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Lord Carter: My Lords, in response to the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I was intending to remind the House of the section in the Companion which states that debate must be relevant to the Question before the House. Of course, the Question before the House is the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We should restrict our discussions to that amendment and to the words in the Motion of my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is fine but, of course, the amendment seeks to amend the code. Therefore, surely one must be permitted to ask a few questions. If I am not permitted to do so, I shall not. However, were your Lordships to be kind enough to allow me to ask a few questions, I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord would answer them.
We are moving into a different sphere. I am a simpleton with regard to this issue. Everyone may say, "It is perfectly all right. The matter has been decided, so don't bother about it". However, the noble and
As my noble friend Lord Renton said, what about the position of spouses, relatives and friends? Your Lordships may say that that has nothing to do with the amendment. However, it has much to do with the original Motion which is being discussed. What, for example, about a partner? That is a very fashionable expression. Does it refer to a wife, a friend or a spouse? Under what category does it come? As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, why must this matter be hurried? We have been without the code for a long time but have now accepted that it should be put in place. Apparently, it will come into effect as from tomorrow.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the code does not come into effect from tomorrow. It comes into effect from March next year. I simply want to assist the noble Earl. I declare my interest as being a friend of his.
However, I am anxious to ask the noble and learned Lord about another matter which I do not understand. Under the noble and learned Lord's amendment to the code, under "Register of Interests", paragraph 6A would read:
I turn to an important point--although all my points are important. A relevant interest involves not whether a Member's actions will be influenced by the interest but whether the public might reasonably think that that might be the case. How on earth does one judge what the public are going to think about an interest? Who is to decide whether the interest should be registered in the public interest? There is a
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the code's effect--sometimes, I feel, because no great effort has been made to understand it. I do not want to go into the issues again today because they were debated on 2nd July and because the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pointed out that they are not being raised today.
We on these Benches welcome the proposal that the allegations must be made in private. We believe that the code is unlikely in practice to cause the difficulties envisaged by some noble Lords but we are happy to welcome the undertaking that we understand the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will give about a review in due course of the code's operation.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, it would be advisable if the code were to lapse after a period if only to provide an opportunity to redraft it in more understandable language. I raised that matter with the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House a while ago.
Paragraph 5 refers to, "Members of the House", and to "Holders of public office". I asked the noble and learned Lord for a definition of a holder of a public office but he gave me no reply. For the life of me I cannot understand how it can be said that a life Peer is a holder of a public office. I stand by that statement. If the noble and learned Lord says that we are holders of public office, I should like him to explain why; if we are not, paragraph 5 is a complete nonsense.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord replies, I hope that it is in order and of advantage for me to reassure the noble Lord the Chief Whip that that part of our discussion that he said was irrelevant is not irrelevant. I refer him to proposed paragraph 6A of the code, which states:
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I begin by accepting that one deals with a Motion as it stands and point out that the proposed amendment to paragraph 17 would not meet the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and would require the serious attention of any review. The sooner that that review is held the better.
Paragraph 12 refers to the financial interests of spouses. Paragraph 17 will have to be amended in due course to give effect to the requirements of Article 8 of the convention and to deal with the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. Furthermore, when the code is operated by the registrar, the test that
I gather that it is acceptable to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that we should wait for 18 months. So be it. I should prefer it if we could have a debate before 31st March, when all of those matters could be considered. I do not want to use up the House's time further. My respectful suggestion to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is that he should accept that the House is unsettled on this matter. We should have this debate and consider general amendments before 31st March 2002.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I had not intended to speak today; I had hoped to have an opportunity to speak last week but because we ran out of time I took the liberty of writing to the noble and learned Lord--I sent him a letter containing what I would have said to the House. I shall speak to his amendment and to that in the name of my noble friend Lord Elton. I shall try to provide some help and guidance.
All my life I have been forced to disclose--and have willingly disclosed--interests. That was mainly on the commercial side. I have a concern about the code's drafting but not its principles. The experience of codes in the commercial sector has highlighted problems of which noble Lords may be aware--I refer to the codes of Cadbury, of Greenbury and of Turnbull and to the Hample combined code, which relates to the way in which directors should behave. Those codes have caused many problems of interpretation and involve tremendous bureaucracy. We are debating another code that is based on no law of which I am aware. I suggested to the noble and learned Lord that we might examine the commercial sector and follow some of its rules in the declaration of interests.
I turn to the disclosure of directorships. The Williams code, as it is called, states that only remunerated directorships should be involved. However, any director of a company is required each year to fill in form 288A listing all of his directorships. It would be simple to adopt that approach. The disclosure of directorships would be public.
The second area that caused me concern involved the definition of spouse, family, friends and so on. In Section 12 of the Companies Act there is a description of connected parties, which effectively means a spouse, children, including illegitimate children, and stepchildren under the age of 18. It draws attention to companies and interests related thereto. That is quite a good guideline for the Williams code.
I turn to the problem of families. The noble and learned Lord will have appreciated from my letter to him my difficulty, which arises because my wife's family name and my mother's family name is Williams. According to the advice that I received last weekend
Relationships and money do not mix well. Divorce rates and internal family problems and squabbles all come down to money. Disclosure of other people's interests leads to problems that I have also considered and on which I have taken advice. If you break a confidence, whether or not there is a letter of confidentiality, and a material loss occurs, or extra costs occur, the person who makes that disclosure could, I understand, be personally liable. Therefore, I have taken the step of inquiring what professional indemnity insurances we should consider taking out if we are forced or required, wittingly or unwittingly, to disclose something which could lead to a material loss. Those are all minor issues but they can mount up and if, over the coming year, and before the matter is reviewed, we could perhaps look at the harmonisation of what is now known as the Williams code, I should appreciate it and many people outside would appreciate it.
If we fail to do that, there is a danger that the investigative press and others may have a field day. That is a worry because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said in her excellent speech the other day, a low opinion is accorded Parliament, followed by politicians, even lower, and the press at the bottom. There are many worries for the future but I wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, well.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Elton. He is suggesting that the House should have the opportunity to review this code, its practicality and the effect of its implementation.
My worry about the amendment is that it would not come into effect until one year after the code had been in force. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House suggests that it should be 1.5 years after the code has come into force. I really feel that that is much too late. It is not good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to say that the concerns which have been expressed are overdone, as he implied a few moments ago; that it will all be quite simple; and that we should get on with it.
On 2nd July, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House referred repeatedly to the fact that the Griffiths Committee had already accepted the concept of "friends". Of course that is so, but he did so in terms of declaration. That is the crucial difference. Registration produces far more instances of difficulty.
The noble and learned Lord referred to his original proposals as being to accommodate public perception. In that context, I suggest that "perception" means "viewed through the eyes of the beholder". As the public is an amorphous concept, public perception is the view as seen and expressed by the media.
The noble and learned Lord volunteered an example of the sort of interests of friends which it may be necessary to register. He gave the example of a 1 per cent shareholding of BP. As your Lordships all know, the market capitalisation of BP is £126 billion. Therefore a 1 per cent share would be £1.26 billion. With great respect, that was not a very realistic example to take. Therefore, I tried to persuade the noble and learned Lord to make his example more realistic. I suggested a figure of 0.001 per cent. As your Lordships will realise immediately, 0.001 per cent of £126 billion is £1.26 million. That is not an impossible figure. The noble and learned Lord did not reply to the example which I gave. But it is not impossible that a friend of one of us in this House might have that sort of a shareholding.
But are we seriously expected to declare that interest in a register? Are we expected to register that interest as opposed to declaring it, possibly if there were to be a debate directly affecting BP or some part of the oil industry? That is the absolute basic point I wish to make. I shall illustrate it with another example that the noble and learned Lord gave. The noble and learned Lord said:
Interestingly, the noble and learned Lord referred also to "a close friend of mine". A fundamental question to which we have not received an answer, and to which we need an answer before we go any further with this debate, is whether or not the noble and learned Lord suggests that we shall be required to register the names of those who have those interests. Nobody has yet made that clear. Are we or are we not required to register the names?
Finally, I return to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Elton. I am rather worried as to whether he has taken into account the desirability of travelling in the dark for a year, let alone a year and a half, before we receive the appropriate guidance.
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