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Lord Nolan: I shall be brief and, I hope, uncontroversial. I speak as the proposed chairman of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, a sub-committee which noble Lords will note now has much heavier responsibilities under paragraph 18(2) of the code. I say "proposed" because my nomination has not yet been approved by the House. If I am asked to
First, whatever form of resolution or amendment is adopted by the House, please let what has to go in the register be as clear as possible. The burden placed on the registrar will be very heavy. Many instances have been raised when, with the best will in the world, it will be difficult to say that something should or should not go in.
Secondly, the registrar is the final arbiter of these matters. I ask your Lordships to consider whether it is fair that such a heavy burden should be placed on an officer of the House without formal provision for recourse to other advice. I have held the post for some years. Naturally, I am pleased to be approached informally by the registrar, as were other members of the sub-committee. I believe that that may be his personal view. I hope that it may commend itself to your Lordships' House that there should be a formally recognised limit on his personal responsibilities: that he may refer disputed questions through the chairman to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests for advice and can rely on its ruling.
I refer briefly to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. In the first formation of a committee on standards in public life, we were told that Members of Parliament were not thought to hold public office. They came in under the wider words of the definition which included those in public life, a phrase which expressly included Members of Parliament. I raise the matter so that, if necessary, it can be considered and put right.
Lord Renton: It is highly desirable that we should be unanimous in our decisions on this important matter, which affects the constitution and reputation of this Chamber. There is a great deal of unanimity already. As the noble Lord, Lord Shore, pointed out, the amendment by my noble friend goes a long way towards agreement with the government measure moved by the Leader of the House. Unfortunately, however, there have been serious criticisms of paragraph 12, and slightly less serious criticism of paragraph 11.
Rather daringly, I suggest that we do not reach decisions today on the matter. In view of the serious criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and other noble Lords, we could not accept paragraph 12. It is also clear that paragraph 11 should be toned down. I hope that I am not being too daring; I seek to help. However, I suggest that the Front Benches should agree an adjournment today. They should get together very soon in order to see whether they can get even closer on the views put forward. Eighty per cent of what has been suggested by my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench is in agreement with what the Government put forward. It would be most unfortunate if we simply reached agreement after Divisions.
Lord Rees-Mogg: I am sorry that I did not speak before the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore. He assumed that there was total agreement in the Chamber on most of these matters with only minor points of difference. That is not so in my case. I think that this is a bad code. It is too complicated and will cause a great deal of trouble in the future. I have no confidence in the code.
The process by which it has reached this stage has involved too much coming from outside--in particular from the troubles of the other place--and too little from inside this Chamber. That tends to undermine the independence of this House and self-regulation. I shall not press the point. I have made it before, kept the House until after midnight and annoyed almost everyone. That approach is a strong argument against the way in which we have proceeded. The code will lead to confusion and harassment. We shall regret having so many little boxes of information to be filled, many of which will be used to the embarrassment of the Member who filled them in.
The worst aspect is the extraordinary phrase "might reasonably be thought". What meaning can one attach to that phrase? Of the four words, three express ambiguity. "Might" means "might not". "Reasonably" is a matter of pure subjective judgment. I regard my speech as highly reasonable, but a large number of Members of the House will regard it as wholly unreasonable. How are we to determine which opinion is right?
The next problem word is "thought"--not even "stated" or "said". We cannot read the thoughts in other people's minds. We now have to guess what other people might think and what thoughts they might have that might be held to be reasonable. That is a preposterous basis on which to build a code of conduct.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, said, the process will put undue weight on the registrar. The registrar cannot make up my mind for me about whether what I am doing is honourable in the terms of the traditions of this House. It must come back to whether I think that what I am doing is right. I cannot put it on an official of this House, however distinguished and however helpful his advice.
There is a reference to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. If I fail to declare something that I ought to have declared, I shall be reported to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, who will be treated for these purposes as though he were the Leader or Chief Whip of the Cross-Bench Peers, which he is not. It is no business of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, admirable though he is--and he is a very good Convenor--to intervene if I am criticised for having failed to disclose something that it is held I ought to have disclosed.
Finally, there is the problem of spouses, relations and friends. How should we know about them? The provision is not in the spirit of the times. The spirit of the times, for what it is worth--and it is a pretty ridiculous concept--is that wives and husbands should be free to pursue their own careers with considerable
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, are welcome. He has been honest about his view and has echoed what a number of noble Lords are probably thinking. I understand why the various committees arrived at their conclusions. That is what happens when committees discuss such issues. They end up with a lot of ideas, all of which seem to have to go into the report, but the end product may not serve the purpose for which it was originally designed. Such a code--even as proposed by my noble friend Lord Kingsland--will probably damage that which the public most value about our House, which is the fact that it is made up of people who know about a lot of aspects of life from their personal involvement and declare their interests when they speak. That is why we have not had any trouble in this House. I believe that we shall continue without such problems.
However, we are being cornered by the Government's procedures into having a code. If we have one, I hope that noble Lords will take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said. His comments seemed to make it difficult for him to support the recommendations of the Leader of the House. I am not sure whether he said that he would support the Motion, but he seemed to put a lot of difficulties in the way. The comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, also made it difficult for him to accept the proposals of the Leader of the House.
I have a question about one detail that may also be in the minds of other noble Lords--unless I am the only one who has misunderstood. We are told that we have to register our relevant financial interests. The report says that such interests may include,
I have not the foggiest idea what my shareholdings are at any given moment and I do not hold the same shares at the beginning of the year as I hold at the end of the year. I do not have large shareholdings, but I leave it to someone else to deal with them. My interest is that the shares should be worth more at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.
I do not know what I would declare. It may be said that it is not relevant, but it might turn out that it was. Some financial trust in which I had a few shares might have a huge interest in an issue. That might make me biased. I suppose that I could look it up before we had a debate or keep quiet. I think that we shall all find the requirement difficult. I am not even sure that people with unit trusts or ISAs know what their investments are at a given moment. The recommendation is not practical.
If I had been on the committee, I would probably have gone along with the suggestion, because it sounds good, but I suspect that it is not. I see the Chief Whip in his place. He has done quite well in his profession and probably has a share or two. He might have a problem. Indeed, there is a further problem for Ministers, because I believe that they hand over the handling of their belongings to somebody else while they are in office. How do they know what they have, and if they do know, should they?