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Lord Strathclyde: Perhaps I may make a brief contribution at this stage. I begin by thanking my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Elton for having served on the committee chaired by the Leader of the House. Both my noble friends did so reluctantly but I know that once they started their work they realised its importance. This is an important issue
The House has always been respected for its sense of fairness and proportion. In life, a solution should always be in proportion to the problem. Uncharacteristically, the solution of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has for once lost some of that sense of proportion.
I follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shore. This debate involves not what we agree about but what we disagree about, and we disagree about quite a lot. Noble Lords must ask themselves whether a code that could involve prying into every nook and cranny of the life of every Member of this House and into the lives of their families and friends is proportionate to the perceived problem of standards of conduct in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords also have to ask whether such a code--which is potentially irreversible because, under the noble and learned Lord's Motion, there will be no further opportunity for the House to examine the code before it comes into force next March--is likely to enhance this House's standing. Is the code appropriate to a House whose strengths lie in its interests and whose Members are in most cases part-time? Finally, noble Lords have to decide whether it is in the wider interests of this House and its present and future membership for us to adopt today a code that is in many respects more draconian and intrusive than that which was adopted in another place. If the answer to those questions is yes, noble Lords should of course support the noble and learned Lord's Motion, but I emphatically cannot do so. There may be differences of detail between us but they are still very important differences.
I turn briefly to the question of friends and the 1995 resolution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. Although that resolution made reference to friends, it was a non-mandatory provision. It was up to each Member to decide whether the interests of their friends impinged. To my knowledge--which admittedly is not certain--I have never heard anyone declare the interests of a friend during the past six years.
Lord Goodhart: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he accept that the Griffiths report referred not to the registration but to the declaration of an interest, and does he agree that such a declaration was compulsory?
Lord Strathclyde: As I understand it, whether we agree with the noble and learned Lord or with my noble friend, oral declaration in this House will still be required. I have always believed that oral declaration is far more important than registration because it is made at the time of the relevant debate and it is therefore entirely and at once visible.
Lord Strathclyde: My noble friend Lord Kingsland will speak in a few moments. My understanding of the matter is that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is wrong. My noble friend's amendment would not remove the obligation to declare an interest orally. However, I am sure that he will return to that point when he winds up.
I turn to the date of implementation. It has been much discussed that the registrar's work between now and that date could be particularly onerous. I also understand--I may be mistaken about this--that the current registrar is due to retire at some date early next year. I therefore believe that it would be more appropriate to have a date that is later rather than earlier. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agreed that with us and the Liberal Democrats. The date in the Motion is therefore the end of March 2002. My noble friend Lord Kingsland took the matter one stage further in his amendment and suggested that there should be a further resolution of the House before the date of implementation is known but that that date cannot be before the end of March 2002. That proposal allows him to deal with any details that come out of this debate and which may make it more difficult for the registrar to put into effect the resolution that is agreed to.
Many noble Lords know of my strong reservations about the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. I made those reservations clear in the evidence that I gave to his committee. After all, the Griffiths committee in 1995, the Neill committee in 2000 and the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agree that there were no breaches of the code and no evidence of any wrongdoing.
I, too, have moved. I am not sure whether I have done so because that chimes with the spirit of the times or is the result of the influence of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. However, I have come to accept, in light of the noble Lord's report, that changes should be made to develop the register further. I agree with what the noble Lord said about moving forward now. However, any such action should be taken in due time and it should be in due proportion. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland advanced an alternative code. Many may not like it and I myself may quibble with its details but his proposal keeps the vital sense of proportion that I feel the Motion lacks.
My noble friend's proposal is the middle way between the status quo, which the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, has probably rendered untenable, and the Motion of the Leader of the House. My noble friend wants to extend the ambit of registration but he strikes a more sensible balance between what is rightfully and legitimately public and what is fairly and legitimately private. He also allows due time for the registrar to consider operational details. My noble friend's amendment is not perfect. It is a compromise. I should like to think that the Leader of the House
Finally, my noble friend Lord Renton called for unity. He is right. However, he also suggested that we should delay the process for another day. He is wrong about that because we have said just about all that there is to be said on this matter.
A vote for the noble and learned Lord's Motion would support an irreversible and draconian provision. A vote for my noble friend's amendment would lose us absolutely nothing. If it turned out that we were wrong, we could still in due course agree to the Motion's stricter policies. That is why, when noble Lords turn their mind to voting--they will do so soon--I urge them to support my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Selsdon: I want to correct my noble friend on one point. He said that we have heard everything that there is to say on this matter. However, some of us would have liked to make a contribution to this debate. I had intended to make a contribution lasting five seconds for each year that I have been in your Lordships' House. However, like all good people, I shall write to the noble and learned Lord.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I remind noble Lords of where we have got to. For the past six or so years we have been bound by the Griffiths resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was right to say that that involves the declaration of a financial interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who is not currently here, was equally right in her observation that when one is trying to skitter through a declaration, particularly at Question Time, it is virtually of no value to those noble Lords who might be interested. The noble Lord who is asking the supplementary question is not trying to deceive; he simply does not have the time.
It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, that all this came from the outside--I paraphrase. That simply is not correct. I, together with my noble friend Lady Jay, gave evidence to the Neill committee. I took the trouble to read not only the annex of those who had given evidence, but also the evidence given. Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions, one cannot say that it did not take into account a wide range of interests and views from Members of this Chamber. It is not correct therefore to say otherwise.
The real question therefore is not one of fine principle, but whether or not in this world the relationship of husband and wife may be of such close interest as to be equated reasonably to the interest, for instance, between a father and a well-loved child, or a doting grandfather or grandmother and a loved grandchild. Are they not capable in this world of having the same sort of intimate relationship that ought to require disclosure? It is not a question of endless investigation, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was going to say.
I repeat, that was the situation which obtained. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, was a member of the Griffiths committee which produced that very resolution.
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