Register of Members' Interests

– in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 7th July 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 3:33 pm, 7th July 1987

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to seek your guidance. You will recall that a motion passed by the House on 12 June 1975 stated: any interest disclosed in a copy of the Register of Members' Interests shall he regarded as sufficient disclosure for the purpose of taking part in any Division of the House or in any of its Committees".—[Official Report, 12 June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 802.) You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that last night we discussed the Local Government Bill, which, in clause 2, lists a number of specific privatisation activities including such matters as cleaning services. The resolution of 12 June 1975 cannot be adhered to, because the register for this Parliament is not compiled. Every hon. Member will have received a letter in which the registrar clearly gives a period of four weeks before the register is compiled. The register in the Library belongs to the last Parliament—there is a note to that effect—and a new register is awaiting compilation and publication. Therefore, the resolution of 1975 cannot be accepted for the purpose of declaring an interest when hon. Members vote.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that several Tory Members in the last Parliament had a direct pecuniary interest—an interest, in the words of "Erskine May". not in common with the rest of his Majesty's subjects". Those hon. Members were lining their pockets with extra fees from parliamentary adviserships to various cleaning companies and companies offering services in the public sector. 'They therefore had a direct pecuniary interest.

I believe that when a vote is to take place on legislation such as the Local Government Bill, those with such interests should not be allowed to vote pending the publication of the register. I would say that they should not vote for all time, but I am a very tolerant and reformist sort of person. The resolution passed in 1975 was specifically for the purpose of ensuring that, when hon. Members voted, people outside the House knew of their pecuniary interests. [Interruption.]

Conservative Members may shout, but I remind them that one Conservative Member—the then hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, Mr. John Cordle—was forced to resign because he had not declared a financial interest.

The matter is important for something that you, Mr. Speaker, regard as important—the honour of the House. All hon. Members are supposed to be honourable. Those who have a financial interest, and who vote in such a manner that they benefit, are embarking on dishonourable conduct, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to prevent them from doing so.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you respond to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), will you bear in mind that, on the basis of his argument, any hon. Member who had an interest in, for example, Lloyd's, or in a trade union, or who received any pecuniary or other benefits or support from a trade union would be barred from voting on any matter relating to membership of a trade union or any other organisation?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was not the Register of Members' Interests created because questions were being asked about the manner in which Members of Parliament were involved on a commercial basis, thus bringing into question the standing of the House? The register did not arise a long time ago; it originated in the relatively recent past because of the manner in which the press—rightly, in my view—exposed the goings on of one or two people. As I understand it, the general view is that this Parliament is far cleaner and more honest than Parliaments abroad. We have a reputation.

Taking up the point so rightly and forcefully made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), is it not unfortunate that on the public business last night, and without a register of interests, Conservative Members could vote when there was no denying the fact that they would gain financially? You should bear in mind, Mr. Speaker, that this is not simply a reflection on one or two Conservative Members. In my submission, far more important is the standing of this House. Surely we do not want to go back to the situation that existed before there was a Register of Members' Interests. We should try to ensure that this House is held in high esteem, but it will not be if people vote in the Lobbies in order to line their own pockets.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Vice-Chair, Labour Party

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It concerns the general question to which I referred last week, relating to pecuniary interests and the fact that on 24 March 1981 you made a statement to the effect that Members of Parliament with pecuniary interests should be careful not to vote. When I raised this with the Prime Minister, she referred to pecuniary interests in relation to Members' pay. That is very different in view of the fact that Members' pay relates to all Members of Parliament and not to a selected few who would benefit from the Local Government Bill, just as they did from the Lloyd's Bill that was discussed on 24 March 1981.

If a pecuniary interest as defined by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is not for the common good but is for the good of certain individuals, it would seem to me that you should again look at your ruling in the context of the Local Government Bill which will result in some Tory Members of Parliament making substantial sums of money, plus the fact that under the poll tax proposals many more would benefit and large sums of money would be involved.

Taking that into account, I believe that you should look again at the statement you made on 24 March 1981, because it is pretty clear that in this Parliament there will be several occasions on which Tory Members, in particular, and Cabinet Ministers will be lining their pockets as a result of the introduction of legislation.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Let me clear up this matter for the benefit of the whole House. I understand that considerable progress has been made with the Register of Members' Interests but that it will not be possible to publish it for some time yet. However, that does not affect the right of Members to vote on matters of public policy. They should of course declare any interest in the normal way if they speak in a debate.

These matters were raised last night with the Deputy Speaker, who correctly pointed out that the votes of hon. Members are not disqualified by virtue of a personal pecuniary interest if the debate is on a matter of state policy. This situation occurs frequently—for example, Members who are farmers are not disqualified from voting when orders dealing with farming subsidies are voted upon by the House. Therefore, there is a clear distinction between private Bills and matters of state policy. However, I again remind hon. Members that the honour of the House is involved and that the normal rules apply—that is to say, in debate one should declare an interest, although during Question Time it is not necessary provided the interest is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you find time to remind hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, that if they intend to refer to another hon. Member in a speech, or, indeed, at Question Time, it is a matter of good manners and courtesy to give that hon. Member notice? The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) failed to do so when he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) this afternoon. Perhaps good manners could prevail on the Conservative Benches occasionally.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

It is as well to remind the whole House of that convention.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is not necessary to give an hon. Member notice that one intends to refer to him if he is sitting in his place.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

That is correct. However, I hope that the conventions of this House will prevail. It is a good convention that if an hon. Member intends to refer to another hon. Member he should give him notice.