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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16th October 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

The Right Honourable Robert Adam Ross Maclennan, having been created Baron Maclennan of Rogart, of Rogart in Sutherland, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Thomson of Monifieth and the Baroness Williams of Crosby.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

Richard Arthur Lloyd Livsey, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Livsey of Talgarth, of Talgarth in the County of Powys, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Geraint and the Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Register of Lords' Interests

2.49 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether Lords of Appeal will be invited to attend the sub-committee convened to advise the registrar on registration of Lords' interests; whether a Lord of Appeal will preside; whether the decision of the registrar is subject to review by the courts and the European Court of Human Rights on compatibility with Articles 8 and 10 of the convention, and if so whether the sub-committee may receive representations by counsel and regulate its own procedures.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, there are four separate questions. The answers are: no, Lords of Appeal will not attend the sub-committee when it is advising the registrar; yes, the sub-committee is chaired by a Law Lord; no, the registrar's decision is not subject to review in the courts; and, no, the sub-committee may not receive representations by counsel although it is free to regulate its own procedures within limits.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as a matter of traditional courtesy I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for his reply. But, may I ask, if these suggestions, which to some noble Lords may appear to be manifestly reasonable in the interests of the House, are to be rejected, surely the Government would give some thought to the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, that there should be some joint decision on registration? Is it accepted by the Government that

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ordained disclosure of private interests of spouses, relatives, friends, if it is disproportionate to the rights and freedoms of others--as, indeed, I suggest it is--is contrary to Article 8 of the convention and incompatible with it and also with Article 10 as interpreted by the Court of Human Rights?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord has proceeded on a misapprehension. The registrar will have the limited functions of giving advice to Members--that advice having been accepted is a perfect defence, as I have pointed out--and maintaining the register.

Of course, private and confidential matters will have to be disclosed, as your Lordships supported in the vote. Plainly, anything supported by your Lordships is not capable of being disproportionate.

This Chamber is not subject to the Human Rights Act conditions, but even if it were, there is nothing in the code in contradiction of Article 8 or any other article. It is an entirely proportionate step. In the context of family and friends, that has been the position for many years.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will remember that when he moved the Motion requiring Members of your Lordships' House to register their interests, he included the registration of our friends' interests. All of your Lordships have a wide range of friends, very few of whom are likely to affect our judgment very much. Will responsibility for deciding which friends' interests should be recorded rest on the registrar? If not, how will it be done?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, since I moved the Motion, I seem to have no friends at all. The answer is to be found in paragraph 12 of the code that we supported. It says in bold type that "relevant financial interests",

    "may also include (depending on their significance) . . . the financial interests of a spouse or relative".

The quality of judgment is exactly the same as that presently exercised so admirably by all of your Lordships when deciding under the present regime, which has been in place since 1995.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that the concern about the registration of interests of friends is exaggerated and misplaced? Is it not correct that what has to be registered by a Member of your Lordships' House is not the interests that his friends would have to register for themselves if they were also Members of the House, but only those interests of friends that are so important that they might be seen as having an influence over the decision of the Member who is making the entry in the register?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Even the most cursory reading of paragraph 12 brings one inevitably to such a conclusion.

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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, do not the questions asked by my noble friends demonstrate that there is some confusion about how the register will work in practice? That view is shared not just by others in my party, but all round the House. Is it not wise, therefore, to look back on the words of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House? Will he repeat again that the register regime should always be interpreted with the very lightest touch?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course I am always happy to repeat my own words with particular approval. It is all there in the code. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for pointing out paragraph 17 to him yet again. It says:

    "The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House. A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar . . . fully satisfies the requirements of the Code of Conduct".

It could not be simpler or lighter. The system is eminently workable and those in another place are looking with envy at the conclusion that we have arrived at.

Government Ministers: Special Advisers

2.57 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total number of special advisers working for Government Ministers.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, there are 81 special advisers working for UK Government Ministers.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Has it been correctly reported that special advisers and Civil Service private secretaries have collectively been renamed "policy" advisers? Is it an accepted function of a special adviser to arrange for unpopular news to be released at a moment when it is likely to be smothered by news of events such as acts of terrorism and their consequences?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I confirm that the advisers in question are still known by the title of "special adviser". On occasions, some might be known as "special expert advisers". The noble Lord may be referring to the policy directorate in No. 10, for which many of them work. In answer to the second part of the question, I have seen no evidence to support any allegations that the Government have used the appalling events of 11th September to rush out difficult announcements. For example, the Home Secretary has made it clear that a difficult announcement relating to asylum seekers originally scheduled for 11th September was immediately delayed to avoid any such impression.

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Lord Boardman: My Lords, what is the total cost to the Exchequer of special advisers in the past 12 months and what was the comparative cost of those employed by the previous Conservative administration?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the current figure of 81 special advisers compares with 79 under the last administration. The cost is about £4.4 million. I have no figures for the cost of special advisers under the previous administration, but I recall that it was mentioned in a debate in the House last year that the cost in 1991 was about £1.1 million.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a founder member of the National Union of Special Advisers--a group of men and women, perhaps I may say, liberally represented on all Benches in this House. In that context, does the Minister agree that, given the political burdens on modern Ministers, the fact that they can carry out their political work with the aid of only two or three aides each is a remarkable miracle of productivity, not a source of criticism?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am ready to agree with my noble friend. I also cite the figures that Sir Richard Wilson quoted previously in saying that the 80 or so special advisers among the 3,500 members of the senior Civil Service, who lead 450,000 civil servants, do not constitute a threat to their integrity.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is growing genuine concern about the extent to which the difference between the interests of the Government as distinct from the party is becoming increasingly blurred? Can the noble Lord provide a definition of where the line is to be drawn?

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