholdings--is that I would be horrified if more people than necessary knew how the shares had performed over the past two years. Indeed, the sheer shame of it.
I have been in this place for 20 years. Throughout the whole of that time I have been either chairman or chief executive of publicly quoted companies. I hope that I have always declared that interest. There has never been an occasion where my participation in any debate in this Chamber could conceivably have affected any of those companies in any way. That is the real world. There have been several occasions when I have been involved in intensive negotiations and lobbying with government departments about legislation, but they have always been conducted between civil servants and representatives of the industry. It simply is not true to say that if one really wants to help BT, BP or any other company, that the best way of doing so--or the most likely way to achieve that aim--is through the Committee stage of a Bill going through this Chamber. One might make some speeches, but, in my experience, such companies have direct access with a specific official who is responsible for that particular industry, and who is well known by that industry. Therefore, I do not see the problem as being a big one in that respect.
I also have a strong objection to both the inclusion of friends' and spouses' interests. For reasons that I gave recently, there are practical problems about including spouses. Quite seriously, not everyone's marriage is as happy as mine. Indeed, because it was convenient so to do in other ways, we have even gone to the extent of having power of attorney over each other. That is not normally the position. In most cases, it is just not real to think that one spouse knows what the other one has, or that he or she should have such information in a modern world. I have not the faintest intention of announcing to this Chamber at any time the private affairs of any friend I happen to have. In fact, if I were that worried, I would end the friendship before I did so. Again, I do not believe that that proposition is practical.
Having said that, in the current climate of public opinion I believe that a code of the type proposed has to be accepted purely because of the picture that it would provide the public, who are sold a very different view of this Chamber than is the real position. Therefore, as far as that is concerned, I shall vote for the Motion. However, I give one warning: the more that one tries to define the loopholes--this always happens with committees that are dominated by lawyers--the more loopholes one finds. Judging by my experience, it seems to me that people know when they
Lord Strathclyde: Perhaps the noble Lord could clarify a point for me before he sits down. He just said that he would not declare any interests of his friends, but I believe he then went on to say that he would support the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. Therefore, if the Motion is passed, does that mean to say that he will not stick to its provisions?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord is quite right. The position is that "relevant financial interests", including those of a "friend", may include--depending on their significance--the financial interests of a spouse, relative or friend. That is the formulation in Griffiths.
Lord Marsh: In those circumstances, whatever is in the code of conduct, I should make it clear that I would not declare it because I believe it to be wrong and immoral. I repeat: I would end the friendship before I would do so.
Lord Elton: The noble Lord would not have the freedom of action that he supposes. The word "may" applies to the quantum; but if the noble Lord had a "substantial interest" he would then be under an obligation to declare it. Therefore, from what he has said, we may expect him in the not too distant future to take leave of absence because only thus could he escape the requirement. Indeed, we should be the poorer for that consequence.
I am the last of the members of the group who combined to write this report, and the dissenting report, to rise to his feet to contribute to the debate. I do want to be different from the others by not starting my speech by saying what a perfectly splendid chairman we had. I do not lay at his feet the blame for the fact that his air-conditioning, books, or something, infected me with violent hay fever for most of our meetings, I just wish that he would move a little further from the natural place of his office; namely, the other end of the corridor towards this Chamber.
I have two interests to declare. I have a small--at least I think your Lordships would consider it small--family trust which I may or may not declare in the future depending on how noble Lords vote later today. My own advice does not depend on that interest. My other interest is the same as your Lordships; namely, the welfare of this House and the welfare of the country. The two are bound together but they take different points of view. The House is convinced of its
I suppose I should say that my noble friend the leader of my party invited rather than instructed me to join the group we are discussing. He will testify that I was extremely reluctant to do so. But, having done so, I put my shoulder to the wheel. It seemed to me that our task was, first, to recognise as a fact of political and historical life that the House had given the go-ahead to the Neill inquiry and that it had made it clear that it wanted some kind of a code to result from it. I was not of that view when I joined the group but I soon came round to it. Therefore, I support my noble friend's amendment. I shall not support any who try to overthrow the whole system.
Secondly, I considered that it was necessary to try to find a code which your Lordships would not throw out unanimously or by a vast majority. The temperature of the debate has shown that there is a real danger of such a code being produced. We tried as a group to arrive at a consensus but eventually the judgment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland and mine diverged from that of the rest of the group as to what was acceptable to the majority of your Lordships. We are here this afternoon simply to determine which of us is right.
There could have been a third course. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has tabled a scattering of amendments but he has said that they are probing only and that he will not press them. Even if he did, he would leave out two very significant changes which we propose to the code. The first of these I alluded to in an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Neill. Only in our version will your Lordships find a requirement that references to the sub-committee on the part of someone who suspects a malfeasance by someone else must be made in private. Where has this sickness in the other place spread from? I refer to people who make references to their adjudicating body and then tell the press about it. For month after month, while some unfortunate and perfectly blameless person is under investigation, the papers are full of the fact that that person is under investigation and is alleged to have done such and such. That kind of mud sticks. We do not want it here. Therefore, if your Lordships want to protect us, they should vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland.
The other significant difference concerns the exclusion of relations. Your Lordships have concentrated their remarks on friends. Rabbit's friends and relations were all of a kind. In your Lordships' better regulated affairs, friends and relations are different. However, some noble Lords have many relations. The term is not defined. Is it restricted to cousin, first, second or third cousin, child or grandchild? Without definition the proposal is dangerously vague.
My noble friend suggested that a relevant date has now been agreed between the supporters of the Government and the supporters of the Liberal Democrat Benches. The only difference between us is that we have provided for a resolution of the House
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said that it is important that we should be seen enthusiastically to embrace a code. In so far as that is feasible, I shall enthusiastically embrace the Kingsland code. I believe that your Lordships should do the same and should be a little cold towards that of the Leader of the House.
Lord Shore of Stepney: I wish to pursue the matter a little further. I declare an interest as I served on the committee under my noble friend Lord Neill. I wholly endorse his contribution. I have been struck by the comments made by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer on the extraordinary extent of agreement that exists. I do not think that anyone who has read the committee's report and the red-covered report of the working group under my noble friend's chairmanship and then considers the two resolutions before us can fail to be struck by the enormous area of common ground and agreement that exists. I wish to say a few words about the differences that exist, but let us for a moment rejoice in the agreement that exists.
I and, I am sure, many of my fellow committee members were struck by the Griffiths rules and the previous report. There was no sense of our coming from the outside and pretending to know better in laying down the law for Members of this House. That did not enter our thoughts for a moment. We had a great area of agreement. What, then, of the points of difference? I have tried to note them down. Perhaps I am a little easily swayed by the arguments put forward both by my noble friend and to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. However, I give a personal view on the various points of difference, tiny as I consider them to be and therefore not matters of great concern to this House. The matter of sums received for paid advocacy ought to be included in the code of conduct. That is something the public have a right to know. I might even concede that they could be included within bands of width, for example, sums under £5,000, £5,000 to £10,000, if that was considered more acceptable.
I wholly agree with the common-sense point put by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, with regard to friends. It is an absurdity to ask us even to know about, let alone report on, the interests of our friends. The difficulty is that the provision is already in the rules. I hesitate to say that we should take it out, but I would never have put it in.
I agree with the dissent of my noble friend. I do not believe that relatives should be included. Spouses, yes--or spouses and partners if that is what people want--but the term "relatives" is too wide. We cannot possibly bring them in; and it does not matter anyway.
I agree entirely that we should not go public at the initial stages of complaint. It has been poisonous in the Commons and done great damage to the procedures set up there. If my noble and learned friend can take account of that in his response and in the code, we should all be very grateful.
Finally, with regard to enforcement and ensuring compliance, the procedures of this Chamber are admirable. The great advantage of having Law Lords in this House is an asset of which we should take full advantage, particularly on investigation of a difficult complaint.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page