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Clause 5 — MPs' financial interests rules

Hydrofluorocarbons Limitation – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 30th June 2009.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 8:15 pm, 30th June 2009

I beg to move amendment 74, page 3, line 16, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

'(1) The IPSA must prepare a code to be observed by members of the House of Commons, the content of which is provision made by virtue of subsections (7), (8) and (10).

(2) In this Act "the MPs' code of conduct relating to financial interests" means the code prepared under this section as it is in effect for the time being.'.

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Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments 75 and 76.

Amendment 16, page 3, line 21, at end insert—

'( ) the Speaker of the House of Commons'.

Amendment 27, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

'(ba) members of the House of Commons.'.

Government amendments 77 to 79.

Amendment 28, page 3, line 29, at end insert

'save that no member may be required to declare any specified information relating to any source of outside earned income which would place him in breach of a duty of a confidentiality laid upon him by any recognised profession.'.

Amendment 7, page 3, line 30, leave out subsection (8).

Government amendments 80 to 82.

Amendment 29, page 4, line 2, after 'or', insert 'specified'.

Amendment 30, page 4, line 4, after 'or', insert 'specified'.

Government amendments 88 to 91.

Government amendments 84 to 87.

Amendment 73, page 4, line 16, at end add—

'(c) to payment as, and hours worked as, a Minister.'.

Clause stand part.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

It may assist the Committee if, in addition to speaking to the Government amendments, I comment briefly on the other amendments.

Yesterday, to general approbation, I announced that the Government would withdraw clause 6. We should get an opportunity to do that later this evening. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House attached her name to amendment 83, standing in the names of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides. I also told the House that there would be certain consequential amendments, and these are they. Essentially, they replace the word "rules" with

"a code to be observed by members of the House".

In amendment 74, proposed subsection (2) refers to the

"code of conduct relating to financial interests".

Why are we doing that? The Committee could spend the whole evening on this, or no time at all. I recommend the latter. I am sure all Members have studied the code of conduct with great care. In addition to the fact that 33 pages are devoted exclusively to guidance on financial matters, a significant chunk of the code qua code in the earlier pages is also concerned with financial relationships. That will go into the scheme that IPSA would have the responsibility to prepare, but I repeat that it would be subject to decision by the House. Under clause 5(6) it could not come into effect unless it was approved by the House.

There was a suggestion not only from the Government Benches, but from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, for example, that there should be a code. In so far as the public take a close interest in the matter, it makes sense for them to note that the code of conduct will not disappear when, as a House production, it becomes thinner. A large part of it will find its way into that proposed in clause 5.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I am not entirely persuaded by the soft-soaping of that change, which is rather fundamental. We are setting up financial rules and we have a code of conduct. I appreciate that the Government take the view that, at some point in the future, the commissioner might have some conjoined role covering not only standards and privileges, but the investigatory functions in the Bill. However, now does not seem to be the time to run the two together, because it would immediately raise the possibility of our current code of conduct becoming subject to IPSA's remit. Indeed, the Secretary of State seemed at least to hint that a revised code could be produced which would wrap the whole thing up into one. The Bill, however, does not seem to authorise that; we would have to take further decisions. So, for the moment, why not keep the rules separate from the code? If there comes a time when we should join the two together, we can do so later.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I was not suggesting that the two codes would run together—far from it; I was suggesting that they would be split. The code that relates to the non-financial matters of the House would be pretty thin, and I therefore think it important that the public and Members be able to find that part of the code which is the vast bulk. It would comprise not only the guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members, but the rules of conduct in the Members' current code of conduct, wrapped up in a single word: "code". That is all I am saying.

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Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 8:30 pm, 30th June 2009

Is it not the case that we will continue to have the Members' current code of conduct, albeit without paragraphs 14 and 16 and the financial bits, and then another code that, if the amendment is agreed to, will be called a "code"? There is a real risk of confusion, because there will be one code produced by the House, our current code of conduct, and another code produced by another body, covering matters that are tangential but not identical. Would it not be better to have just one code and to stick with what we had until this morning, which was the rest of it being just rules?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That is a choice for the Committee, but in my judgment, there are slightly more important issues to get on with. My view is that the amendment would be more sensible. We would have a code that was like the current code but

"a code of conduct relating to financial interests", as spelt out by proposed new subsection (2) in amendment 74. Like the current code, it would have rules and general guidance, too. It would be more than a code and more than the rules, just like the current code, and it would come before the House.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Opposition Whip (Commons)

I should like some clarity from the Secretary of State. Why was the provision in clause 5 originally worded "financial...rules"?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

This is a rose by any other name, but now it is called a

"code of conduct relating to financial interests".

The measure amounts to the same thing; it depends what label one wishes to attach to it. It raises no issues of principle or privilege whatever. They are separate.

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

In the hope that we can speed on our way through the clause, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend recalls that, yesterday evening, Government Members insisted that it was totally proper that we declare in detail our earnings from other interests, but that we thought unworkable the proposals that we account for the amount of time spent in acquiring those earnings. Has he had further thoughts on that in relation to this clause?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Yes, I have, but it may assist the Committee if I go through the other amendments in this group in the order in which they happen to be on my sheet.

On amendment 16, which my hon. Friend Sir Stuart Bell tabled, I shall listen carefully to what he has to say before coming to a view. Amendment 27, from the Opposition Front-Bench team, would require IPSA to consult Members when preparing and revising Members' financial interests, and we will of course accept that.

Amendment 28 proposes that

"no member may be required to declare any specified information relating to any source of outside earned income which would place him in breach of a duty of a confidentiality", and amendment 7 would leave out subsection (8), which is quite a detailed subsection. I want to listen to the debate on those two amendments, but I say to all parts of the Committee that I accept that the drafting of subsection (8) is potentially too onerous and restrictive of Members. I do not mean that it is too narrow; it may be too wide. However, parliamentary counsel are already looking at whether its basic purpose can be captured in far less onerous language.

I think that there is general agreement that any scheme for the registration of interests should be backed by arrangements whereby interests have to be declared. Part 6 of the code of conduct, "Registration and Declaration of Interests", says:

"Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of...registration...and shall always draw attention to any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees".

Paragraph 77 gives further guidance on how declarations of interest should be made, saying that it should be done "briefly". I think that we all accept that. I certainly accept that, as Alan Duncan said, we are now in the age of Google. Ten years ago, before Google, someone who wanted to find out whether a Member had a declarable interest had to go to the Library or to a public library—there was no other way of accessing that information. These days everybody can do it, even from a mobile telephone. The fact that the consequences of registration are so ubiquitous should mean that the need for declaration is less onerous.

At the same time, there must be some provision for declaring an interest; otherwise, we would get into some extraordinary situations. Somebody may, perfectly properly, be an adviser to a particular company and wish to say something—not paid advocacy—in a debate. For example, an adviser to or a director of a defence company may have an interest in speaking generally in a defence debate. There is no reason why they should not do so, but it is important that that is drawn to the House's attention and that of the Member's constituents.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Justice Secretary has made some important and practical points. However, what astonishes me is that we are faced with a specific, detailed provision, presumably drawn up by lawyers in consultation with Ministers, and it looks as though—I welcome this—it is about to fall at the first fence. Why on earth was it introduced in this fashion if the Justice Secretary now accepts that it is a complete load of nonsense? Can he give us some idea of how he expects us to have to deal with this? At the moment we simply say, "I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests", that reminds the House that the right hon. or hon. Member has an interest, and if anybody wants to look it up, they can do so.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Even in Bills that are not brought in with this speed, sometimes Homer nods and they need refreshment—the language needs to be improved—as one proceeds. That is the purpose of proper scrutiny. There is not a single Bill in which I have been involved in the past 12 years—it is a huge pile now—that has not been improved by the process of scrutiny. Sometimes, as a result of amendments being tabled, one discovers things that should be improved. I plead guilty to that.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am in a great dilemma. Today the current rules come to an end. As from tomorrow, we are supposed to declare all these timings and things, which were so brilliantly exposed as odd by Mr. Field in his speech yesterday; I supported him in the course of my own speech. We now have proposals before us that the Secretary of State accepts are imperfect; I infer from what he says that he wishes to see them altered. The other problem is that Sir Christopher Kelly was specifically asked by the Prime Minister to look at the whole issue and to report on it. We really are in an awful, confused mess. As I have said before, we want clarity, so can we please have some advice from the Justice Secretary? Will the rules that are supposed to come into force tomorrow come into force? How are we affected by what he is saying tonight? Can he give an undertaking that whatever he says tonight will take second place to what Sir Christopher says if he makes different recommendations?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The rules that are due to come into force tomorrow will come into force tomorrow, and that has nothing whatever to do with the Bill. Everybody knows that to be the case, because the decision about that preceded the Bill's publication. Those rules will stay in force until they are changed by the House in the normal way.

I have sought to answer the hon. Gentleman's point about recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly, but the Bill—even the rather onerous clause 5(8), and clause 5(9), which is linked to it—simply provides a framework into which his recommendations, as accepted, would drop. There is no problem with that, although for belt-and-braces reasons I have spelled out what would happen if there were a problem, so we need not go down that track again now.

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

May I bring my right hon. Friend back to the matter of timing? He is correct to say that we approved the rules that are coming into force tomorrow, but when we did so we were given four resolutions that we had to accept or reject in their entirety. One of the four stated that we should declare our earnings, which I am totally in favour of, but it also stated that we should declare how much time we spent on them. Like a lot of people, I did not want to be in the position of seeming to be against declaring our earnings, so we voted it through knowing the time factor involved.

From tomorrow, I will not and cannot fulfil the conditions of the House, because of the principles and practicalities that I outlined yesterday. I shall be fined, but I shall not pay the fine, so we will then be in this ludicrous business of going to prison. Surely that cannot have been the aim.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have known my right hon. Friend for more than 30 years, and when we were both traipsing around in the rain at a shack on the gyratory system in Brixton, waiting to be interviewed by the Effra ward of the Vauxhall constituency Labour party in 1976—

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

We were lucky—we were both rejected.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We were indeed, and never was there salvation more quickly delivered. It struck me then that my right hon. Friend was possessed of many great talents but had a wish to end up on the stake or subject to some other form of martyrdom. Attractive though I know the stake or the gallows are to him, the prospect of his proceeding in that way and being fined by the new body is out of the question.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the incisive question asked by Sir George Young? He dissected the current code of conduct and said that at some point the non-financial aspects of it would probably be hived off to the new body. Some of us were quite happy to hear that clause 6 would disappear from the Bill, but it is actually a great concern because that clause stated that the code of conduct would continue as per the Nolan principles. The deletion of clause 6 will in fact make it easier for all conduct issues to be taken into the new body.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of responsibility for non-financial conduct matters going to the new authority. That will not be part of its functions. We discussed the matter at some length downstairs in the cross-party talks. It would be outwith its functions and experience, and it would be completely inappropriate for wider issues of conduct to be subject to scrutiny or determination other than by the House. The Government oppose that; I oppose it; it is not in the Bill and we are proceeding on that basis.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I have a growing anxiety as I listen to the Secretary of State and watch his body language as he explains the provisions. Changing "rules" to "code" emphasises that the measures we passed a few weeks ago and that several hon. Members regard as completely flawed—I shall explain the reasons for that when I speak to my amendments—will, the moment the Bill is on the statute book, be subject to all the pains and penalties, including criminal offences in so far as they refer to financial matters, in clause 9. Should we not concentrate on that? On the one hand, the Government tell us that they have abandoned the conduct provisions in clause 6—to which we all say, "Hooray"—but on the other, and with some slight sideways movement, the Secretary of State attempts to lull us into accepting an unsatisfactory state of affairs, with potentially catastrophic consequences for individual Members.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I do not accept that. We can have a debate about whether we use "code relating to financial interests" or "rules". It amounts to the same thing. What is in the tin is the same.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Is the Secretary of State saying that introducing a new set of financial rules tomorrow could be followed by their substantial amendment when Kelly reports, and that that could be followed by further substantial amendment when the new authority is set up and opines that it has got it all wrong? Is that not simply too difficult and complicated for people who try to follow what we do?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am genuinely unaware of whether Sir Christopher Kelly is concerning himself with rules or codes about declarations of interest. I do not think that he is. He may be, but—

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 8:45 pm, 30th June 2009

I have not said so. I am open to correction—I have not given evidence to Sir Christopher Kelly's committee, but he appears to be concentrating on the whole system of allowances and expenses. If he were to say that there should be some change in categories of registration and declaration, the House would have to take that on board, but it is not relevant to the Bill.

I say to Mr. Redwood that, in due course—it will be quite some time—the authority may decide to propose different sets of rules in its code for registration and declaration. It may propose some that would give my right hon. Friend Mr. Field greater comfort than paragraph 24 of the Green Book about declarations of hours. However, that is further down the track. I offer the right hon. Member for Wokingham the comfort that, if the authority made such a proposition, it could come into force only if and when it was approved by affirmative resolution.

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Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I want to try a question on the Secretary of State that has nothing to do with Kelly or with the words "code" or "rules", but is pertinent to what he says. As he knows and as colleagues have said, the new rules that require Members to declare how many hours they work outside this place come into effect tomorrow. According to clause 5, a series of rules will be established. Subsection (6) provides that they will not come into effect until they are approved by a resolution of the House. If the clause goes on to the statute book, is it the case that from that point the rules that come into effect tomorrow will be null and void until the House passes a resolution on the new rules? The Deputy Leader of the House is shaking her head.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

No, it is not. The rules will come into force and, despite what the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has said—that at the moment a breach of the code would not give rise to a criminal offence—it is certainly the case that, because a failure to comply with the requirement in the financial interest rules code will give rise to an offence under clauses 9(2) and (3), that requirement will have to be very carefully drafted. Indeed, it will have to be more carefully drafted than what is currently in the code.

This is not supposed to be a debate about paragraph 24 of the current code of conduct, but I just want to make one point. There are 168 hours in a week—that is not a matter for argument across the Chamber; it is just true. I merely offer hon. Members who are worried and their constituents this reflection. The European working time directive, whether one likes it or not—some do, some do not—prescribes 48 hours as the standard maximum that one is supposed to work in one job. [ Laughter. ] Hang on. If colleagues are sleeping normally—eight hours a day—that will them give them 56 hours. Adding those two together gives 104 hours. If we take that away from 168 hours we get 64 hours, which gives hon. Members nine hours a day, more or less, to do what they want with and still fulfil their constituency duties. [ Interruption. ] I am merely trying to be helpful.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir George Young. I entered the House of Commons four years ago, and it is a complete madhouse. We are now on our fourth iteration of the Green Book since I got here. The rules have changed on a quarterly basis, and now they are changing on an almost fortnightly basis. We have codes there, codes there—codes everywhere. We are seeing almost a deliberate attempt to criminalise every Member of Parliament, because it is now impossible to keep up with what the Government are doing.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I apologise, but I cannot quite remember when the hon. Gentleman came into the House.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The House has been struggling to bring its systems up to date and into a state such as it has insisted that other institutions and professions bring theirs into, which is one of the reasons, I suggest, why we fell into the abyss of the expenses scandal. With a bit of luck, once we get the legislation through and we get the authority established, we will be able to enter a period of much greater stability. That is my hope, and I think that we will do that.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for missing the opening few minutes of his remarks, although I was pleased to hear his important comment about clause 5(8), which he will now take away and redraft. However, could he tell us how that will be done practically? Will he table an amendment tonight that will be dealt with on Report tomorrow or do we have to leave that to the House of Lords? We are scrutinising the Bill in very limited time, so it would seem to be awfully late in the day to bring forward such amendments, welcome though they would be.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

With the best will in the world, I do not think there will be time to table such an amendment to take on Report tomorrow. However, we are a bicameral legislature, and there is no reason on earth why we cannot have commitments made in one Chamber and amendments moved in the other—indeed, it happens all the time. However, what I also undertake to do—I should have said this—is to consult—

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I will indeed consult the hon. Gentleman—why not? I cannot promise that we will reach agreement on the draft amendment, but I promise that I will consult him, and I will consult all the others on the cross-party group, too.

I think that I have spoken for long enough. This has been an unexpectedly entertaining few minutes—for me, anyway—and I shall now listen to the debate.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I was not sure whether to feel sorry for the Secretary of State, but I will do so, because he seems to have been placed in an impossible and ludicrous position—largely, I suspect, by the actions of the Prime Minister. I say to everyone here that they would do well to be very careful before accepting the siren songs that are being sung to them. What we have here is an illustration of the utter incoherence at the Bill's very core, which could have devastating consequences for every Member of this House.

First, the Secretary of State tells us that he wishes us to change the wording, so that the word "rules" is replaced by the word "code" throughout the Bill. We have a code of conduct at the moment. The proposed change could be entirely cosmetic and pointless—an attempt to change the words possibly because the Prime Minister promised that there would be a code, and the code in clause 6 has now gone because those provisions have been removed. That is one possibility.

The second possibility, which we need to bear closely in mind, is that putting the word "code" into the Bill will have the effect of bringing justiciability on the entirety of the existing code of conduct for hon. Members, and in future there will be two codes, but they will be conflated into one. We would do well to avoid that option. If we do not, justiciability and judicial scrutiny will apply to the financial code and to our own code. Furthermore, I am left with the unpleasant sensation that the proposal to change the wording might involve an attempt to obfuscate future change, so that, when we subsequently consider these matters, it might be easier for the House to swallow the bitter pill.

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman expand on his logic? The House already has a code, and another code is proposed in clause 5. Why would the proposal mean a reverse in justiciability in relation to our own code? Would not the courts understand that justiciability would apply to the rules or code in clause 5?

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

On balance, I prefer my first theory to my second. Nevertheless, I cannot exclude the second. Having spoken to others who might know more about this than I do, and who seem to be more knowledgeable about the House's procedures and rules, I believe that we would be very unwise to take this step. As I have said, the change of wording is either pointless—in which case, if we want to change it, we can do so when we create the new body with a single code and possibly a single commissioner doing slightly different things—or we should leave the proposal well alone.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Picking up on the point that was made a moment ago by Sir Robert Smith, the hon. and learned Gentleman is making much of the question of potential justiciability, but there is no basis or warrant for that claim on the basis of a change of name. Does he accept, however, that there is a fundamental distinction to be made between clause 6 and clause 5? There was anxiety—however loosely founded it may have been, I accept that it had a basis in fact—that, because the duty in clause 6 was placed on the House, the House could have been the subject of judicial review. That would have run straight into issues of privilege, which is why I was happy to withdraw that clause. The duties under clause 5, however, are on a statutory authority, and it is completely standard for duties on such an authority to be subject to scrutiny by the courts.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I listened with care to what the Secretary of State has said, and I am conscious of the very limited time we have had to consider the matter—and the even more limited time to consider the further changes that he puts forward. He will have to answer when, ultimately, we come to point where we will have to approve the rules or the code, and it seems to me that at that stage, the matter is as much a creature of this House as it is if we have a code of conduct under clause 6—even if it has a statutory nature. All I can say is that my best advice to the Committee is that I can think of no reason why, if the Secretary of State is right, we should not keep clear the distinction between the financial rules that he wishes to create and the present code. If there is even a shadow of a doubt, the sensible thing for the Secretary of State to do is to abandon this attempt to change the word "rule" to "code" and to leave it as it is now, and we can sort it out later. I very strongly urge him to do that.

Secondly, moving on to our own amendment, I note that I thought I had understood, but perhaps I had misunderstood, that the Secretary of State was going to abandon clause 5(8). I thought it was an abandonment rather than a going away to rewrite the provision in some new form. There is absolutely no doubt that once clause 5(8) comes into force, it will, as I said in my intervention earlier, have an immediate bearing on a whole series of questions relating to the rule changes we introduced two months ago or whenever it was, which have come in for so much criticism in the House.

By way of illustration, let me turn to amendment 28. I am also mindful of what was said by Mr. Field a short time ago. I must declare my interest here, Mr. Cook, as a practising member of the Bar. However, that fact may be pretty academic because as I have not practised for 12 months, it is unlikely that I will practise again before the next general election—and it may well be that my appearance in court last July was the last time I will ever appear.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

My hon. Friend could not be more correct. There is, I think, little danger of my appearing as an advocate, but if I tried to appear as one, there would certainly be a very immediate danger of my appearing as a defendant. Let me explain to the Secretary of State just how flawed is the system that he proposes to introduce.

We were told that the whole issue of professional confidentiality would be dealt with under the regulations. We were to say not only how much we earned and when we earned it, but normally to provide a statement of who paid us. It was also said, however, that special provision would be made to respect client confidentiality in respect of the professions. Unfortunately, in their practical application, these rules will not do that.

The requirement for me as a barrister is to say that I received £X from a solicitor for advising a client and a court appearance and that I carried out Y number of hours' work. The problem is that I did only one case in July last year. It was quite widely reported and it concerned the definition of the word "garden" in the Forestry Act 1967—a very interesting and rather esoteric matter. The fact is that I did only that one case. If I were to report that I had received £X from the solicitor who instructed me in that case for Y hours, there would be no difficulty in establishing how much the client had paid me.

For those reasons, if this case were taking place in three days' time rather than a year ago—on 3 July last year, I believe—I would be unable to comply with the rules. Whatever law may be passed in this country, I am afraid that my professional rules would have to take precedence as a matter of conscience and I would simply not be able to observe the terms of this declaration that the House required. At the moment, that would land me in serious difficulty with the House. That would be bad enough, and it might bring my career to an end, although I would have to accept that cheerfully because I would not be prepared to subvert my professional requirements of confidence to clients. However, the Bill would also turn that into a criminal offence. I urge the Committee, when we consider criminal offences tomorrow, to take a little time to consider the extraordinary architecture of oppression that we would be creating for ourselves. I do accept that we appear to have created an architecture of oppression for many other people in recent years—

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 9:00 pm, 30th June 2009

If I understand the rules correctly, from tomorrow every gross payment we receive will have to be recorded. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as I do that gross payments do not relate to the net receipts at the end of the financial year. What is one to do—record the gross or estimate the net? It is grossly—perhaps I should rephrase that—terribly unfair.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman is right. The rules say something about that, but it is all very vague and opaque. Amendments 29 and 30 would be preserved under the current structure.

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Opposition Whip (Commons)

Under the hon. and learned Gentleman's professional code, what information could he provide to give the public an indication of any obligations he might have through his financial interests?

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I have given the game away by saying that I only worked once last year, but normally I would have no difficulty in giving a global figure for how much I earned. I could also give the number of hours worked, although heaven knows it is not as though I keep a 100 per cent. accurate record. For many cases, I am not paid by the hour, and it will require some onerous changes to the way in which I operate to introduce an egg-timer to record every moment I am earning. However, if that is what the House requires, I will of course comply, but I will not identify my clients and how much they have paid me. That applies not only to me—it will apply to any professional in a recognised profession with a duty of confidentiality. For that matter, it may well extend outside.

The difficulty arises because we do not work full time. I am sure that the intention behind the drafting of the regulations was that nobody should be able to disentangle what money came from whom. However, for most hon. Members, the likelihood is that the amount of work that they do is so limited that it would be exposed by the new system. We have landed ourselves with a monumental problem for a benefit that I fail to understand.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

If my hon. and learned Friend unwittingly over-recorded or under-recorded the hours that he worked, would he be committing an offence? If so, what sanctions could be visited on him?

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

We will tomorrow consider the requirements laid down in clause 9. I could be fined and, as a professional person, I might be able to pay a £5,000 fine, but it would have catastrophic consequences for my ability to continue in professional practice. That would be an extreme double whammy.

I am particularly concerned by clause 5(8) because it would put the requirements into statutory form, which would enable the offence to bite on it. I had thought that that provision would go away and we would be left with only the House's obligations and not the statutory obligations. As it is, this provision will be a fertile field for litigation. I am entitled to invoke the law as much as I can, and I imagine that, if the amendment were taken to its logical conclusion, it could end up in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In that event, my argument would be that its impact on my ability to earn a living—quite apart from the duties of confidentiality and privacy law—caused it to breach articles in the European convention on human rights. We are creating a labyrinth for ourselves.

The Secretary of State is temporarily absent, but I forgive him that. I am sure that he has a good reason for disappearing behind the Speaker's Chair. I believe that it is for the reasons that I have given that he showed a slight hesitation as he approached the Dispatch Box to try to disentangle the impacts of clause 5. Amendments 29 and 30 deal with clause 5(10), which states:

"The rules must prohibit a member from... by any specified means, advocating or initiating any cause or matter on behalf of any person in consideration of any specified payment or benefit in kind".

I interpret that as a preliminary for the offence of paid advocacy that appears in clause 9. What is bizarre, however, is that, according to my understanding, although a payment must be "specified"—I suppose we see that in the rules—a benefit in kind is not subject to qualification by the word "specified". On the face of it, we are putting in statute a requirement that any benefit in kind, irrespective of the rules that we are enacting, be prohibited.

The regulations show that there is a real problem with benefits in kind. Those who drew up the regulations experienced great difficulty in deciding what constituted a benefit in kind and what constituted a gift. If I deliver a speech—as I did recently—to, for example, a Conservative association or indeed a rotary club, and if at the end of the evening someone gives me a bottle of claret, is that a gift or is it a benefit in kind? It is clear to anyone who reads the regulations that those who drew them up were not at all sure into which category such things should fall. As a consequence, if thereafter we come to the House and try to advocate anything that might be to the advantage or otherwise of a particular organisation, we shall be committing a criminal offence carrying a fine of £5,000.

All this strikes me as a complete fantasy world. I am afraid that the reason for that fantasy world is, yet again, our semi-mad Prime Minister, who goes out and makes statements to the public without thinking through the consequences of his actions in an attempt to secure some cheap and quick public fix. That is what the Secretary of State is now having to disentangle without ruffling too many feathers at No. 10 Downing street, and that is to the extent to which, at present, we are being disgracefully governed.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Should not Labour Members also take this matter seriously? When Labour legislated for Electoral Commission returns concerning political donations, that turned out to be extremely damaging to many candidates for the deputy leadership of the party. Labour Members must understand that this measure could have all sorts of perverse consequences for people who want to behave honourably but find the rules very difficult.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I agree with my right hon. Friend.

Let me say in fairness to the Secretary of State, who has now returned to the Chamber, that I have detected today a real willingness to listen. I think that he has a pretty acute awareness of the areas of the Bill that are wanting. It can also be said—although I realise that this does not apply to one or two Members—that we have a common purpose in trying to establish an allowances and payments system that will bring the House out of disrepute.

We had every incentive—all of us together—to make the Bill a success, which is why it pains me so much when I see where we are starting to go so catastrophically off the rails, with consequences for every Member. That will first of all do us damage, but it will also damage our reputation for competence.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

Before my hon. and learned Friend sits down, will he give us some advice about amendment 74? It states:

"The IPSA must prepare a code to be observed by members of the House of Commons, the content of which is provision made by virtue of subsections (7), (8) and (10)."

Does that mean that the content of this code is limited to

"provision made by virtue of subsections (7), (8) and (10)", or could the code go wider than those provisions, as these are terms of art and there is considerable flexibility in the interpretation?

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State 9:15 pm, 30th June 2009

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that we will want to listen to what the Secretary of State says. I am prepared to be talked out of my anxieties on this, but I have to say that I can see how that problem could arise. I think there are clear advantages in keeping the distinction between "rules" and "code" until such time as this House is completely satisfied that it wants to create some unified structure.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I certainly agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the distinction between rules and codes. Having got that out of the way, does he also accept that there is a problem in there being the majority that there is in this House? A lot of matters may well therefore need to be resolved in the House of Lords, but whereas I entirely agree that this Bill has in its essence and principle a good objective—which I have advocated for a very long time—as many of the areas it addresses are privileges of the House of Commons, it will be nearly impossible for the House of Lords to be able to make any meaningful amendments. The privilege arrangements and the black lining will mean that they will not be able to have the effect that they otherwise would have.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

My hon. Friend may well be right. Another point arises from an amendment that he has tabled. It relates to the European convention on human rights. So long as this House has kept its principles simple, it has succeeded in escaping outside jurisdictions—for very good reasons, I think—but if this House starts to create criminal offences for its Members, which we are doing, that will clearly become much more difficult. Also, when we come to consider this matter tomorrow, I strongly recommend that the House should pause before creating criminal offences which, in fact, pertain to regulatory breaches of its own rules. That too is likely to create very serious problems for how we run ourselves.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

My hon. and learned Friend touches on an extremely important question, relating to the application in this context of the principles applying in the Duncan Sandys and Damian Green cases, but we will come to that tomorrow, will we not?

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

Yes, we will, but I want to conclude now.

Our amendment 73 simply specifies that Ministers should be obliged to supply their hours of work and the hourly rate of pay for what they have been doing. I cannot think of a reason why they should not do so if we are being put to this burden. Ministers may be Members of this House, but ultimately the work they do as Ministers is distinct from other aspects of their work. I cannot think of a reason why they should not realise now the onerous burden that is being placed on everybody else.

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Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I have been listening all night long to this very interesting debate, which mixed up Sir Christopher Kelly, the new rules coming in tomorrow and this Bill. I should add at the outset that the purpose of amendment 16, which stands in my name and that of Sir George Young, is simply to add the Speaker to the list of those persons who should be consulted. I do not think there is any particular problem in that.

I have risen to speak about Government amendment 74, however. I understood what the Justice Secretary said, because we did have some concerns about the original clause 6, which he graciously withdrew yesterday. The clause seemed to undermine the concept of privilege and place its determination in the courts by referring to "the Nolan principles" and "such other matters". Those who examined this matter felt that that would have opened up the privilege question and taken us into the courts. The concern is that Government amendment 74 might have the same result.

The Justice Secretary made a pertinent point when he said that the old clause 6 meant that the House of Commons was to continue to have a code of conduct whereas now the new body, IPSA, would propose the code and, thus, not put the House and its privileges within the determination of the courts. I should like to draw that principle to his attention and he might wish to reconfirm it when he responds to the debate.

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Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I should like to speak to amendment 7, which stands in my name. It relates to clause 5(8), which the Secretary of State was good enough to refer to in his remarks, as was my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Grieve.

The registration of interests and the declaration of interests are two separate activities. My amendment seeks to remove subsection (8), which deals with the declaration of interests.

The registration of interests is dealt with in subsection (7); I have no difficulty with that and with the fact that one must register specified information in a register maintained by IPSA. My amendment would remove the requirement for IPSA to include rules relating to the declaration of interests in relation to its financial registration rules—or the code of conduct, as it has been rebranded. Later on in the Bill, clause 9 recognises a distinction between registration and declaration, and a failure to register is made an offence, whereas a failure to declare is not. The rationale for that distinction is that whereas registration is part of a Member's wider accountability to our constituents and the public at large, declarations arise in the context of proceedings in the House, for example in the course of a debate or in a Committee. Therefore, proceedings in the House should not be governed by statute law, but should be dealt with by the House itself.

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Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this House legislated in the Scotland Act 1998 for people to face criminal sanction for non-declaration in the Scottish Parliament? Given that this House believed at that time that such rules should be applied to another legislature in the UK, why should this House not be held to the same standard?

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Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

Were my amendment to be successful, I would quite understand it if the hon. Gentleman felt obliged to table a consequential amendment to deal with the provisions to which he has just referred. My view is that it is for this House to decide the circumstances in which Members should declare an interest and to decide what to do if they do not. I, thus, believe that the amendment should be accepted and the rules relating to the declaration of interests should continue to be made by the House itself.

I just wish to say a word about the Government amendments, which rebrand the rules relating to financial interests as a code of conduct. It is not at all clear to me why what yesterday was a rule about a financial interest must today be a code of conduct. That is certainly not a consequential amendment flowing from the removal of clause 6; it does not follow at all that because that code of conduct has been removed another part of the Bill has to be rebranded as a code of conduct. I think that this has happened merely so that the Prime Minister can fulfil his pledge to introduce a statutory code. If the Government amendments are accepted, there will be two codes. One will be a statutory code covering financial matters and the other will be maintained by the House and will cover everything else. That is a recipe for confusion, and it is totally unnecessary.

Finally, I should add that many of us voted against the programme motion yesterday because we were worried that there would not be enough time to discuss matters, and it looks as though that prophecy is about to be fulfilled.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend Sir George Young has just said—and, indeed, with everything that he said in his brief but, I felt, totally persuasive speech.

I feel very sorry for the Secretary of State. He is trying to be his master's voice and he is clearly finding it extremely uncomfortable. His performance at the Dispatch Box at the beginning of this debate was one of total sincerity but utter discomfort— [ Interruption. ] Yes, it was. It could be seen in the way in which he responded to my plea for clarity. I would commend to him the letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son, which are perhaps the best commentary on manners in the 18th century. The boy was going off on the grand tour, and his father warned him of the pitfalls of frequenting houses of ill-fame. He said, "Be careful of your money. Remember, the pleasure is momentary, the position is ridiculous and the expense is damnable." Tonight, the right hon. Gentleman is a classic illustration of that. He adopted a ridiculous position, the pleasure of doing so is certain to be momentary and the cost to this House is damnable.

I think that the Secretary of State should think again, and if he has not read Lord Chesterfield there is a treat in store for him—

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

It is far better.

I ask the Secretary of State: what is the difference between a code and a rule? If, as he seemed to imply—at least, that was what I inferred from what he said—there is not a difference, then why persist with it?

The other, and far more important point, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire raised in his amendment, is that clause 5(8) should be deleted. It really should.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I said that I would listen to the debate, and I have, and I am persuaded that it is right to withdraw clause 5(8). I add two caveats. The amendment is to clause 5(8). It follows, as night follows day, that clause 5(9) will have to be withdrawn, but I am not sure that we can do it tonight, because there is no amendment. We can sort that out in due course. Let me say to the Committee, for the avoidance of doubt, that it might be necessary to bring forward some consequential amendments—although I doubt it. If it is, I promise that I will consult the usual people, including Sir George Young. I hope that that reassures the Committee.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am extremely grateful, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire is grateful and, indeed, that the Committee is grateful. Can we now build on that, and will the Secretary of State acknowledge, in a belated response to the point made by Mr. Field last night and by a number of other Members of all parties, as he came close to doing when he gave us the little timetable of hours that there is nothing disreputable about Members' having outside interests? Will he acknowledge that it is quite right and proper that they should? It is of course proper that they should declare them, but in declaring them they should not be put into a ridiculous position, such as that mentioned by Mr. MacShane when he talked about the difficulty for somebody who earns some of his money, as I do, from writing in giving precise and specific hours.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am very happy to acknowledge that. I regard myself—whether others do is a matter for them—as someone who takes his constituency responsibilities very seriously. However, it happens that I have been on the Front Bench in one capacity or another since November 1980, which is some time ago. When I was in opposition, I used to earn a significant sum from writing, which I used to subsidise my office—[Hon. Members: "How much?"] I cannot remember now. It is also true that for the past 12 years I have had a second job, as a Minister. I hope that that helps.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am grateful again to the right hon. Gentleman, and perhaps we can have a hat trick. He has accepted the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire and acknowledged that it is both valid and honourable for hon. Members to have outside earnings. For the hat trick, if we are to have this provision on outside earnings, will he now acknowledge that Ministers should also declare? Ministers have to deal with their ministerial portfolios, and they travel the country or to other countries doing all sorts of perfectly right, proper and appropriate things—well or badly, but doing them nevertheless—but they are not able to perform their constituency or ordinary parliamentary duties at the same time.

To paraphrase what the Justice Secretary said yesterday, let what is sauce for the goose be also sauce for the ministerial gander.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 9:30 pm, 30th June 2009

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman comfort on that, as the distinction is that it is a fundamental part of our constitution that people may be Ministers. Our diaries are pretty public, and I can answer the question about whether I was able to do my constituency work when I was abroad with the following example. The Foreign Office record shows that on one occasion—and much to her surprise—I had to phone the chairperson of my local primary care trust from an armoured vehicle on the way to Ramallah.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am sure that she was thrilled. If we cannot have sauce for goose and gander in that respect, then let us have it in the other—since Ministers do not have to declare their hours, let it be the same for others. In that way we will all be on all fours. We are answerable to our individual constituents, and we must satisfy them that we do a decent job in Parliament and the country. I never work less than 60 hours a week, and I break the working time directive every week of the parliamentary year. If, while we do that, we write the odd article or give the odd bit of advice, then God bless us all. Let us move forward in an atmosphere of tolerant and mutual admiration—as I admire the right hon. Gentleman for what he said a few minutes ago.

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Opposition Whip (Commons)

We have only 29 minutes left, but I hope that we will be able to reach other clauses—

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

We will not get any further because we will have Divisions. Keep talking.

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Opposition Whip (Commons)

Mr. Vara points out from the Conservative Front Bench that there will be Divisions as well to use up the time, so I might as well speak for as long as I like.

I welcome the decision to accept amendment 7. Along with removing clause 6, that will help to create the distinction between Parliament and the courts. Most of the many Government amendments changing "rules" to "code" are cosmetic, but that change is acceptable if it helps to remove clause 6.

Amendment 73 should be supported by the Government, as the idea of the register is to show the conflicts that Members have and how they use their time. That principle should apply to Ministers as much as it does to anyone else. One of the roles of this House is to hold the Government to account, so ministerial interests must be in conflict with that role at times. People should be able to judge the roles that Ministers play, and the time that they are able to put into their work.

I have quite a lot of sympathy with amendment 28 and the concerns about professional confidentiality, but I worry about whether it would have the effect that contracts could be drawn so that the word "confidentiality" could take on a wider meaning. If it can be restricted to professional understandings that already exist, I think that amendment 28 could be acceptable.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I rise to support amendment 73, which is excellent, and I also agree with everything that my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack said. He was absolutely right that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the Government gander. However, with the economy in meltdown and our armed forces engaged in a battle in Afghanistan, it is astonishing that this House should spend so much time on this matter. It is true that there is public concern about expenses and that we had to address that, but the Government have come forward with a completely irrelevant issue relating to Members' interests. There is no clamour for the complex proposals that they have introduced save among the ardent socialists on Secretary of State's own Benches, and there are not too many of them.

This provision bears all the hallmarks of a nasty, petty and partisan attempt by the Prime Minister to stoke up hostility towards some on the Conservative Benches, although it will have the added advantage of dragging in some of his right hon. and Blairite Friends whose services clearly are valued by a number of corporations and individuals out there in the public sector. I look at Mr. Ingram, a good friend of mine. I am so glad that he has been properly remunerated for his great talents and skills. If this were not an attempt to stoke up hostility, the Government would have accepted the case for bringing Ministers within the scope of the Bill. If the Prime Minister were not minded to be so venomous about it, logic would demand that Ministers should be brought into its scope. They spend infinitely more time than most of us who have outside interests on doing things other than looking after their constituents. There is therefore no justification for excluding Ministers. I did not think that the Justice Secretary's little example supported his case.

This draconian measure will impose enormous added burdens on right hon. and hon. Members. We will be required to fill in some sort of time sheet, rather like lawyers, totting up how much time we spend on other interests. We have already seen how Members have fallen foul of the requirement to register interests, not in most cases because they have been dishonourable or evil, but simply as a result of the pressures on time. It is monstrous that the Government have proposed this complex web of requirements to impose on us.

Failure to record interests accurately will render us all liable to criminal prosecution. It is important that we put it on record that there should be right hon. and hon. Members who have other interests. It is extremely important for Labour Members for, if they do not have other interests, they will be unemployed after the next general election.

This House, as some commentators have noted, does not have enough people with business experience to inform debates in this place. It is left to those with experience in the other place to amend legislation that is pushed through here by people who do not have experience. I have checked with the House of Commons Library and, as matters stand, 7 per cent. of Labour Members have business experience and 38 per cent. of Conservative Members do. It is an indictment of Parliament that so few people have business experience. Therefore, I encourage all hon. Members to have outside interests. It adds to the value of debates in the House.

I conclude by reminding the Committee of a remark made by the Bishop of Durham in another place. He said during debates on constitutional reform:

"it looks as though constitutional change has been done on a wing and a prayer. We on these Benches are very happy to supply the prayer, but we want to be assured of the quality of the wing."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 11 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 767.]

What the Justice Secretary's action tonight has demonstrated is that the wing is not qualified and is indeed plummeting to earth rapidly.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

I endorse much of what my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth said about amendment 73, and what my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack said. Let me set out the strongest case for Ministers being brought into the scope of the rules on declarations. Just imagine what the inclusion of Ministers would show. If Mr. Straw were now the Foreign Secretary, it would probably show that he spent 80 or 90 per cent. of his working time being Foreign Secretary. I do not know how many hours he spends being Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice; I would submit that that must account for 70 or 75 per cent. of his working time. That would seem to be a reasonable proportion of his time to spend on ministerial office. For that, he is justifiably rewarded with extra salary as a Cabinet Minister. I appreciate that he does not draw the Lord Chancellor's salary. The inclusion of Ministers in the rules on declaration would, at a stroke, legitimise the view that other Members of Parliament without ministerial office would be perfectly justified in taking outside employment for a number of hours for a degree of extra remuneration.

The failure to include Ministers in the rules on declaration seems deliberately to suggest that being a Minister is legitimate, but having a different outside interest, even if it is for the public good, is not legitimate. An invidious atmosphere has been created on the subject of outside interests. That was obviously political, and had absolutely nothing to do with the exposure of the expenses of right hon. and hon. Members by The Daily Telegraph and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It was a purely vindictive and political act for the Prime Minister to bring that extra resolution before the House. It was done to create that political atmosphere.

In parenthesis and perhaps not entirely relevantly, I might add that it has always struck me as slightly odd that a Member of Parliament resigns by accepting an office of profit under the Crown. I have never understood why being a Minister does not count as having an office of profit under the Crown. If we are to go on professionalising the House of Commons, as my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman said yesterday, we should chuck the Executive out of Parliament altogether, on the basis that to be a Minister is to hold an office of profit under the Crown. That should disqualify Ministers from being Members of the House of Commons.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The truth is that being a Minister was an office. It was the case certainly until the 1920s, if not later, as we were reminded last night—

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Indeed; the hon. Gentleman mentioned that whenever anybody was appointed as a Minister, there was automatically a by-election. That would be a bit risky these days. I can think of many reasons for not having such a system. I understand the strong feelings about what is in paragraph 24 of the new arrangements that come into force tomorrow, but those arrangements are not directly germane to the Bill, which simply provides a framework, particularly given that we will withdraw clause 5(8).

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

It would, of course, be churlish of me not to acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to withdraw subsection (8). That is the subject that I want to move on to next. The withdrawing of parts of the Bill should amount to substantial concessions, but although we were initially delighted by what he announced about clause 6, we were not aware that while he was making that dramatic concession, other amendments were being tabled that seemed to undo his concession. I appreciate that there has been progress, but we have taken 10 steps forward and nine steps back. If I may, I shall spend a few moments explaining why I think that.

My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Grieve accepted my comment that the new subsections (1) and (2) to clause 5, introduced by amendment 74, leave some ambiguity as to whether the code is confined purely to the issue of expenses and declarations, or whether it might go wider. I have since studied the Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It is not difficult to connect every single one of those principles with the declaration of financial interests. For example, the text on selflessness states:

"Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves", so that one goes in. The principle of integrity states:

"Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations", so that one goes into the code. The principle of objectivity requires us to make choices for public office on merit. I wonder whether that could be squeezed in somehow. The principle of accountability certainly applies. People in public office should

"submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office."

I am sure IPSA will do that.

According to the principle of openness, we should be open about the decisions that we take. On honesty, the code says that we

"have a duty to declare any private interests".

So a great deal of what is in the Nolan principles overlaps dramatically with what would be a code instead of rules under the Act. The withdrawal of clause 6 does not amount to nearly such a large concession as was originally advertised by the Lord Chancellor.

The concern raised by the learned Clerk about clause 6 referred to the anxiety that

"the maintenance of such a resolution"— that is, the code—

"and the content of what it approves would become, by virtue of Clause 6, a matter which is justiciable by the courts."

By virtue of being included in the Act, instead of being made by resolution of the House, the code would, by definition, be justiciable. The code relating to financial matters in the Bill will be justiciable by the courts. If it does not conform with the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life or with the rules, it would, by definition, be justiciable.

I still do not see how the Lord Chancellor has dealt with paragraph 9 of the learned Clerk's memorandum. Paragraph 9 states:

"It is not clear why this clause is in the Bill."

It is not at all clear why we should have to substitute "code" for "rules" unless, as we heard, it is purely to satisfy the impulsive outburst of the Prime Minister, who wanted to be able to tell the public, to appease the press and to ingratiate himself with the press, that there would be a statutory code to which MPs would be subject.

Clause 6 may be withdrawn, but clause 10 is still in the Bill. That is the problem that gives rise to the anxiety about a chilling effect on the freedom of speech in Parliament. The inclusion of the code undoes whatever good the withdrawal of clause 6 does, and the Bill remains as unsatisfactory and as dangerous to the interests of our constituents as ever.

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Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 9:45 pm, 30th June 2009

Clearly, as I said yesterday, Members of the House are either elected representatives who are free to earn outside, or professional politicians who are not. It is with that thought that I shall address the clause and the amendments. As some hon. Members know, I have become convinced over a period that, unfortunately, the House is heading in the direction of professional politics. That, for better or for worse, is why I have decided not to stand again. I confess that when I made my decision, pessimist though I sometimes am, even I could not conceive of a clause as poor as clause 5.

Let me explain my reasoning. First, the Secretary of State has said consistently, throughout the proceedings on the Bill, that we need the Bill in order to quell public anxiety over expenses, but it ought to be obvious to every Member of the House, including those who have just entered it, that the clause has nothing at all to do with expenses. It is to do with the declaration of financial interests. If the Secretary of State had wanted a Bill concerned merely with expenses, he could have had it quickly yesterday and that would have been an end to it. But no, we have to have this Bill and this clause.

The clause places before us a series of rules that will apparently be replaced by a code. My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Grieve and my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin have just been through all the arguments, and it is not ultimately clear whether "rules" is to be replaced by "code"—the most likely explanation is that the Prime Minister has promised a code and that is an end of it—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex just argued, whether the courts will be given the power to rule on the clause, thereby obviating the removal from the Bill of clause 6, which was offered to us as a concession yesterday.

Furthermore, I do not know what will replace clause 5(8), if anything. Some Members may know because the Justice Secretary has been scurrying back and forth to speak to them. However, we do know what remains and looks likely to be punishable by the courts under clause 9. Nevertheless, we do not even know whether what the Bill seeks to give effect to, namely the provision whereby we have to declare in detail every hour that we work outside this place, will stand or be replaced by whatever Sir Christopher Kelly brings forth.

I thought I heard the Secretary of State say this afternoon that, if Sir Christopher comes forth in due course and says, "I do not much like any of this," it may all have to be replaced anyway. I thought also that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex say that Sir Christopher, in conversation with him, seemed to intimate that he was not happy with every aspect of the Bill, raising the further question why it exists and why the clause exists.

Underneath that tangled mess, which is so tangled that my description is even more tangled than it normally would be, lies a simplicity. As other hon. Members have said, the Government are creating an atmosphere of illegitimacy around outside interests. That is the purpose of clauses 5 and 9, and the ceiling that has been descending year upon year on outside interests, ever since the Nolan report and probably further back, is being ratcheted down under this Bill. It is essentially unjust, because the one group of people who will not have to declare how much time they spend working on business other than those of their constituents are, of course, Ministers. If there were any justice, they would accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends, so that Ministers had to declare how many hours they spent moonlighting outside this place—to use the language that they frequently throw at us. But of course, they will not accept it.

Either we are to be elected representatives who are free to work or, if we are to be professional politicians, we will have to separate the Executive and the legislature, and being an MP will be a full-time job. I do not expect the Justice Secretary to address that argument fully or completely openly. I understand why the Leader of the House cannot be present, but, notably, the Justice Secretary has been sent in because, with his usual combination of charm and cunning, he is the only Front-Bench spokesperson likely to get the Bill past unsuspecting Government Members who, if they are still here after the next election, will find that it bites as much on them as on any other Member.

My closing words, however, are not to the Justice Secretary but to my Front-Bench team. If, as may be, there is a Conservative Government after the next election, they are going to inherit this mess, and they are going to have to make a fundamental decision themselves, despite all the political difficulties. The question is, are they going to allow the boat to continue to drift all the way down to the professionalisation of politics, or are they going to make a stand and allow this House to return to what it should be—namely, a forum in which the clash of interests is represented and debated? If this House does not do that, there is no purpose in it being here at all.

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Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Shadow Minister (Science and Innovation)

We heard a brilliant contribution from my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman; I hope that he changes his mind at some point.

On sources of outside income, we have to be absolutely clear that we are talking about jobs undertaken and time spent in addition to our work as Members of Parliament. Clearly, a ministerial job is additional to the duties of a Member of Parliament. Committee chairmanship and, perhaps, the Speaker's role can also be seen in that light. If we are declaring the number of hours of paid work outside this place, or even inside it, it is completely illogical that we are not declaring the number of hours of unpaid work outside this place, as well as inside it. Fundamentally, if we are arguing that being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job—although I do not make that argument—then, equally, anything that takes a Member of Parliament outside this place to undertake other kinds of employment and use their time in other ways should be declared. If somebody is working for a charity, acting as a school governor, or doing anything that is not remunerated, surely those hours should also be listed. Of course, to do so would be considered completely nonsensical and not particularly relevant. Perhaps that is why the declaration of the number of hours worked or the amount of money received should equally be seen as nonsensical.

Let us take a completely different view. It could well be argued that the fewer the number of hours a Member of Parliament spends fulfilling his or her duties, provided that he or she is efficient, the better. That is a good sign. If a Member of this House can achieve in three hours a day what other Members, or other people, might achieve in eight hours a day, is that not something to be welcomed? Efficiency must come into play. My background is in business, and I can say immediately that people in business—people who are entrepreneurs, who are enterprising, and who are looking for a return and a benefit to their company and to the economy—will look for the most efficient person who can achieve the best result in the fewest number of hours. The whole drive towards the declaration of the number of hours, with the undertone that it is bad to work fewer hours fulfilling one's duties as a Member of Parliament, is incorrect.

Underlying several parts of the Bill is the assumption that outside interests or outside earnings are a bad thing. I put it to the House that we want a variety of people here. I do not want only wealthy people to be represented in this place—that would make it a very bad place to be. These changes to the rules, which insist on each individual hour of income earned outside being declared, are not only unworkable but work against people from less well-off backgrounds coming into this place. We will end up with the sort of people who have no outside interests because they have unearned income from elsewhere, have made a fortune in the past, or come from wealthy families, or the sort of people who have been permanent professional politicians. I am not sure that that is good for the nation or for our constituents.

I hope that the Government change their mind on several clauses, and that the Bill achieves what we would all like it to achieve—the independent administration of expenses, allowances and, potentially, salaries. I think that that is readily acceptable.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have listened to the debate with great care. Let me say for the assistance of the House that in addition to the Government amendments, which I commend to the House, the Government wish to accept amendments 16, 17, 7, 29 and 30. We will separately consider amendment 28, and we are opposing amendment 73.

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Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 340, Noes 159.

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Division number 170 Hydrofluorocarbons Limitation — Clause 5 — MPs' financial interests rules

Aye: 339 MPs

No: 159 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment 74 agreed to.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 29 June).

The Chairman put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time ( Programme Order, 29 June , and Standing Order No. 83D ) .

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