Code of Conduct

– in the House of Lords at 3:23 pm on 2nd July 2001.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 3:23 pm, 2nd July 2001

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Code of Conduct for Members of this House.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This approach had been thought to be the most convenient procedure for your Lordships' House. It allows us to have a more flexible debate than if there had been a speakers' list in the usual way. Perhaps it would be helpful if I indicated the intended procedure and order of discussion. The intention is that we take the Motion and each amendment in their natural place. I shall move my Motion and speak to it; then the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will move his amendment and make his speech; then we will have a general debate in which all who wish to intervene may take part, including, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who has tabled his own separate amendment.

This is of course a matter for the House and we on this side approach it on the basis that it will be a free vote. My advice is and will remain that if noble Lords want it, we should agree to the amendment standing in my name not simply because it is in my name but, significantly, because it is, among other reasons, the majority recommendation of the group to which I shall refer in a moment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The noble and learned Lord tabled a Motion, not an amendment.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Baroness is as always quite right. I moved a Motion, and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, moved an amendment.

I shall place this subject in an historical context, although, unusually, the relevant developments occurred quite recently. In November 2000, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is usually called the Neill committee after its distinguished chairman, published its report on standards of conduct in the House of Lords.

In January this year, my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington asked me to chair a small group on implementation. The group was assisted substantially by the staff of this House. I am sure that all those who served on that committee are extremely grateful for the assistance that we were given. We tried to secure a reasonably representative group. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who has enormous experience in public service and subsequently outside, was nominated, and I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for doing that. Also on the committee was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, who, after all, is a former Law Officer and an extremely senior and respected Member of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, proposed the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Kingsland, and I was very pleased to have their contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, brought substantial experience in the parliamentary and local government contexts. The latter should not be overlooked as a reservoir of possible assistance.

We were told to report in three months and we did so in two-and-a-half. We had hoped to be unanimous but we failed to be. We produced a text that four committee members supported; the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Kingsland, dissented, but only in part.

To help noble Lords, I point out that the most useful documents are today's Order Paper and the cross-referenced paper that has been available in the Printed Paper Office. The cross references are most helpfully--I am grateful to the administrative staff for doing this--set out in three different colours. The original text is in black; when the original text is affected by the "Kingsland amendment", if I may refer to it in that way, that text has been emboldened in red and the proposed replacements appear in blue. That is a useful cross reference for those noble Lords who might want to see the difference between what was originally produced in the red bound volume by the committee that I chaired and the effect of the Kingsland amendment. I hope that that is of assistance.

One of the matters to which we put our mind and which I invite noble Lords to consider is: what should an adopted code hope to achieve? I suggest that it is a significant protection for individual Members of this House if we all know, in some degree of precision, the standards that we are obliged to maintain. Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, it is my deep belief that as this House develops--we have had short debates on the development of our composition and on the possible changes in working practice--we should look to securing wider public support for what is done and said in this House. I believe that a published, demonstrable code of conduct is very useful in relation to that second purpose.

In a code we want something that is clear, coherent, easy to understand and fair and simple to give effect to. I believe that the draft code realises each of those aims. I suggest that any code that we adopt should chime with the spirit of our times and the Neill committee recommendations and that it should command wider public support outside the narrow gates of Parliament.

I know that noble Lords have had an opportunity to examine the documents so I turn immediately to the essential recommendations. First, paragraph 1 sets out--I hope that it does so clearly--the, "Purpose of the Code". There is no dissent on this matter, so far as I am aware. That purpose is,

"to provide guidance for Members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them in the discharge of their parliamentary and public duties".

The latter duty is important; the provision is not limited simply to parliamentary duties.

The second purpose in numbered paragraph 1 is,

"to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary and public duties".

Those Members of the Committee who have the cross-referenced, differently coloured paper will see that there is no dissent from those dual purposes.

The original proposal in the Motion, which I commend to the House, was that,

"Members of the House:

- must comply with the Code of Conduct;

- should act always on their personal honour;

- must never accept any financial inducement ...

- must not vote on any Bill or Motion ... in return for payment or any other material benefit (the 'no paid advocacy' rule)".

When we produced our code--I am always open to be corrected--and sent it to my predecessor, all the terms of paragraph 4 were agreed to. We spent a good deal of time looking at a number of different aspects and nuances of these matters. Paragraph 5 sets out the seven general principles of conduct and I do not trouble the Committee with those.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 3:30 pm, 2nd July 2001

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord and ask: who is the holder of a public office? There is no definition in the Motion. I am led to believe that we are all holders of public office. If that is correct, it is not a natural meaning of the term. It may be better to have the term defined in the Motion.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I think not. In fact, all seven principles come from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We simply adopted them. That is why I refer to them rather than consider the definitions. I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, that he will be offering his contribution to the Committee this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

But who is the holder of a public office?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

All those who are in public life who are remunerated one way or another by the public or, if not remunerated, are in a position where they affect significantly public life in this country; for example, judges. I do not believe that the noble Lord will be able to find a totally comprehensive definition. The committee said that these are the principles which should inform those in public life. I doubt that we shall ever obtain a satisfactory comprehensive definition. That was not a point at issue between any of the members of the committee, although that does not bind this Chamber.

We go specifically now to deal with the question implied by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and he may find his answer in the terms of his specific context in paragraph 6, which states:

"In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest in favour of the public interest".

Paragraph 7 is another paragraph which was agreed to by the committee. It began, I suggest correctly, with the activity of registration and states that,

"Members of the House must: ... register in the Register of Lords' Interests all relevant interests of their own or of their spouse, in order to make clear those interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their actions".

The committee's report then referred to declarations (when speaking in the House or communicating with Ministers, government departments and executive agencies) of any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion. Your Lordships can see that I am omitting some words, not to be deceptive, but to be economical.

What happens in the context of the Kingsland amendment is that the declaration is put first, in different words, and registration is put second, again in different words.

Photo of Baroness Boothroyd Baroness Boothroyd Crossbench

I am sure that Members of the Committee understand that, when making a speech, it is better to declare at the beginning of that speech any financial interest there may be in the subject. Will the Leader of the House make it clear to the Chamber what is intended with regard to tabling a Parliamentary Question and asking a supplementary question? It is sometimes difficult to make a declaration at those times. Perhaps that point should be made clear at this stage.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Baroness makes an extremely important point and one on which I have remarked in my own experience. Seven minutes for a Question is extremely short. Sometimes Members of the House say, "I declare my interest". But many of us remain baffled as to what that interest is. I agree with the noble Baroness that that is the virtue of registration. If there is ambiguity, one can go to the registration and clear that ambiguity out of the way. I am grateful for the intervention and agree with the thoughts behind it. That is why I was suggesting earlier, I hope acceptably to the Committee, that registration may well be a significant protection for someone who simply does not have the time to explain the interest when asking the supplementary question.

The question that develops naturally from that helpful intervention is: what is a relevant interest? Paragraph 8, which was agreed to unanimously, deals with that and states:

"The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties.

The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether others might reasonably think that this might be the case".

"Relevant interests" include both financial and non-financial interests. Members of the Committee will see that amendments have been made, but I repeat--I hope not at tedious length--that those were matters agreed by the whole committee.

The fundamental dissent in the letter from the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Elton, related to paragraphs 11 and 12. Originally paragraph 11 read in the way that is set out. Again it does not help for me to read everything out. There is an addition to deal with visits paid for from public funds. It was thought inappropriate to require registration in that regard.

We then come to paragraph 12, which states,

"The list in paragraph 11 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant financial interests may also include (depending on their significance)"-- and a list follows.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

In relation to declaration of interests, I am on the Armed Forces parliamentary committee. Our air fares are paid for, I believe, by sponsorship. Does that sort of sponsorship count as public funds--I have nothing to do with it--or is it something which should be looked at?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

If it is commercial sponsorship, it is plainly not public funds. Perhaps I can help the noble Earl. There are bound to be questions of that sort which strike any of us, "Have I done the right thing? Where is the line drawn? Where does it fall?". The noble Earl will find the answer in paragraph 17. I accept that this comes later but I deal with his question as it arises.

Questions of that sort are bound to arise. The committee said that,

"The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House. A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct".

I shall develop that point later, but it is useful to mention it at this stage. There are bound to be some difficult areas where honourable people will honourably take different views. I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that we were looking for a light touch. I did not want to introduce the spirit of Savonarola into our affairs. If one looks at the situation free of all prejudice or preconception, as Members of the Committee always do on these occasions, and asks the Onslow question: "Which side of the line am I on? I should not wish to be the object of criticism. Equally, I should not like to be overly fastidious", we find the answer is in paragraph 17, "Go and see the registrar". It is an important question and that is why we use a light touch. Even if the registrar is wrong, no transgression follows. That is important.

I turn to paragraph 12:

"The list in paragraph 11 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant financial interests may also include (depending on their significance):

--shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest;

--landholdings (excluding Members' homes);

--the financial interests of a spouse or relative or friend".

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

That is extraordinary.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

As I said earlier, it is not extraordinary when one examines the possible mischief. Perhaps I may explain that and then it will not seem extraordinary. No one has yet had the great facility of listening to the argument. Perhaps I might be allowed to develop it. Paragraph 12 continues:

"--hospitality or gifts given to a Member which could reasonably be regarded as an incentive to support a particular cause or interest".

Members of the Committee will see that all of those have been struck out in consequence of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. With regard to:

"--shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest",

I give an illustration which I stress is entirely hypothetical. I am not in the happy position of being a 1 per cent holder of a shareholding in BP, but if I were, two consequences would follow. First, I probably would not be doing this job and, secondly, I would be an extremely happy bunny. A 1 per cent shareholding in BP is not a controlling shareholding and cannot be under any definition of company law or City practice that I have encountered. However, it is a significant interest.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. This is one of the matters which concerns me and one which is based on a total misunderstanding. The situation is inconceivable. First, in that particular case the noble and learned Lord would have to be a billionaire because BP is a multi-billion pound company. Secondly, it is inconceivable that anything that we debated here could have that direct effect upon any company, certainly not a multi-national.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

There are two points I should like to mention. First, I wish that the noble Lord had not been quite so incredulous about the prospect of my becoming a billionaire at some stage. Secondly, the noble Lord has excavated his own elephant trap and leapt willingly into it. It is not a question of "whether or not anything which could be done here could affect" but one of public perception, among other things. This Chamber may lack legislative power but it is extremely influential. Members have debates which lead to no legislation. I refer, for instance, to the stem cell debate. I do not believe that a debate of such high intellectual and moral quality could have been found in any legislature in the world. Members sometimes address public meetings. On occasions they write articles, give lectures and so forth. A good deal of the attention paid to noble Lords is because they are Members of this place, which is why I sought to stress earlier that we are not talking simply of parliamentary duties; we are also talking of public duties.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Perhaps I may deal completely with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. I would not like it to hang evanescently in the air. The perfect answer to it is in the caveat to paragraph 12:

"The list in paragraph 11 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant financial interests may also include", and then the further caveat,

"(depending on their significance)".

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his illustration. If one considers this matter, it is a light touch. It is supposed to be subtle and sophisticated enough to deal with a variety of different circumstances. Perhaps I may finish this matter before giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

"--Landholdings (excluding Members' homes);

--the financial interests of a spouse or relative or friend".

My old friend and companion in arms, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that that was extraordinary; it is not. The question to be asked is whether there is a close enough relationship to give the impression to those outside who might come to a conclusion that we had not voted wholly impartially.

Some people have a large circle of friends; some have only one or two. It may be that some people are closer to their closest friends than to many of their relatives. I certainly know many in those circumstances. I am told that it may well be these days that people have friendly relations even with those who are not their spouses. That may not be true, but I heard it in the Bishops' Bar, so it is likely to be true.

The point here is not that every friend's modest shareholding or small amount of Treasury notes under the bed in North Wales has to be declared. The overarch here in paragraph 12 is:

"relevant financial interests may include (depending on their significance)", those following matters. Again, if there is any difficulty or doubt, what does the puzzled or troubled person do? He or she goes to the registrar to see what is the conclusion.

I shall round off this part and then give way. Could hospitality or gifts reasonably be regarded as an incentive to support a particular cause or interest? There is nothing difficult about these matters if we recognise the enormous influence of this House.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may take the noble and learned Lord back to the point about public perception, which is important. For some years the House of Commons has maintained a much tougher register than this House. Is it the view of the noble and learned Lord that that enhances the reputation of another place? Complaints are often made vexaciously and for political reasons. For example, we need only look at the recent examples of the Prime Minister's nanny, William Hague's use of a gym and John Major's lecture trips to the United States. Is it the view of the noble Lord that the House of Commons has a higher reputation in the conscience of the public than this House which has a far lesser regulatory regime but one which has worked extremely well since it was introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, in 1995?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Lord has made a number of points which are obviously important. Before the notorious scandals at the other end of the Palace, if anyone had said to me that Members of Parliament were in the habit of taking £2,000 for asking parliamentary questions I should simply have refused to believe it. But I was living in a naive world of my own.

The House of Commons has a different regime to the one proposed here. That is why I believe it is legitimate to say--I shall repeat it, waiting for the hollow laughter--that we have adopted a much lighter touch. I am not sure that it is proper for me to criticise what the Commons committee did or the preliminary conclusions arrived at by Miss Filkin. However, I understand that a number of the examples given by the noble Lord may well have found a degree of favour in thinking that there was a disproportion. We deliberately tried not to get out of kilter or be disproportionate. We do not have the elaborate regime which is in place at the Commons.

The noble Lord was good enough to mention the Griffiths resolution of 1995, which includes "friends". It is not we who have introduced "friends". I think that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will have to agree that it is not entirely extraordinary. It is already in the declaratory rules on which we voted in November 1995. However, I shall continue.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

The noble and learned Lord chose to give us an example of a 1 per cent shareholding in BP. It is valuable to have such guidance. However, the example chosen was remarkable and perhaps does not apply to anybody in this place. Let us suppose that it was 0.1 per cent, 0.01 per cent or 0.001 per cent, all of which might pass his test as being seen by some as significant. As he chose to give us guidance in the case of shares of BP, would he not go further and give us a little more guidance? Frankly, the example he gave was not helpful.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I was not giving guidance, I was providing a rationale for the rule. It may be that a small component shareholding in a large international company may be of significance, but I shall repeat what I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Paragraph 12 specifically states that the list is not exhaustive and that

"relevant financial interests" may also include (depending on their significance)".

Their significance depends on the issue on which we might be voting. Some issues on which we might be voting might have a marginal tangential relationship to BP, for instance. On the other hand, we might be voting on a matter of great importance relating to the construction of a pipeline. In those circumstances, a significant large holding in BP might well fall to be registered.

If one wants a completely dictatorial Holy Writ approach, which I do not, one would have to have an enormous document--the New Testament, the Old Testament and the Apocrypha--in order to deal with all these questions. I hope that the more we develop the dialogue the more your Lordships will come to see that we have produced a light touch, flexible, subtle tool. All of these questions can be answered if one simply looks at what has been set out.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

I am disturbed by the phrase "public perception". First, are we talking about decent ordinary people or are we talking about the media? Secondly, I find the mention of "friend" difficult. I have an enormous range of friends but I do not have the slightest notion whether they have shares in BP or anything else. It has nothing to do with my friendship and I do not know it. I could easily stand and argue a case, wholly unaware that I was in the happy position of having the friendship of someone who owned the entire company. I do not know that kind of information about my friends and I do not ask them. I believe that most people feel the same.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, drew the distinction between ordinary decent people and the media. I do not accept that distinction.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Your Lordships will be kind enough to allow me to explain why. In the past four years, during which there has been a significant Government majority in the House of Commons, a significant even though irritating role has been played by the media in holding up government and executive to account. Some would say that that was a duty discharged by the media--although not every part and aspect from comics to broadsheets. A significant part of print and broadcast media work is to challenge, possibly even to raise questions which may seem to be unfair or cynical. Therefore, I do not draw the same distinction. I believe that in a civil democracy one needs a press to ask questions, even when they are disagreeable.

As regards the question relating to friends, having know the noble Baroness a long time I know that she has a vast circle of friends. If she does not know that they have any interests, the question does not arise. It could be of no significance because if one of her former students--and I know that she is in regular correspondence with students from far-flung areas of the globe--had an interest about which she knew nothing, it would never become relevant. I repeat that we have worked on the friends concept since Griffiths.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

I thank the Minister. My point was exactly the same as that raised by my noble friend Lady Park.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

Is the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House aware that the longer the cross-examination of him from the Conservative Benches continues the more some of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches become convinced of the need for the code, and for the general principles, as it seems that the principles are not well enough understood as they stand?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, "Give him a job", but apparently they have all been given. I am happy to answer these questions because if there are anxieties, even if they are not well based, I ought to try to deal with them.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down--

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I was not going to sit down for a moment or two but I shall do so. I was simply giving the reference to the resolution of this House, which stated:

"Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for instance, the interest of a relation or friend".

Therefore, the provision is no new thing but I shall happily give way.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

I do not believe that we have left paragraph 12, the controversial paragraph. Will the noble and learned Lord be so good as to give a definition of "friend", bearing in mind that all of us have many friends in your Lordships' House? Indeed, I like to think that the noble and learned Lord is a friend.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Of course and I happily reciprocate. However, in all our many conversations about life, history and the civilisation of the western world neither of us has ever inquired what financial or real property interests the other has. Therefore the question would not arise.

I would not be able this side of Armageddon to produce a definition of "friend" which would satisfy all noble Lords, let alone a minority. I say simply that we have worked on this basis in a friendly way since the Griffiths resolution was adopted in 1995. If one approaches the matter in a sensible, light touch way, it is not difficult.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

This is a serious point, whatever the precedents may be. There is an ill-natured element within the press and one can imagine it possibly abusing this particular aspect. Would it not be wisest to leave out mention of "friend" in order to prevent vexatious use? As regards my family, I can think of times when the press has not treated us particularly fairly and I am sure that noble Lords can quickly think of examples where some aspects within the media have taken advantage.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Your Lordships will vote on this matter because it is part of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I do not believe that there have been such disastrous consequences since 7th November 1995 when the Griffiths resolution was adopted:

"Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for example the interest of a relation or friend ... and they may include past and future interests".

Therefore the provision is quite wide.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

Is not the problem this? In opening, my noble and learned friend said that he had tried to chime with the spirit of our time. If that is the proper approach, the word "spouse" ought always to be followed by the word "partner". "Partner" is an accepted term and I heard it referred to in a debate in your Lordships' House last week. If one is seeking to avoid that, I understand that "relative" or "friend" is meant to be a euphemism for "partner". I suggest to my noble and learned friend that he must include "partner" after "spouse" or he will not chime with the spirit of our time.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

When I was at the Bar and appeared in front of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, he always urged me to get my references correct. I said that we must chime with the spirit of Neill. In any event, the spirit of our time, to take the phrase used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, is one where automatic response to those in authority is no longer the norm and there are serious questions about propriety.

I would be confident that in the overwhelming majority of cases in this Chamber the suspicion would be wrongly based. The way to deal with suspicion is to let in the clear air. I do not use "friend" as another word to describe a person who lives with another of the same or different sex without having been married. It is the nature of the relationship. A noble Lord might have such a close friend that if he knows of a significant interest, to take the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, he might feel that he had discharged his duty more properly by saying, "I have to say that a close friend of mine is a very large landowner", or whatever, "and this will affect him". It is as simple as that.

If one has a friend whose interests one is wholly unaware of the question does not arise. One does not have to send a round robin catechising all one's friends about what they own and whether they have any money in the bank. One must be realistic about these matters.

I return to the central point that there was no one on the committee who was against the principle of registration and declaration. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. The issue is set out in the letter of dissent which was bound into the red book. I hope that the Committee will not take it harshly if I say that if these principles are not accepted we shall do ourselves a very serious, critical disservice and harm the public interest, which is not always coincident with our own.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

The noble and learned Lord has been very generous with his time. As the document is now drafted, may we not be in danger of doing a great disservice, to use the noble and learned Lord's most recent phrase, to friends of one or other of us who legitimately wish to keep private their own interests? The whole point is that under Griffiths it is declaratory and voluntary, but under the noble and learned Lord's proposals it is a "must". Therefore, as a friend with an interest which I may wish to keep private--I have none as far as I know, but I might--I have no means of controlling whether it is or is not to be blazoned across a public document and examined by the media, which the noble and learned Lord has so eloquently defended.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

That is not so if the hypothesis is that the noble and learned Lord has a friend with a private interest of which the noble and learned Lord is unaware. If I have misunderstood the point and the significant interest is known, by definition it should be disclosed. When one comes into this Chamber one has an enormous raft of advantage which does not come without a degree of discipline. The Griffiths resolution said that noble Lords with a direct financial interest should declare it, and they should also declare any non-financial interest. It goes on to say that such interests may include the interest of a relation or friend.

If the Committee is of the view that all is well in this world I must seriously dissent. I repeat that not one member of the committee, which sat a long time ago and spent a good deal of time on the matter, concluded that registration and declaration were not required.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that I had been generous with my time, which may mean that it is time I sat down and let the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, speak. I have tried to respond to everything I possibly can. There are one or two matters of further detail. I ask your Lordships to look at old paragraph 15 and new paragraph 18. Since we are in non-controversial areas I may as well deal with the point. In case any noble Lord does not have the cross-comparator I shall refer to it. Our majority proposal was that,

"The list in paragraph 14 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant non-financial interests may also include (depending on their significance):

--other trusteeships".

The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is "(excepting family trusts)". We have a plain disagreement. One example, not guidance, is that at one time I declared my trusteeship of the NSPCC. That post was not remunerated, nor did I claim or receive any expenses. I had to register and declare that, quite rightly. If the Kingsland amendment is agreed and family trusts are excluded, despite the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, I may be a trustee of a family trust that controls hundreds of millions or perhaps even a billion pounds. I do not see the sense of having to disclose my unpaid trusteeship of the NSPCC but not being obliged to disclose a vast family trust.

If one wants to be cynical about the media, in any event many of these matters can be discovered one way or another. If one wants to research Companies House and shareholdings one way or another one can find them out. It takes a good deal of effort. When it is done after a good deal of effort normally it brings about the comment in some parts of the media that it was all hidden away and it has had to be squirreled out. I believe that we are all much better off being open about it. If one has nothing to hide, why seek to hide it?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

What the noble and learned Lord proposes completely misunderstands my reading of the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Kingsland. Family trusts are not excluded from the requirement to disclose. Let nobody in this Chamber believe that an interest in a family trust can be excluded, if that is what is being debated. Those are the existing rules and nothing is being changed. The impression given by the Leader of the House was that in some way my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Elton sought to protect all noble Lords with an interest in family trusts from ever having to declare them. This has been a good opportunity for me to put the record straight.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

If that is right I am very pleased, but I remain in some doubt, which will obviously be the subject of explanation by the noble Lord, as to why there is an exception for family trusts. If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is correct in his guidance I am happy to bow to it and accept it gratefully.

The Committee will forgive me if I have overlooked anything which needs to be dealt with, because I shall return to it in winding up. The final matter of detail is the question of commencement. Originally, my Motion proposed the commencement date of January 2002. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, took the view that it should be 31st March 2002, and I believe that the Liberal Democrat Benches came to the same conclusion. Having reflected upon it, that seems a reasonable compromise. I do not know whether I can assist further at this stage. I shall reply to any questions in due time.

Moved to resolve, That this House adopts a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords as follows: CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS Purpose of the Code 1. The purpose of this Code of Conduct is: -- to provide guidance for Members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them in the discharge of their parliamentary and public duties; -- to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary and public duties. 2. This Code applies to all Members of the House of Lords who have not taken leave of absence. Public duty 3. By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, Members of the House have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors, according to law. Personal conduct 4. Members of the House: -- must comply with the Code of Conduct; -- should act always on their personal honour; -- must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence; -- must not vote on any Bill or Motion, or ask any question in the House or a committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit (the "no paid advocacy" rule). 5. Members of the House should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The seven principles are: Selflessness: 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, their family, or their friends. Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties. Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit. Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office. Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands. Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example. Primacy of the public interest 6. In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest in favour of the public interest. Registration and Declaration of Relevant Interests 7. Members of the House must: -- register in the Register of Lords' Interests all relevant interests, in order to make clear what are the interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their actions; -- declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with Ministers, government departments or executive agencies, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion. This is necessary in order that their audience may form a balanced judgment of their arguments. In cases where Members of the House vote in a division where they have a relevant interest that they have not been able to declare, they should register that interest within 24 hours of the division. What is a relevant interest? 8. The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties. 9. The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case. 10. Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests. Relevant financial interests 11 The following financial interests are always relevant and therefore must be registered: -- any consultancy agreement under which Members of the House provide parliamentary advice or services; A copy of any such agreement, and the remuneration received by Members for advice in relation to parliamentary matters, must be deposited with the Registrar of Lords' Interests, so that details are available for public inspection. -- employment or any other financial interest in businesses involved in parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients, including public relations and law firms, but Members of the House involved with organisations that offer commercial lobbying services are not obliged to refrain from participating in parliamentary business in connection with all clients of that organisation but only their personal clients; -- any remunerated service which Members of the House provide by virtue of their position as members of Parliament, and the clients of any such service; -- employment as a non-parliamentary consultant; -- remunerated directorships; -- regular remunerated employment (excluding occasional income from speeches, lecturing, broadcasting and journalism); -- shareholdings amounting to a controlling interest; -- provision by an outside body of secretarial and research assistance; -- visits with costs paid in the United Kingdom and overseas, made as a member of Parliament, except any visits paid for from public funds. 12. The list in paragraph 11 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant financial interests may also include (depending on their significance): -- shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest; -- landholdings (excluding Members' homes); -- the financial interests of a spouse or relative or friend; -- hospitality or gifts given to a Member which could reasonably be regarded as an incentive to support a particular cause or interest. 13. Except for remuneration received by Members for advice in relation to parliamentary matters, Members of the House are not required to disclose how much they earn from the financial interests set out in paragraphs 11 and 12, but they may do so if they wish. Relevant non-financial interests 14. The following non-financial interests are always relevant and therefore must be registered: -- membership of public bodies such as hospital trusts, the governing bodies of universities, colleges and schools, and local authorities; -- trusteeships of museums, galleries or similar bodies; -- acting as an office-holder or trustee in pressure groups or trade unions; -- acting as an office-holder or trustee in voluntary or not-for-profit organisations. 15. The list in paragraph 14 above is not exhaustive. For example, relevant non-financial interests may also include (depending on their significance): -- other trusteeships; -- unpaid membership of voluntary organisations. 16. Members of the House are not obliged to register membership of Churches, religious bodies and quasi-religious organisations. But it may be necessary to declare such interests (see paragraph 7). Advice 17. The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House. A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct. Enforcement of the Code of Conduct 18. Allegations of non-compliance with this Code are dealt with as follows: 1. Any allegation should normally be raised first with the Member complained against. However, there may be circumstances when it is more appropriate to raise the matter with a party Leader or Chief Whip, or the Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers. 2. If the complainant chooses to pursue the matter, he or she should refer the allegation directly to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, through its chairman. 3. The Sub-Committee will then examine the allegation and may decide to investigate it further or to dismiss it. 4. In the investigation and adjudication of complaints against them, Members of the House have the right to safeguards as rigorous as those applied in the courts and professional disciplinary bodies. 5. If after investigation the Sub-Committee finds the allegation proved, the Member complained against has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges. 6. The conclusions of the Sub-Committee and of the Committee for Privileges are reported to the House. 19. The adoption of this Code shall have effect from 31st March 2002.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

I beg to move my amendment to the Motion moved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. I understand that, if my amendment succeeds, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, would fall away. I hope that that is also his understanding.

I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his conduct of the proceedings of the committee. With his (dare I say) characteristic blend of good humour and single-minded determination, not only were the proceedings of the committee brisk but the conclusions were reached very early. As chairman of the committee, the noble and learned Lord now finds himself reporting to himself. The Lord Privy Seal speaks to the Committee this afternoon both as chairman and Leader of the House. I am very relieved to discover that as Leader of the House he agrees with the conclusions of the chairman.

My initial instincts at the first sitting of the committee, which I believe were shared by my noble friend Lord Elton, were to stick with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, whose code has been a remarkable success story for your Lordships' House. Since it was initiated in 1995, to the best of my knowledge there has not been a single hint of any one of your Lordships having contravened any part of it.

That is a remarkable record if one compares it with events in another place. Were it not for events in another place, which are casting an ever darkening shadow on the possession of any outside interests at all, much to the detriment of its deliberations, and for what the noble Lord, Lord Neill, said in his report, my instinct would have been to stand before the Committee and stick with the code of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. However, I do not think that that is any longer possible.

In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Neill, has changed the test which noble Lords have to meet in relation to outside interests. The test has now shifted from being essentially a subjective test--was an interest in noble Lords' opinion likely to affect their conduct in the Chamber?--to an objective test. That objective test was read out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and appears in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the multi-coloured text. I refer particularly to paragraph 9:

"The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case".

That is the most significant contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, to the debate. I believe that it should change noble Lords' approach to the question of the relationship between your Lordships' political work in the Chamber and your Lordships' outside interests.

Having said that, and having accepted the principles set out by the noble and learned Lord this afternoon. I, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Elton will endorse this later on when he speaks, have some reservations about some of the details in the recommended code.

Why should the code in the Chamber be different from the code in another place? I believe that there are a number of quite obvious reasons why that should be so. First, so far your Lordships' House has an unblemished record under the previous code. Secondly, noble Lords' primary work in life is not in the Chamber, save for those who are Ministers, but outside. What noble Lords do in the Chamber is something that they do when not doing other things elsewhere; the main focus of your Lordships' lives are your outside interests. What noble Lords do in the Chamber is in addition to that. That is a quite different perspective from another place. That, in my judgment, should make a difference to the degree of intrusiveness that the code imposes on Members of the Committee.

In my view, some of the detail in the code proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and the majority of the Committee is excessively intrusive. It is disproportionate to the objective it seeks to achieve.

Perhaps I may mention the main headings under which my noble friend Lord Elton and I have reached that conclusion. But, before I deal with the detail, I would like to repeat that we of course entirely endorse the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and the majority of the committee to the promotion of the code as a matter of principle.

As far as concerns the principal areas of difference, first, in relation to any advisory work for money that any noble Lords might do in relation to the affairs of the House, my noble friend, Lord Elton, and myself believe that it is unnecessary to require noble Lords to declare sums of money received from giving such advice. We reach that conclusion because noble Lords who give such advice are automatically prohibited from either speaking in the debate or voting on the matter. In other words, in relation to the matter upon which noble Lords give parliamentary advice, they have no political life in the Chamber. If noble Lords have no political life in the Chamber, what possible relevance can any money that is earned from giving advice have in relation to noble Lords' integrity? That is our first difference.

Our second difference is in relation to the question of "spouse or relative or friend". We accept entirely that "spouse" should be included, so that is not a matter of disagreement between us. As to "relative" and "friend" we have a number of reservations. The first difficulty is the question of definition; how distant or remote should the relative be in order to be disqualified? What kind of friend are we talking about; in what circumstance, and how long, should we have known that friend?

The second difficulty is one to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, has partly referred. That is the question of knowledge. We will not necessarily know what interests our friends or relatives have. Thirdly, even if we do know, our friends and relatives might not want us to say anything about them in public because they are confidential to them. If we seek to say something about them in public, we ourselves may be subject to judicial proceedings on the basis of breach of confidence.

Therefore, enormous complications flow from including relatives and friends for very small return.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 2nd July 2001

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Can the noble Lord explain why he accepts that a spouse should be included but a cohabitee who is not a spouse, whether or not the same sex, should not be included? What is the difference if the relationship is very close and if the interest in the facts of the case is relevant?

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, said that a cohabitee was not someone the noble and learned Lord had particularly in mind when the word "friend" was introduced into the debate.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

That is true, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is asking why should they be excluded.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

The nature of the relationship between a husband and wife in financial terms is very specifically laid down in law. That is not true of the relationship between two people who are cohabitees.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

Perhaps I may ask a question of the noble Lord because the problem of lawyers in this area is that they try to block every conceivable outlay. At any given time a great many spouses--wives or husbands--are in the process of getting divorced or have parted. They are actually paying money to find out what the other one earns. A wife who loses her pass to the Palace cannot get a replacement because the husband has to go to get a new one. As one of the attendants said to me when he refused my wife a pass, "There are many Members of your Lordships' House who do not want their wives to have passes".

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

On reflection, perhaps I should not have included spouses. It might have made life much simpler.

The third category is shareholdings. We have included no shareholdings in the mandatory category, whether of controlling or significant interests in companies. The relevance of shareholdings will depend entirely upon the circumstances of the particular debate in question. Where a particular holding might affect a large number of deliberations across the Chamber, there may be a case for entering that interest in a register. Otherwise, our recommendation in the context of a particular debate would be that if noble Lords feel that owning shares in a particular company might be perceived as having an influence on their conduct during that debate, we would advise declaring that interest, or, if noble Lords fail to declare the interest in the debate, then registering it within 24 hours of the debate having concluded.

The fourth area of difference concerns family trusts. It has already been the subject of an exchange between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. The noble and learned Lord's understanding of the outcome of that exchange is exactly my understanding and so I do not intend to say anything further about that.

The suggestion in the amendment that, whatever the outcome of today's deliberations, the new regime should not come into force before 31st March 2002 and in any event not before a resolution is connected with the imminent retirement of the proposed registrar is suggested for entirely technical reasons and not for any other reasons.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I understood it to be a little more general; namely, that a certain amount of questioning will need to be done and a certain amount of advice will need to be taken. I took the point that some noble Lords might in any event want to rearrange their financial affairs. When the proposal came from both Benches that March was more reasonable and flexible than January, it seemed to be quite fair to accept it.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

In other words, we want to rearrange our financial affairs so that they appear differently on the register. That sounds to me dead dodgy if nothing else does.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Dead dodginess must be in the eye of the beholder. It is a fact that some noble Lords might wish to alter their financial affairs. If they want to do so and therefore not be obliged to register, it occurred to me that a cut-off point in January might be too tight and that the suggestion of March seemed reasonable. As I always want to be reasonable, I accepted it.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

My final point is in relation to the reporting to the appropriate committee of any suspected breach of the rules. I feel quite strongly that the act of reporting, and the act of seizing the responsible committee with authority to investigate a matter, should be done entirely in private. It is quite understood that if the committee decides to embark on an investigation, the investigation will have to be, at least in part, in public; but the initial reporting of an alleged contravention of the rules should be in private.

Those are the only differences between my amendment and the Motion proposed by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. They are differences of detail and not of principle. They seek, in my submission rightly, to create a more proportionate relationship between the public lives of noble Lords and their private lives, which in many circumstances ought justifiably to be kept private in exactly the same way as happens with other citizens of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may question the assertion made at the beginning of his most persuasive speech that paragraph 9 provides an objective test. I submit that the word "reasonable" can never be wholly objective. If one asks 1,000 different people, one will get 1,000 different interpretations of exactly what is reasonable and unreasonable in terms of exactly where the line should be drawn.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

Many judges sitting in civil cases without the assistance of juries have had to confront that difficult problem and deal with it as best they can. At the end of the day, a committee of your Lordships' House sitting in judgment on a noble Lord who is alleged to have breached the code will be faced with exactly the same problem. The committee's view of reasonableness will be the majority view of that committee and is ultimately based on subjective perceptions. I accept that.

But all propositions that are based on the concept of reasonableness have to confront and overcome that problem. What cannot be controverted is that the noble Lord, Lord Neill, has introduced a new test and that the House, for better or for worse, has to adjust with the times. That is why, in principle, my noble friend Lord Elton and I agree with the general approach of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of the Lord Privy Seal, line 1, leave out all the words after "CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS" and insert: "Purpose of the Code of Conduct 1. The purpose of this Code of Conduct is:

(i) to provide guidance for Members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them in the discharge of their parliamentary and public duties;

(ii) to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary and public duties. 2. This Code applies to all Members of the House of Lords who have not taken leave of absence. Public duty 3. By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, Members of the House of Lords have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors, according to law. Personal conduct 4. Members of the House:

(i) should act always on their personal honour;

(ii) must comply with the Code of Conduct;

(iii) must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence;

(iv) must not vote on any Bill or Motion, or ask any question in the House or a Committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit (the "no paid advocacy" rule). 5. Members of the House should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The seven principles are: Selflessness: 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, their family, or their friends. Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties. Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit. Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office. Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands. Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example. Primacy of the public interest 6. In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest in favour of the public interest. Registration and Declaration of Relevant Interests 7. Members of the House must:

(i) declare any relevant interest of their own or of their spouse, which is pertinent to a debate, when speaking in the House and otherwise pertinent when communicating with Ministers, government departments and executive agencies. This is necessary in order that their audience may form a balanced judgment of their arguments.

(ii) register in the Register of Lords' Interests all relevant interests of their own or of their spouse, in order to make clear those interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their actions. What is a relevant interest? 8. The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties. 9. The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether others might reasonably think that this might be the case. 10. Relevant interests are capable of including both financial and non-financial interests. Relevant financial interests 11. Relevant financial interests connected with the provision of Parliamentary services include:

(i) Parliamentary consultancies;

(ii) Receiving payment for advice in relation to parliamentary matters;

(iii) Employment or other financial interests in businesses involved in parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients, including public relations, accountancy and law firms. 12. Members are obliged to refrain from speaking or voting on any matter connected with the provision of parliamentary services. However, Members of the House involved with organisations that offer commercial lobbying services are not obliged to refrain from participating in parliamentary business in connection with all clients of that organisation, but only their personal clients. 13. All Members of the House must:

(i) Register in the Register of Lords' Interests any consultancy agreement under which they provide parliamentary advice or services;

(ii) Deposit a copy of any such consultancy agreement, excluding levels of remuneration, with the Registrar of Lords' Interests so that it is available for public inspection;

(iii) Register any financial interest in a parliamentary lobbying business. 14. Other relevant financial interests are:

(i) Remunerated directorships and partnerships;

(ii) Remunerated employment (excluding occasional income from speeches, lecturing, broadcasting, journalism and writing);

(iii) Provision by an outside body of secretarial and research assistance;

(iv) Any remunerated service which Members of the House may provide by virtue of their position as Members. 15. In addition, relevant financial interests may also include:

(i) Significant shareholdings;

(ii) Significant landholdings (other than Members' homes);

(iii) Any other financial interest or inducement, which might reasonably be thought to influence a Member of the House. 16. Members of the House are not required to disclose how much they earn from the financial interests set out in paragraphs 11 to 15. Relevant non-financial interests 17. The following non-financial interests are always relevant and therefore must be registered:

(i) membership of public bodies, such as hospital trusts, the governing bodies of universities, colleges and schools, and local authorities;

(ii) trusteeships of museums, galleries or similar bodies;

(iii) acting as an office-holder or trustee in a voluntary or not-for-profit organisation, pressure group or trade union. 18. Relevant non-financial interests may also include (depending on their significance):

(i) other trusteeships (excepting family trusts);

(ii) unpaid membership of voluntary organisations. 19. Members of the House are under no obligation to register unpaid membership of organisations or membership of Churches, religious bodies and quasi-religious organisations. But it may be necessary to declare such interests. (See paragraph 20). Interests relevant in specific contexts only 20. Some financial and non-financial interests may not be relevant generally, because they could not reasonably be regarded by the public as affecting the way in which a Member of the House discharges his or her parliamentary duties. But such interests may be thought to have such an effect in the context of a particular debate, division or correspondence. Such interests should therefore be declared as pertinent to that debate, division or correspondence. In cases where a Member of the House votes in a division where he has a pertinent interest that he has not been able to declare, he should register that interest within 24 hours of the division. Advice 21. The meaning of "relevant interest" may depend on circumstances. The Registrar is available to advise Members. A peer who acts on advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct. Enforcement of the Code of Conduct 22. Allegations of non-compliance with this Code are to be dealt with as follows:

(i) Any allegation should, as a normal courtesy, be raised first with the Member complained against. However, there may also be circumstances when it is more appropriate to raise the matter with a party Leader or Chief Whip, or the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers.

(ii) If, after the above steps have been taken, the complainant chooses to pursue the matter, he or she should refer the allegation directly, and in private, to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests through its chairman.

(iii) The Sub-Committee will then examine the allegation and may decide to investigate it further or to dismiss it.

(iv) In investigation and adjudication of complaints against them, Members of the House have the right to safeguards as rigorous as those applied in the courts and professional disciplinary bodies.

(v) If, after investigation, the Sub-Committee finds the allegation proved, the Member complained against has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges.

(vi) The conclusions of the Sub-Committee and of the Committee for Privileges will be reported to the House. "

23. The adoption of this Code shall have effect from a date to be determined by a Resolution of the House, which shall not be before 31st March 2002.--(Lord Kingsland.)

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 2nd July 2001

I welcome the opportunity to confirm to a sadly sometimes sceptical world the propriety of this House. What is proposed in the code will meet public concerns without overreacting. I entirely take the point about the difficult circumstances that we have sometimes seen at the other end of the building. That was very much in the minds of the members of the group in its work. The code will not constrain how Members of the House go about their business but will affirm the House's wish to be regarded as open and accountable and to ensure that others do so regard us. At a time when too often we hear from citizens and voters and not just from the media that, "You politicians are all the same; you're only in it for what you can get out of it", I believe that the code as proposed by the Leader of the House is "fit for purpose".

Like the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his chairing of the group. He steered it with a light touch, which is reflected in the code, and with huge sensitivity. He was very patient with those of us who occasionally wished to revisit issues which he thought we had closed. Like other members of the group, I spoke in the group for myself--we shall of course have a free vote later today--but I hope that I reflected the concerns of my colleagues. I believe that the code as proposed is welcomed and supported by the majority of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

I shall not go through each section of the code because, as has been said, most of it has not attracted amendment, save to say to those who feel we should not have a code at all that, sadly, public life and politics in the 21st century require that we do. If rejected, the message would be that Members of this House think themselves above scrutiny and that they are not prepared to account for themselves.

Perhaps I may deal with the points of contention. I understand why, when introducing his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, reversed the references to the code and personal honour. There is much to be said for that. But I do not think that it was an issue in the group. A number of the noble Lord's proposals are primarily matters of drafting. I recognise, because I do it myself, the temptation for a lawyer to redraft and redraft almost to infinity in the continuing search for the most elegant phrasing. That should not be the basis of a vote today.

Many of the substantive points are answered by the provision, to which attention has been drawn so often, for advice from the registrar. In our debates in the group we kept coming back to that. We may have wanted to create a code without room for question but by their very nature these are issues of degree and judgment. Accepting that that is the context, what we have produced is a cogent and comprehensible code. It is not always easy to assess for oneself the term "might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a member discharges his parliamentary duties". It is not easy because Members do act on their honour and do not necessarily realise that the most innocent act may not appear to be wholly so.

The disclosure of remuneration for parliamentary consultancies should be a requirement. We are entitled to privacy in our private lives, but we must accept that where the private meets the public we are not private citizens. That is part of the price that we have to pay for accepting the position of public office that we hold by virtue of our membership of the House. The option to disclose other remuneration and the use of the register can nip in the bud any suggestion of improper influence. Furthermore, in a world which increasingly is moving towards complete transparency, where a great deal of information can be gleaned from other sources--the companies registry has been referred to and I would add to that HM Land Registry--it would be odd not to include this option.

I turn now to family trusts. I am one of those who took the view that the position of a trustee could be significant. It comes close to a personal financial interest. Many situations could arise where holding the trusteeship for a family trust would affect the judgment of a trustee. For instance, a trustee may have to consider his own grandchildren, who quite often can be the beneficiaries of such a trust.

Shareholdings which do not amount to a controlling interest may be significant. If a large shareholding forms only a small proportion of a company's shares, the shareholder could not affect the decisions reached by that company. However, if the test is how the shareholder regards himself and could reasonably be regarded as regarding himself, then dealing with regulations or legislation which come before the House or speaking on any public occasion could substantially affect the value of a shareholding, however small the proportion of that holding.

Perhaps I may turn now to hospitality. Again, I am not sure that any time has been spent on this matter so far, but I know that it is an issue which concerns noble Lords. I may not be alone in wishing that we were offered rather less hospitality than is the case. I do not believe that attending receptions in order to meet representatives of an organisation amounts to anything more than a matter of duty. Certainly one does not attend them in order to drink those glasses of lukewarm white wine and eat the greasy canapes--of course I do not refer to our own Refreshment Department here.

Nevertheless, some noble Lords are concerned that this requirement could mean that every cup of tea or lunch should be registered. However, I do not believe that every lunch attended to listen to matters of public concern in a particular sector constitutes hospitality that needs to be registered. The purpose of such hospitality is the passing of information; the hospitality is not being used to influence the Member. If it could be regarded to be that--perhaps because it is not only lunch, but a week's holiday in the Bahamas (not that I have ever been offered anything of that kind)--then of course it should be registered. But often one meets for lunch to listen to information simply because lunch offers the only time available to do so.

I turn to the matter of whose interests should be taken into account. I have to say that, for myself, I think that I would be influenced if, for example, the financial interests of my closest and oldest woman friend--I do not refer here to a synonym for a constant companion--were to be significantly affected, because, if I knew about them, they would be relevant. The test is whether the interest would be significant to me personally. I do not believe that, under this provision, I would be required to question everyone on my Christmas card list. But if I felt that I would be affected, I would take advice as to whether I needed to register for myself and whether I needed to register the identity of the friend. That would depend on many different circumstances. I do not believe that the detail of such a proposal can be legislated in advance.

Ironically, it has already been pointed out that the term was used in the guidance resulting from the Griffiths report, under which noble Lords have been operating since 1995. I take the view that to omit this provision would be a backward step and perhaps would convey a message that we have something to hide which we should have been disclosing over the past six years.

I turn finally to the question of procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, proposed that a matter must be raised first with the Member concerned, the leader or Whip of his party or the Convenor. I believe that the requirement to do so "normally", the term used in the proposed code, is correct. Very rarely there may be circumstances in which a Member would not raise a matter at all unless he could approach directly the chair of the committee, but I do not think that that would amount to putting the matter into the public arena. But in my view it would not be right to set up a procedure unless that procedure could also facilitate the pressing of a complaint and its pursuit in the measured way proposed.

As regards the date, I do not believe that my noble friend the Chief Whip felt it necessary to go to March 2002. I should say that it is not a matter on which we feel strongly.

Taking part in the work of the group made me review for myself how easily I might dismiss as insignificant what could be viewed quite differently by others. Even though I have a local government background--the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to that--which applies stringent rules requiring Members to leave the Chamber when certain matters are under discussion, taking part in the work of the group has made me think seriously about how we may appear to those outside.

I welcome the code and I believe that it is a fitting step to take at the start of the first full Parliament of the 21st century. It is important that today we reaffirm the awareness of this House and how conscious are noble Lords of the need to uphold the highest standards and to be entirely open--indeed, to be ambitious to tell the world that we do so.

Photo of Lord Neill of Bladen Lord Neill of Bladen Crossbench

I speak as a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life--I demitted office at the end of February this year. The report that led to the Williams report was produced during my term in office. Perhaps I may say that I very much welcome the debate taking place today. I welcome, too, the code being put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and the bound red volume of the report, to which reference has already been made. It is true that, to a substantial extent, that report did adopt recommendations made in the report from my committee.

We were in the privileged position of hearing extensive evidence from Members of this House. Written submissions were made by 71 Members of the House and oral evidence was submitted by some 39 Members. That put the committee in a strong position to understand what were the views. It would be true to say that the great preponderance of opinion--although it was not unanimous--was that a code is now required to be put in place, because the House of Lords stands out as an exception to what has become more or less a universal rule for any public body, be it the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the administration in Northern Ireland and, of course, local government as well as public services and business.

A code will gather together the scattered strands to be found in various places, such as in the 1995 resolution as well as the tremendously important principle of honour by which all noble Lords are bound (although it proved rather elusive because it was taken out of one edition of the excellent books on guidance) and will be stated plainly.

First, I shall sketch briefly the work of the committee and where I stand in the debate. The committee put forward a recommendation for a code. Secondly, we stated that the time had come to end the voluntary nature of the current Part 3 of the code; it should now be put on a compulsory basis. Thus, noble Lords' interests should be declared by prescription.

The code should cover financial and non-financial interests, as is set out in the proposal put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. Furthermore, we produced a new test of what would make something registrable. Perhaps I may refer to paragraph 8, which uses our language, and states in regard to the test of relevant interest,

"whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties".

We need to be conscious of the public perception of this House. It stands enormously high. No allegations, charges or suspicions were brought before the standards committee. However, to me that is not a reason for inaction, but rather a reason for moving ahead and putting in place a code containing suitable provisions.

We then left it to your Lordships' House to compose the fine print. Noble Lords may consider that that was cowardly, but I did not think that it was appropriate for an outside committee to define for noble Lords what should or should not be included as regards financial interests and other matters. We offered a few hints in paragraph 5.55, but we did not write the rules. Today's debate concerns essentially two different versions of the way in which financial and other interests ought to be defined. All the detailed points about friends and colleagues and so forth can then be included in the consideration of what would be the desirable way forward.

One thing we were clear about was that it was not necessary to declare quantum--that is, what people earn from the various interests they declare--with the exception of earnings from parliamentary consultancies. If people are being paid to do that job, we believe--we may be wrong, but it is our view--that that is something the public are entitled to know.

As regards enforcement, we thought that there should be just and fair procedures, accompanied by the maximum of simplicity. We saw no need for any standing office and the hiring of new public servants. That would be completely unnecessary in this House. There has been no trouble ever, as far as I can tell, and nothing like that is necessary.

If a case should ever come to light, it would be tried and dealt with by the sub-committee on Lords' interests. We recommended that there should be a right of appeal, which is now standard in virtually every kind of disciplinary or professional body. The Williams group accepted that recommendation, and we suggested that the Select Committee for Privileges should be the appropriate appeal body.

The question of penalties has recently been looked at by the noble Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, and his committee dealing with the issue of contempt. Our view broadly coincided with his that there is no need to take any further action on penalties, that they are quite adequate. Your Lordships have already the most deadly remedy at your disposal--that is, naming and shaming. In our view--which is subject to correction by your Lordships--that is the most effective way of bringing someone to book if ever such a case should arise, which it has not.

To sum up, we were looking for simplicity, proportionality--avoid the overkill; nothing in excess--and courtesy. For example, if there were to be a complaint where someone said to a Member that he had left out from the register something he surely should have put in, the first the Member would hear about it would be a phone call or a letter; he would not read about it in the News of the World on a Sunday. What has gone wrong is that that kind of mechanism can be used for political purpose, the only result of which is to do enormous damage to the people who sit in the other House, if I may speak of another place, I hope not in disrespectful terms. When the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, appeared before the Committee, he advised us that we should avoid this game of tit for tat; that it has been a disgrace.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

Does the noble Lord therefore see reason in the wording which has been included in the amendment tabled by my noble friend and myself but not included in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that references to the sub-committee should always be made in private so that they cannot get to the press until they have been resolved?

Photo of Lord Neill of Bladen Lord Neill of Bladen Crossbench

Although I cannot speak for the committee, it would be my view that a matter should be dealt with in private, unless there is a hearing where the defendant may want the advantage of publicity. My own personal opinion is that matters should be dealt with in private.

Many points of detail cannot be dealt with today. However, perhaps I may deal with one point that is not covered by what is before us today but is covered in the Williams report, and that is the question of who is to be the investigator. If a case arises which has to be investigated, the proposal is that that should be done by a group or a panel, possibly of retired Law Lords. It is an excellent proposal but it is not difficult to imagine circumstances--this is hypothetical but, based on experience, one does not have to look very far to find examples--where a case may arise which is inappropriate to the investigatory skills of a Law Lord and where it might be necessary for the investigator to have other skills. The Law Lords have judicial skills, but their terrier and hunting skills may not be so strong.

I hope that your Lordships will be able to agree a code today and that we will move forward into a new era.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop 4:45 pm, 2nd July 2001

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for what he said about the proposed code of conduct, and to the Neill committee for highlighting the seven principles of public life, which the Minister mentioned, though briefly. I believe, however, that he had no intention of diminishing their importance. Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership are values close to the heart of the Christian faith, as they are to other faiths.

Personally, I should like to have seen spelt out the element of servanthood, which must always exist within leadership--not least for us because we are here to serve the nation. I believe that noble Lords will agree that that should always be in our minds, particularly so in this debate.

I have sympathy with the reservations which have been eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I accept, for example, that it could be deemed superfluous and a breach of confidentiality to identify the extent of financial relationships where the rules of the House already prevent a noble Lord from exercising any influence on behalf of those relationships. That is right. However, I do not believe that it is enough in this situation merely to do what is right. At a time when all institutions are under the utmost scrutiny, we must be seen to be doing right; to be, as the Bible puts it, whiter than snow, in so far as that is humanly possible.

We all agree that there is a need to restore public confidence in Parliament and parliamentarians, and to submit to greater openness and accountability. I hope that some of the detailed concerns which have been properly expressed in the debate will not deflect us from supporting the Motion before us.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

In the light of earlier exchanges, I should start by declaring an interest: I have very recently retired as a non-executive director of BP. My friends will know that I do not have to declare either a controlling or a significant interest in BP shares. As the only Cross-Bencher on the group, I need hardly say that I represented the views of no one else on these Benches other than myself.

I join in the tributes which have been paid to the Leader of the House for the way in which he chaired our group, and I join in his tribute to the administrative staff, particularly to our clerk, Mr Brendan Keith.

I understand very well the reservations underlying the amendments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Ezra, some of which I shared at an earlier stage of the group's deliberations. But I have concluded, with one reservation, to which I shall return in a moment, that the Motion proposed by the Lord Privy Seal is on the right lines and that I shall support it if it comes to a Division today.

My one reservation, which I have already brought to the attention of the Lord Privy Seal--and which has been echoed in the debate--is whether it is wise or necessary to include in paragraph 12 of the Motion a reference to "friends" in the context of financial interests. This seems to raise insoluble definitional problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, suggested, and even the faintly ludicrous prospect of noble Lords having to decide or defend the distinction between whether a mere acquaintance should or should not be regarded as a friend. I would have much preferred the reference to "friends" to be omitted altogether.

However, in view of the permissive--or, in Latin grammar, subjunctive--nature of the wording of the introduction to paragraph 12 and the possibility that, in rare circumstances, the interests of a close friend might be perceived as genuinely significant, I do not wish to press my reservation.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

When I read this report I thought to myself that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, is the most honest man I know. It does not cross my mind that he does anything other than selflessly, with integrity, with objectivity and accountability, so why do we have to say it? The moment we have to say it, it is like someone saying "Oh no, guv. I promise you I'm honest". The moment we have to stand up and state that we are honest, we smell a rat and count our change.

It has been said time and again that this is an honest House. I genuinely believe that to be the case. Only once in all the time that I have been here has anything to the contrary happened. Someone asked me to introduce a private Bill--which I did not do. He said to me, "Of course, you can have what expenses you like". If that was not a bribe, I do not know what was. Of course it was a bribe. I have never been so angry. I believe that I am here on my honour. That may be old-fashioned, but the proposal amounts to a barrack-room lawyer's charter.

To be possibly a little unkind, would the interests of Gaynor, then Mr Cook's girlfriend, have had to be registered before her existence could be publicised by Mr Alastair Campbell? If that had not happened, would Mr Cook have been hauled up in front of whomsoever one is hauled up in front of? I am sorry, but I do not believe that to be in the interests of anyone. On the matter of this "friend" caper, I do not, for example, know what shares my wife owns because I am too idle to ask her and I am not sufficiently interested. Should we need to write such matters down?

This proposal suggests that we are not honest. I find it deeply offensive to imply that there is any lack of integrity on the part of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--I say that from the bottom of my heart. The same can be said of the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Shore. I shall leave aside my side, but certainly on the other side of the Chamber I do not believe that there is a scintilla of lack of integrity. So why do we have to proclaim it from the mountain top? That strikes me as saying that we do not have confidence in ourselves.

This is a great House. Yes, there was Lord Kagan; yes, there was the Duke of Norfolk who was executed for treason during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. But those were exceptions. We may want to execute someone--mostly on the Liberal Benches, I hasten to add, but that is another story. But surely we are grown up and honest. If anyone is "iffy", we know as much. This is a lovely, honest House. We do not have the dishonesty of France or Germany. We do not even have that lovely quality of Clive of India who, when accused of helping himself from Surajah Dowla's treasury, said,

"Gentlemen, I stand astonished at my own moderation".

We have grown up since then. This House is basically an honest place. To go around proclaiming it on our breasts makes me think that we are to be a little less honest than we have been hitherto.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

As we are discussing declarations of interest, perhaps like the noble Lord, Lord Wright, I should begin by declaring what might be thought to be two interests. The first is that I had the privilege of being a member of the working group so delightfully chaired by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House--as he then was not. If ever there is an experience of enjoying hard work, it happens when one is a member of a group chaired by my noble and learned friend. The second declaration is that I was privileged also to be a member of the Select Committee for Parliamentary Privileges, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead.

I have inflicted my views on the House more than once on this subject--the previous occasion being some 10 days ago. For that reason, I did not propose to intervene in this debate. However, it was strongly recommended to me this afternoon that silence on my part might be misconstrued as suggesting that there was some difference of view between my noble and learned friend and myself. If there is such a misconception, I can dispel it with a concise declaration: I agree unreservedly with the initial report, and I agree unreservedly with every word spoken by my noble and learned friend in opening the debate--that has not always been the case in the past, but it is the case today.

Perhaps if I were wise I should leave the matter there, but it is a pity to stand up in order to say so little. Therefore, perhaps I may add just one comment on some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said correctly that we reached a wide measure of agreement in the working group. I am bound to say that at the time I thought it to be rather wider than subsequently transpired; however, most of the differences aired this afternoon are, as the noble Lord said, differences of detail.

Certainly, on one vital question we were in total agreement. There has been no deterioration of standards in this House, and--subject to the few historical exceptions mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow--we have an unblemished record. The differences that have emerged relate to the corollaries that are to be drawn from that. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, says: in that case, why bother to change anything; why not just leave matters as they are?

The other possible way of looking at the subject is to say that, if there is nothing to conceal, why not make that transparently clear? There is nothing more calculated to give the impression--one that we know to be false--that there is something to hide, some skeleton in the cupboard, than to seem to be trying to conceal something. It was that which greatly troubled my noble and learned friend and some of us on the committee.

The differences that we are discussing are matters of detail, but they give rise to questions of style. If we give the impression that we embrace with enthusiasm the suggestion that there should be a code, that we accept obligations, that we are quite prepared to make these matters known, that gives one impression. If the idea is that we are doing so reluctantly and grudgingly and that on the whole we would rather not be compelled to declare matters, that gives another. If, as I believe, this House has nothing to conceal, I should have thought that our best course would be to draw aside the curtain and let the truth speak for itself.

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat

had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of the Lord Privy Seal: 1. In paragraph 12, line 3, leave out "shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest;". 2. In paragraph 12, line 5, leave out "or friend".

3. In paragraph 12, line 6, after "gifts" insert "of a substantial nature".

Photo of Lord Ezra Lord Ezra Liberal Democrat

I feel that it may be opportunist at this stage to refer to the amendments standing in my name. My reason for tabling them was to seek clarification of some of the issues raised in paragraph 12 of the proposed code, on which there has already been some debate. I shall take that into account in my remarks. I was led to table the amendments by a careful reading of the admirable report by the working group chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.

The report states on page five:

"A code of conduct can help to reduce Members' uncertainty and possible confusion about their obligations to reveal their interests".

When I read paragraph 12, my uncertainty increased somewhat. Therefore, I thought I ought to see whether it could be improved by drawing attention to it.

I was struck also by the statement in paragraph 16:

"The principle of openness requires a balance to be struck between disclosure and personal privacy".

The question of personal privacy arises on the issue of friends and whether we should have an obligation to reveal our friends' personal financial interests. It is for those reasons that I tabled the amendments. Perhaps I may refer to them briefly.

On the question of shareholding, I was in some doubt as to what we should do about that. Clearly, if we hold a controlling interest, it must be declared. If we hold a substantial interest--the term has to be defined; the noble and learned Lord's idea was that a "substantial" interest is 1 per cent of BP, so no doubt that would have to be declared--what if it is a perfectly modest investment in, say, BP, which would bear no relationship to the total capital value of the company but which might benefit at some future date from a particular debate or legislation which we were discussing which could affect such an interest? Would we have to register that modest, say, few thousand pounds worth of shares in the anticipation that there might be a debate at some unknown date in the future that could raise the value of those shares by some indeterminate amount?

I should like to raise the distinction between the words "declaration" and "registration". In the case of modest shareholdings, which most of us hold, can I take it that if the situation were to arise where we became involved in a debate in which that modest shareholding could benefit, we would then declare our interest; but that we would not have to register our interest in advance just because such an eventuality might arise? Quite frankly, I should have found it much simpler if we had been told that we had to register all our shareholdings. That would be perfectly straightforward: one would send in a list and then it would be done with. I suggest that perhaps the idea of declaration in the case of "modest shareholdings" that might be affected at some future date should be brought into place. I put that proposal to the noble and learned Lord.

The use of the word "friend" in the code has been discussed. If I had a friend--let us say, a school friend who, through dedication and hard work, ended up as a chairman of a very large manufacturing company--I must say that I would find it slightly distasteful if I had to declare that I had such a friend. It might be that I meet this person purely on social grounds. We need further clarification in that respect. It also raises the question of the invasion of privacy; not so much ours, but that of our friends. They may have no wish to be associated with a debate in which they took no part; and, indeed, upon which they might even disagree. I also put forward that point.

Finally, I turn to "hospitality" and "gifts", to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred. At certain times of the year, we are all subject to receiving many invitations--to receptions, lunches, dinners, and so on. As those are of a "modest" nature, I take it--and hope--that they certainly will not have to be declared. But at what stage do they have to be declared? I hope that the registrar will know the answer to that question. We also receive many gifts from companies of a small nature; for example, calendars, things to put on our desks, and so on. Similarly, I take it that they would not have to be returned; indeed, that would be an insult to the donor. I trust that we are really talking about major gifts, as outlined in the wording of my last amendment.

The whole point of my intervention is that I wish to obtain clarification. However, should the situation arise, it would not be my intention to move my amendments. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give me some of the answers for which I have asked.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

As a member of--

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

In the circumstances, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, with my contribution.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench 5:00 pm, 2nd July 2001

It is most kind of the noble Lord to give way.

As a former member of the Griffiths committee, it seems to me that this debate has a sense of deja vu because the speeches today are almost identical to those of that time. The reassuring effect of that is that nothing terrible has happened in the past six years since then. However, that is not to say that something will not happen. The main value of the code, as produced, is that it demonstrates the awful consequences of drafting by committee. In my view, we are making a colossal mountain out of the proverbial molehill.

We should aim for a sense of proportion. I shall be very brief. The only problem that I have with declaring my own shareholdings--I also practise as chairman of an investment company, which has a sizeable amount of shareholdings--is that I would be horrified if more people than necessary knew how the shares had performed over the past two years. Indeed, the sheer shame of it.

I have been in this place for 20 years. Throughout the whole of that time I have been either chairman or chief executive of publicly quoted companies. I hope that I have always declared that interest. There has never been an occasion where my participation in any debate in this Chamber could conceivably have affected any of those companies in any way. That is the real world. There have been several occasions when I have been involved in intensive negotiations and lobbying with government departments about legislation, but they have always been conducted between civil servants and representatives of the industry. It simply is not true to say that if one really wants to help BT, BP or any other company, that the best way of doing so--or the most likely way to achieve that aim--is through the Committee stage of a Bill going through this Chamber. One might make some speeches, but, in my experience, such companies have direct access with a specific official who is responsible for that particular industry, and who is well known by that industry. Therefore, I do not see the problem as being a big one in that respect.

I also have a strong objection to both the inclusion of friends' and spouses' interests. For reasons that I gave recently, there are practical problems about including spouses. Quite seriously, not everyone's marriage is as happy as mine. Indeed, because it was convenient so to do in other ways, we have even gone to the extent of having power of attorney over each other. That is not normally the position. In most cases, it is just not real to think that one spouse knows what the other one has, or that he or she should have such information in a modern world. I have not the faintest intention of announcing to this Chamber at any time the private affairs of any friend I happen to have. In fact, if I were that worried, I would end the friendship before I did so. Again, I do not believe that that proposition is practical.

Having said that, in the current climate of public opinion I believe that a code of the type proposed has to be accepted purely because of the picture that it would provide the public, who are sold a very different view of this Chamber than is the real position. Therefore, as far as that is concerned, I shall vote for the Motion. However, I give one warning: the more that one tries to define the loopholes--this always happens with committees that are dominated by lawyers--the more loopholes one finds. Judging by my experience, it seems to me that people know when they are doing the wrong thing. Indeed, in my experience of both places, colleagues around them know it at the same time--

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

Perhaps the noble Lord could clarify a point for me before he sits down. He just said that he would not declare any interests of his friends, but I believe he then went on to say that he would support the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. Therefore, if the Motion is passed, does that mean to say that he will not stick to its provisions?

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

As I understand it, this is a voluntary procedure and one does so if one wishes so to do.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

I believe that that applies, whether or not it is binding.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Lord is quite right. The position is that "relevant financial interests", including those of a "friend", may include--depending on their significance--the financial interests of a spouse, relative or friend. That is the formulation in Griffiths.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

In those circumstances, whatever is in the code of conduct, I should make it clear that I would not declare it because I believe it to be wrong and immoral. I repeat: I would end the friendship before I would do so.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

The noble Lord would not have the freedom of action that he supposes. The word "may" applies to the quantum; but if the noble Lord had a "substantial interest" he would then be under an obligation to declare it. Therefore, from what he has said, we may expect him in the not too distant future to take leave of absence because only thus could he escape the requirement. Indeed, we should be the poorer for that consequence.

I am the last of the members of the group who combined to write this report, and the dissenting report, to rise to his feet to contribute to the debate. I do want to be different from the others by not starting my speech by saying what a perfectly splendid chairman we had. I do not lay at his feet the blame for the fact that his air-conditioning, books, or something, infected me with violent hay fever for most of our meetings, I just wish that he would move a little further from the natural place of his office; namely, the other end of the corridor towards this Chamber.

I have two interests to declare. I have a small--at least I think your Lordships would consider it small--family trust which I may or may not declare in the future depending on how noble Lords vote later today. My own advice does not depend on that interest. My other interest is the same as your Lordships; namely, the welfare of this House and the welfare of the country. The two are bound together but they take different points of view. The House is convinced of its probity; the public, under the goading of a gutter press, are eager to discover wickedness in every cranny and lobby.

I suppose I should say that my noble friend the leader of my party invited rather than instructed me to join the group we are discussing. He will testify that I was extremely reluctant to do so. But, having done so, I put my shoulder to the wheel. It seemed to me that our task was, first, to recognise as a fact of political and historical life that the House had given the go-ahead to the Neill inquiry and that it had made it clear that it wanted some kind of a code to result from it. I was not of that view when I joined the group but I soon came round to it. Therefore, I support my noble friend's amendment. I shall not support any who try to overthrow the whole system.

Secondly, I considered that it was necessary to try to find a code which your Lordships would not throw out unanimously or by a vast majority. The temperature of the debate has shown that there is a real danger of such a code being produced. We tried as a group to arrive at a consensus but eventually the judgment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland and mine diverged from that of the rest of the group as to what was acceptable to the majority of your Lordships. We are here this afternoon simply to determine which of us is right.

There could have been a third course. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has tabled a scattering of amendments but he has said that they are probing only and that he will not press them. Even if he did, he would leave out two very significant changes which we propose to the code. The first of these I alluded to in an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Neill. Only in our version will your Lordships find a requirement that references to the sub-committee on the part of someone who suspects a malfeasance by someone else must be made in private. Where has this sickness in the other place spread from? I refer to people who make references to their adjudicating body and then tell the press about it. For month after month, while some unfortunate and perfectly blameless person is under investigation, the papers are full of the fact that that person is under investigation and is alleged to have done such and such. That kind of mud sticks. We do not want it here. Therefore, if your Lordships want to protect us, they should vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland.

The other significant difference concerns the exclusion of relations. Your Lordships have concentrated their remarks on friends. Rabbit's friends and relations were all of a kind. In your Lordships' better regulated affairs, friends and relations are different. However, some noble Lords have many relations. The term is not defined. Is it restricted to cousin, first, second or third cousin, child or grandchild? Without definition the proposal is dangerously vague.

My noble friend suggested that a relevant date has now been agreed between the supporters of the Government and the supporters of the Liberal Democrat Benches. The only difference between us is that we have provided for a resolution of the House before implementation of the measure. I think that that is prudent as circumstances change rapidly in this field. It may well be that what we have now which we consider perfect may be proved to be highly imperfect, and dangerously so, on the eve of implementation. A debate would then be appropriate.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said that it is important that we should be seen enthusiastically to embrace a code. In so far as that is feasible, I shall enthusiastically embrace the Kingsland code. I believe that your Lordships should do the same and should be a little cold towards that of the Leader of the House.

Photo of Lord Shore of Stepney Lord Shore of Stepney Labour 5:15 pm, 2nd July 2001

I wish to pursue the matter a little further. I declare an interest as I served on the committee under my noble friend Lord Neill. I wholly endorse his contribution. I have been struck by the comments made by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer on the extraordinary extent of agreement that exists. I do not think that anyone who has read the committee's report and the red-covered report of the working group under my noble friend's chairmanship and then considers the two resolutions before us can fail to be struck by the enormous area of common ground and agreement that exists. I wish to say a few words about the differences that exist, but let us for a moment rejoice in the agreement that exists.

I like the emphasis--which covers such a wide area--on the importance of agreement. I refer to paragraph 4 of the code entitled "personal conduct" which states:

"Members of the House ... should act always on their personal honour".

I am sure that the noble Earl will feel that that is a correct statement to make. I do not dismiss it. The only problem with acting on one's personal honour these days is that its different nuances are a little ill defined. However, I am sure that the phrase I have mentioned is as meaningful to me as it is to the great majority of my fellow citizens. Every boy scout is brought up to "do his best on his honour". The phrase is meaningful but it requires greater definition.

We have drawn up a code of conduct in general terms. However, absolutely at the centre of our commitment is the fact--as stated in paragraph 4--that we,

"must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence".

There is not a person in this House who disagrees with that and who would not think it shameful if someone acted contrary to that pronouncement.

What a sanction there is in this House--I was not aware of it--which does not exist in the Commons. Paragraph 4 states that Members of the House,

"must not vote on any bill or motion, or ask any question in the House or a committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit".

That is an extremely powerful prohibition, including the voting, which I do not remember was a prohibition similarly attached to the "no paid advocacy" rule in the Commons. As I say, that is a powerful prohibition.

I and, I am sure, many of my fellow committee members were struck by the Griffiths rules and the previous report. There was no sense of our coming from the outside and pretending to know better in laying down the law for Members of this House. That did not enter our thoughts for a moment. We had a great area of agreement. What, then, of the points of difference? I have tried to note them down. Perhaps I am a little easily swayed by the arguments put forward both by my noble friend and to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. However, I give a personal view on the various points of difference, tiny as I consider them to be and therefore not matters of great concern to this House. The matter of sums received for paid advocacy ought to be included in the code of conduct. That is something the public have a right to know. I might even concede that they could be included within bands of width, for example, sums under £5,000, £5,000 to £10,000, if that was considered more acceptable.

I wholly agree with the common-sense point put by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, with regard to friends. It is an absurdity to ask us even to know about, let alone report on, the interests of our friends. The difficulty is that the provision is already in the rules. I hesitate to say that we should take it out, but I would never have put it in.

I agree with the dissent of my noble friend. I do not believe that relatives should be included. Spouses, yes--or spouses and partners if that is what people want--but the term "relatives" is too wide. We cannot possibly bring them in; and it does not matter anyway.

I agree entirely that we should not go public at the initial stages of complaint. It has been poisonous in the Commons and done great damage to the procedures set up there. If my noble and learned friend can take account of that in his response and in the code, we should all be very grateful.

Finally, with regard to enforcement and ensuring compliance, the procedures of this Chamber are admirable. The great advantage of having Law Lords in this House is an asset of which we should take full advantage, particularly on investigation of a difficult complaint.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

I venture to suggest--

Noble Lords:

Lord Nolan.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

Perhaps we may hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg.

Photo of Lord Nolan Lord Nolan Crossbench

I shall be brief and, I hope, uncontroversial. I speak as the proposed chairman of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, a sub-committee which noble Lords will note now has much heavier responsibilities under paragraph 18(2) of the code. I say "proposed" because my nomination has not yet been approved by the House. If I am asked to serve--I am sure the same goes for my colleagues on the committee, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--I shall do so.

First, whatever form of resolution or amendment is adopted by the House, please let what has to go in the register be as clear as possible. The burden placed on the registrar will be very heavy. Many instances have been raised when, with the best will in the world, it will be difficult to say that something should or should not go in.

Secondly, the registrar is the final arbiter of these matters. I ask your Lordships to consider whether it is fair that such a heavy burden should be placed on an officer of the House without formal provision for recourse to other advice. I have held the post for some years. Naturally, I am pleased to be approached informally by the registrar, as were other members of the sub-committee. I believe that that may be his personal view. I hope that it may commend itself to your Lordships' House that there should be a formally recognised limit on his personal responsibilities: that he may refer disputed questions through the chairman to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests for advice and can rely on its ruling.

I refer briefly to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. In the first formation of a committee on standards in public life, we were told that Members of Parliament were not thought to hold public office. They came in under the wider words of the definition which included those in public life, a phrase which expressly included Members of Parliament. I raise the matter so that, if necessary, it can be considered and put right.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

It is highly desirable that we should be unanimous in our decisions on this important matter, which affects the constitution and reputation of this Chamber. There is a great deal of unanimity already. As the noble Lord, Lord Shore, pointed out, the amendment by my noble friend goes a long way towards agreement with the government measure moved by the Leader of the House. Unfortunately, however, there have been serious criticisms of paragraph 12, and slightly less serious criticism of paragraph 11.

Rather daringly, I suggest that we do not reach decisions today on the matter. In view of the serious criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and other noble Lords, we could not accept paragraph 12. It is also clear that paragraph 11 should be toned down. I hope that I am not being too daring; I seek to help. However, I suggest that the Front Benches should agree an adjournment today. They should get together very soon in order to see whether they can get even closer on the views put forward. Eighty per cent of what has been suggested by my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench is in agreement with what the Government put forward. It would be most unfortunate if we simply reached agreement after Divisions.

Photo of Lord Rees-Mogg Lord Rees-Mogg Crossbench

I am sorry that I did not speak before the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore. He assumed that there was total agreement in the Chamber on most of these matters with only minor points of difference. That is not so in my case. I think that this is a bad code. It is too complicated and will cause a great deal of trouble in the future. I have no confidence in the code.

The process by which it has reached this stage has involved too much coming from outside--in particular from the troubles of the other place--and too little from inside this Chamber. That tends to undermine the independence of this House and self-regulation. I shall not press the point. I have made it before, kept the House until after midnight and annoyed almost everyone. That approach is a strong argument against the way in which we have proceeded. The code will lead to confusion and harassment. We shall regret having so many little boxes of information to be filled, many of which will be used to the embarrassment of the Member who filled them in.

The worst aspect is the extraordinary phrase "might reasonably be thought". What meaning can one attach to that phrase? Of the four words, three express ambiguity. "Might" means "might not". "Reasonably" is a matter of pure subjective judgment. I regard my speech as highly reasonable, but a large number of Members of the House will regard it as wholly unreasonable. How are we to determine which opinion is right?

The next problem word is "thought"--not even "stated" or "said". We cannot read the thoughts in other people's minds. We now have to guess what other people might think and what thoughts they might have that might be held to be reasonable. That is a preposterous basis on which to build a code of conduct.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, said, the process will put undue weight on the registrar. The registrar cannot make up my mind for me about whether what I am doing is honourable in the terms of the traditions of this House. It must come back to whether I think that what I am doing is right. I cannot put it on an official of this House, however distinguished and however helpful his advice.

There is a reference to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. If I fail to declare something that I ought to have declared, I shall be reported to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, who will be treated for these purposes as though he were the Leader or Chief Whip of the Cross-Bench Peers, which he is not. It is no business of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, admirable though he is--and he is a very good Convenor--to intervene if I am criticised for having failed to disclose something that it is held I ought to have disclosed.

Finally, there is the problem of spouses, relations and friends. How should we know about them? The provision is not in the spirit of the times. The spirit of the times, for what it is worth--and it is a pretty ridiculous concept--is that wives and husbands should be free to pursue their own careers with considerable independence from each other. The Prime Minister and his wife are widely regarded in the country as admirable examples of two people who have made a marriage with separate careers. If the current Prime Minister comes to this House--as I hope that he eventually will--will he have to ask his wife to tell him everything that she is doing in her legal profession so that he can be sure that he has declared it in the register of interests? Is that how we believe that married life ought to be pursued at this time in our national history?

This is a pitiful nonsense. I intend to continue to consult my conscience about what is honourable and what is not and to attend to the traditions of this House.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative 5:30 pm, 2nd July 2001

The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, are welcome. He has been honest about his view and has echoed what a number of noble Lords are probably thinking. I understand why the various committees arrived at their conclusions. That is what happens when committees discuss such issues. They end up with a lot of ideas, all of which seem to have to go into the report, but the end product may not serve the purpose for which it was originally designed. Such a code--even as proposed by my noble friend Lord Kingsland--will probably damage that which the public most value about our House, which is the fact that it is made up of people who know about a lot of aspects of life from their personal involvement and declare their interests when they speak. That is why we have not had any trouble in this House. I believe that we shall continue without such problems.

However, we are being cornered by the Government's procedures into having a code. If we have one, I hope that noble Lords will take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said. His comments seemed to make it difficult for him to support the recommendations of the Leader of the House. I am not sure whether he said that he would support the Motion, but he seemed to put a lot of difficulties in the way. The comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, also made it difficult for him to accept the proposals of the Leader of the House.

I have a question about one detail that may also be in the minds of other noble Lords--unless I am the only one who has misunderstood. We are told that we have to register our relevant financial interests. The report says that such interests may include,

"shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest".

I have not the foggiest idea what my shareholdings are at any given moment and I do not hold the same shares at the beginning of the year as I hold at the end of the year. I do not have large shareholdings, but I leave it to someone else to deal with them. My interest is that the shares should be worth more at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.

Looking around the House at faces opposite me and at the backs of the heads of some of my noble friends, I think that most people here have been fairly successful in their profession or their business and my guess is that they have shares. Unless they think that they understand the stock market better than anybody else, I imagine that most have someone else to invest that money, or they have financial trusts that change their holdings all the time. I know very little about the subject, but in some cases those holdings are very big and in others they are rather little.

I do not know what I would declare. It may be said that it is not relevant, but it might turn out that it was. Some financial trust in which I had a few shares might have a huge interest in an issue. That might make me biased. I suppose that I could look it up before we had a debate or keep quiet. I think that we shall all find the requirement difficult. I am not even sure that people with unit trusts or ISAs know what their investments are at a given moment. The recommendation is not practical.

If I had been on the committee, I would probably have gone along with the suggestion, because it sounds good, but I suspect that it is not. I see the Chief Whip in his place. He has done quite well in his profession and probably has a share or two. He might have a problem. Indeed, there is a further problem for Ministers, because I believe that they hand over the handling of their belongings to somebody else while they are in office. How do they know what they have, and if they do know, should they?

Unless I have got the whole issue wrong, it is somewhat unhelpful. Perhaps the Leader of the House will put me right.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

Having listened to the debate, I shall obviously have to widen my circle of friends, because I do not think that I have any who are registrable under the declaration of interests.

Seriously, I have listened very hard and I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. What we are doing is right and proper. It is what the public expect and have a right to demand of us. If we protest too much, we will make it look as if we have something to hide from the public. It is our duty and obligation not to do that.

If this were a cosy club, we could say that we all know and trust each other and we do not have to declare. However, we are not a cosy club. Many people in the world outside do not know us as well as we know each other. They surely have the right to know whether we have any interests that affect what we say and how we vote. That is the minimum.

Those of us who have served on a local authority are used to a rigid declaration of interests. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that this was all a bit onerous. Local government has a much more onerous declaration of interests.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

Perhaps I may take up the noble Lord on that point. Is it true that local authority members let sometimes substantial contracts to local people about whom the councillors may genuinely have a personal view? That, of course, would be impossible in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, in his experience nothing that is ever done in this House could possibly be construed as having an effect on any of his interests. That is the difference between local government and the operation of this House.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

I understand the distinction. However, if one takes the noble Lord's argument too far, we shall be wasting our time in that we shall have no influence on anything. I do not believe that the situation is quite as bad as that. My point is simply that, if people serve as councillors on local authorities, they are used to making detailed declarations of interest. That is all I am saying.

In addition, those of us who have served on public bodies are also used to making declarations of interest. I served on a hospital trust. As a precondition of being allowed to do so, I had to make a declaration that I had no interest in any organisation or business which might have a relationship with a hospital trust. The same applied in relation to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, of which I am currently a member. I seek only to point out that the concept of quite tough declaration is fairly widespread. It is not so novel that we should treat it as an enormous departure from what happens in other aspects of life in this country.

My second point concerns a key phrase--"depending on their significance"--which runs throughout the proposal. I do not believe that some of the concerns expressed are relevant because, due to that phrase, they would not have to be declared; they are not sufficiently significant to come within the scope of the issue.

I turn to my third and final point. I listened very carefully to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. Are we imposing so much detail on the registrar that his or her task will be too difficult? I hope not. However, I want to ask my noble and learned friend to answer one question when he replies to the debate. If, with experience, we find that ambiguities or uncertainties arise which the registrar must constantly resolve, and short of another debate such as this, would it be possible for the registrar to issue a code of guidance to Members which would simplify matters for the avoidance of doubt? I ask that because we do not want to have to return to a debate such as this other than after a long period of time. Perhaps the process could be fine-tuned. That would simplify the matter and make the registrar's task easier.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I shall be brief. I believe that the great reason for the Government's Motion, which we on these Benches broadly support, is that the reputation of the House of Lords is its major source of influence. The House of Lords does not have great power in comparison with another place. However, the power that it has with the public arises from the respect that the public has for this place and which it is important that the public maintains. I agree with those who have said that, sadly, times have moved on. There is not the same respect that there once was--perhaps there should not be--for those who "live and work above us", so to speak.

Another factor is that, whether we like it or not, we live in a world of increasingly sophisticated criminal activity which has already, in the case of other legislatures, given rise to extremely difficult situations. It is essential that we build for posterity and that we recognise the pressures upon even this place.

My second brief point is that, without any doubt, the great majority of Members in this place uphold, in every possible sense, the honour of the House. However, frankly, one needs only one or two bad apples for the media to go to town on the subject of Peers and then to collectivise that to suggest that the whole House is affected, as I believe it not to be.

Thirdly, I want to ask a question of the Leader of the House. Is it possible that the registrar, in building up case law, could be asked to provide an annual report which would provide additional guidance as cases came up and were resolved as a result of his advice?

Finally, I want to register two concerns which I believe are reflected in the amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. They do not go so far that I would at this stage regard them as a basis for supporting the amendments, but I worry a little about the definition of the word "friend". I believe that concerns exist in relation to confidentiality, and I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about the term "in private".

It would obviously be extremely unfortunate if someone's case were to be reported by an individual to the chairman of the Committee for Privileges and if it were done publicly in such a way that the person was judged by the media before his case was heard. I also want to ask the Leader of the House whether he can give an assurance that nothing will be made public unless and until a hearing takes place, unless it is the wish of the Peer who has been criticised to make it public on his own behalf.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 5:45 pm, 2nd July 2001

I believe that that is a perfectly reasonable point, and it has been made by a number of noble Lords. It is only right that I say that at that stage I shall do what is required to bring about that conclusion, assuming, of course--I hope that that is not presumptuous--that the Motion in my name is carried.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

I shall be brief. There is one other difference between the text presented by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and that presented in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. It has not been referred to at all in the debate thus far. Under the heading of "other relevant financial interests", the amendment presented by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, refers specifically to remunerated directorships and partnerships.

Personally, I consider it to be very wise to include the reference to partnerships, which are a source of substantial revenue for persons in some professions. It is not included in the text presented by the Lord Privy Seal and I should like to have a comment on that point. I believe that we should avoid any ambiguity on revenues derived from partnerships.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My own position is simple. When I came here 10 years ago, following 16 years as a parliamentary journalist, I was surprised that there was no register of interests. I suggested that there should be one and I was glad when it was introduced. I believe that it was a good idea that it should, for a while, be a voluntary register. However, I consider that the time has come for it to be mandatory, and I gave oral evidence in those terms to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Neill.

I believe that one of the most important points has been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan: that the code will be totally unworkable if it is not clear what is required. I believe that, in a sense, the Leader of the House himself made the "unworkable" point when he referred to our declaring friends who have substantial landholdings. I do not know why he chose to give that example, but he did.

There is published annually a list of the rich. I declare an interest at once, not because I am in it--of course, I am not--but because I am an independent national director of Times Newspapers Limited, which publishes it. I suppose that that is relevant. The list is widely published--over a million copies are circulated--and it includes details of the landholdings of a large number of people. Therefore, if the proposal of the Leader of the House were to be introduced, it would be necessary for those of us who have friends in that list to go through it carefully and register their interests. Frankly, I believe that that is absurd.

Secondly, I make one point about another place, where I believe that this whole issue has become a ludicrous obsession. I shall give one example relating to the Prime Minister, for whom I have much respect. Under the heading of "gifts, benefits and hospitality" in the current list of the House of Commons register, Mr Blair has put:

"31st December 1999: tickets for four adults and five children to the Millennium Dome's new year celebrations provided by the New Millennium Experience Company, registered 9th May 2000".

Frankly, if the Prime Minister of this country is required to declare such drivel in the register, it discredits not just the register but the other place itself.

I believe that of the two proposals, the one put forward by my noble friend Lord Kingsland is infinitely more workable. It covers the entire spirit of what we need in order to reassure public opinion. I shall vote for it enthusiastically rather than for the proposal of the Leader of the House.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

Perhaps I may make a brief contribution at this stage. I begin by thanking my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Elton for having served on the committee chaired by the Leader of the House. Both my noble friends did so reluctantly but I know that once they started their work they realised its importance. This is an important issue because it affects every Member of this House. It is for every Member to ponder, having listened to and weighed up the arguments and read the documents provided for us.

The House has always been respected for its sense of fairness and proportion. In life, a solution should always be in proportion to the problem. Uncharacteristically, the solution of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has for once lost some of that sense of proportion.

I follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shore. This debate involves not what we agree about but what we disagree about, and we disagree about quite a lot. Noble Lords must ask themselves whether a code that could involve prying into every nook and cranny of the life of every Member of this House and into the lives of their families and friends is proportionate to the perceived problem of standards of conduct in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords also have to ask whether such a code--which is potentially irreversible because, under the noble and learned Lord's Motion, there will be no further opportunity for the House to examine the code before it comes into force next March--is likely to enhance this House's standing. Is the code appropriate to a House whose strengths lie in its interests and whose Members are in most cases part-time? Finally, noble Lords have to decide whether it is in the wider interests of this House and its present and future membership for us to adopt today a code that is in many respects more draconian and intrusive than that which was adopted in another place. If the answer to those questions is yes, noble Lords should of course support the noble and learned Lord's Motion, but I emphatically cannot do so. There may be differences of detail between us but they are still very important differences.

I turn briefly to the question of friends and the 1995 resolution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. Although that resolution made reference to friends, it was a non-mandatory provision. It was up to each Member to decide whether the interests of their friends impinged. To my knowledge--which admittedly is not certain--I have never heard anyone declare the interests of a friend during the past six years.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he accept that the Griffiths report referred not to the registration but to the declaration of an interest, and does he agree that such a declaration was compulsory?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

As I understand it, whether we agree with the noble and learned Lord or with my noble friend, oral declaration in this House will still be required. I have always believed that oral declaration is far more important than registration because it is made at the time of the relevant debate and it is therefore entirely and at once visible.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but does he agree that the effect of the "Kingsland amendment" would be to remove any obligation to declare an interest of friendship?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My noble friend Lord Kingsland will speak in a few moments. My understanding of the matter is that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is wrong. My noble friend's amendment would not remove the obligation to declare an interest orally. However, I am sure that he will return to that point when he winds up.

I turn to the date of implementation. It has been much discussed that the registrar's work between now and that date could be particularly onerous. I also understand--I may be mistaken about this--that the current registrar is due to retire at some date early next year. I therefore believe that it would be more appropriate to have a date that is later rather than earlier. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agreed that with us and the Liberal Democrats. The date in the Motion is therefore the end of March 2002. My noble friend Lord Kingsland took the matter one stage further in his amendment and suggested that there should be a further resolution of the House before the date of implementation is known but that that date cannot be before the end of March 2002. That proposal allows him to deal with any details that come out of this debate and which may make it more difficult for the registrar to put into effect the resolution that is agreed to.

Many noble Lords know of my strong reservations about the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. I made those reservations clear in the evidence that I gave to his committee. After all, the Griffiths committee in 1995, the Neill committee in 2000 and the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agree that there were no breaches of the code and no evidence of any wrongdoing.

I, too, have moved. I am not sure whether I have done so because that chimes with the spirit of the times or is the result of the influence of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. However, I have come to accept, in light of the noble Lord's report, that changes should be made to develop the register further. I agree with what the noble Lord said about moving forward now. However, any such action should be taken in due time and it should be in due proportion. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Kingsland advanced an alternative code. Many may not like it and I myself may quibble with its details but his proposal keeps the vital sense of proportion that I feel the Motion lacks.

My noble friend's proposal is the middle way between the status quo, which the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, has probably rendered untenable, and the Motion of the Leader of the House. My noble friend wants to extend the ambit of registration but he strikes a more sensible balance between what is rightfully and legitimately public and what is fairly and legitimately private. He also allows due time for the registrar to consider operational details. My noble friend's amendment is not perfect. It is a compromise. I should like to think that the Leader of the House could agree to it but if he cannot I shall support my noble friend in the Lobby. I hope that many noble Lords on all sides who believe in a more balanced and proportionate response will do the same.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Renton called for unity. He is right. However, he also suggested that we should delay the process for another day. He is wrong about that because we have said just about all that there is to be said on this matter.

A vote for the noble and learned Lord's Motion would support an irreversible and draconian provision. A vote for my noble friend's amendment would lose us absolutely nothing. If it turned out that we were wrong, we could still in due course agree to the Motion's stricter policies. That is why, when noble Lords turn their mind to voting--they will do so soon--I urge them to support my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative

I want to correct my noble friend on one point. He said that we have heard everything that there is to say on this matter. However, some of us would have liked to make a contribution to this debate. I had intended to make a contribution lasting five seconds for each year that I have been in your Lordships' House. However, like all good people, I shall write to the noble and learned Lord.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

I remind noble Lords of where we have got to. For the past six or so years we have been bound by the Griffiths resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was right to say that that involves the declaration of a financial interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who is not currently here, was equally right in her observation that when one is trying to skitter through a declaration, particularly at Question Time, it is virtually of no value to those noble Lords who might be interested. The noble Lord who is asking the supplementary question is not trying to deceive; he simply does not have the time.

It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, that all this came from the outside--I paraphrase. That simply is not correct. I, together with my noble friend Lady Jay, gave evidence to the Neill committee. I took the trouble to read not only the annex of those who had given evidence, but also the evidence given. Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions, one cannot say that it did not take into account a wide range of interests and views from Members of this Chamber. It is not correct therefore to say otherwise.

The present position also is that the Griffiths resolution says that--I quote for the last time today (happy moment)--

"They should also declare any non-financial interest of which their audience should be aware ... Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for example the interest of a relation or friend".

It ought not to be forgotten that the Kingsland amendment also includes the obligation to register as a mandatory obligation in some circumstances the financial interests of the spouse.

The real question therefore is not one of fine principle, but whether or not in this world the relationship of husband and wife may be of such close interest as to be equated reasonably to the interest, for instance, between a father and a well-loved child, or a doting grandfather or grandmother and a loved grandchild. Are they not capable in this world of having the same sort of intimate relationship that ought to require disclosure? It is not a question of endless investigation, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was going to say.

I repeat, that was the situation which obtained. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, was a member of the Griffiths committee which produced that very resolution.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

Perhaps I may comment. I am not relying on the fact that I did not have a friend at that time--I have got some now. I genuinely do not believe that any member of the public can reasonably assume that a Member of this Chamber will behave dishonestly purely on the basis that he has a friend who might benefit. That is one of the reasons I am relatively relaxed.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

It may well be that no member of the public could reasonably believe that any Member of your Lordship's Chamber would behave on the basis of self-interest or the interest of a spouse. But that is not the point. The question is: how do we deal with the circumstances that face us? Virtually everyone who has spoken agrees on the necessity--it may be a disagreeable one--for a code. Even the late repenter, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has now seen the light.

The recommendation of the Neill committee is worth looking at. We find it at page 58 of the report:

"The House of Lords should ensure that deposited agreements and details as to the remuneration derived from parliamentary services under category (1) be made available for public inspection".

That is exactly what we recommended. Category (1), of course, relates to consultancies or any similar arrangements whereby Members of the House accept payment or any other incentive or reward for providing parliamentary advice or services. We put that in our proposed code following the submissions, in part but significantly, because we reflected, first, on what was in Griffiths and, secondly, on what was in Neill.

We are living in a changed world. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is quite right: this Chamber is enormously influential. Members of this place are influential not simply in voting or in debate, but also in conversation in a House which, by and large, is an amicable place; in public speeches on public platforms; and in writing letters to newspapers. Every one of us has the possible influence and advantage of membership of this place when we make public announcements.

I dealt with the point in relation to privacy and shall touch on it only briefly. It was well made by a number of speakers. Either my noble friend Lord Shore or the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--forgive me for not remembering exactly--said that it was capable of poisoning relationships. That point was well made and I undertake to take it on board and deal with it.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

How will the Minister deal with it? We have the machinery before us to deal with it. My noble friend's amendment provides that machinery and the Minister's does not. How will the Minister remedy that when the car has rolled off the production line?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, knows quite well that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, does not simply deal with privacy. Both the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Kingsland, will remember that this was not an aspect of controversy when we produced our unanimously agreed report.

I am saying that the caveat of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred, that this could not come into effect without further resolution, enables me to meet what I felt was the will of the Chamber by introducing that single amendment on that occasion of resolution. It would then be a matter for your Lordships to decide. I am trying to deal fairly with a point which has been fairly raised.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

Before the noble and learned Lord departs from that point, I did not understand his answer. Is he saying that he will accept an amendment that this code should not come into effect until there is a further resolution? If not, he cannot get the words, "in private" on to the face of the code unless he accepts part of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. If he merely gives administrative directions that the registrar should keep it private, that will not prevent the complainant going public and doing the damage. How is this to become part of the code that binds us?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

It would not be proper for me to try to give administrative directions in those circumstances. But I repeat--I obviously did not make myself clear--that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, quite rightly, that the amendment of the noble lord, Lord Kingsland, indicates at the bottom that none of it should come into effect until at the earliest the 31st March. I am saying that there will be an opportunity, if the question of privacy exercises and agitates noble Lords, to put it in as a single amendment. I do not resile from my general proposition that the code as put forward by the majority of the committee is infinitely preferable.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

I am obviously being very stupid here. Is the Minister saying that this version can be amended before it comes into force?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

If Members of this Chamber wish that to be done, it seems to me that it can be done.But I would not want the noble Earl then to produce a whole raft of other amendments; that would delay matters. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we must come to a conclusion.

The question was raised in relation to the confidentiality of a friend's affairs. That applies to spouses as well; it always has. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, raised the question of partnerships. Remunerated employment is specified and I would take that to include a partnership.

I turn now to the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. He referred to shareholdings not amounting to a controlling shareholding. That is simply the distinction to be found in paragraph 11, which states,

"the following financial interests are always relevant and therefore must be registered".

That is where we find shareholdings amounting to a controlling interest. The possibility of shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest arises in paragraph 12:

"relevant financial interests may also include".

So it allows for the flexibility which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, seeks.

The noble Lord asked a question in relation to "friend". I hope I dealt with that. One does not need, "gifts of a substantial nature" because it is found within the text itself. It depends on the significance of the gift and that is allowed for.

The question was raised as to whether there would be too much burden on the registrar. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, in approaching eagerly his prospective chairmanship of this sub-committee, said that the registrar might need to take advice from the chairman of the committee. I would commend that sort of scheme to your Lordships, with the single comment that if the registrar had approached the chairman, the chairman might then be disqualified from chairing the committee which heard the complaint. But those are matters of fine detail. This is a matter for the committee and its recommendation on resource, but it seems to me that legal advice should be available. However, one should avoid the presence of lawyers on these occasions if at all possible, other than in the Chair.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked, as did others, about publishing a running history of what has happened to complaints so far. Subject to the views of the committee, that would be an excellent idea because a body of practice, not case law, would be built up.

I have tried to deal reasonably briefly with all the points raised.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I did ask him what one does if one does not know at a given moment what shares one has. How can one register them?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

The answer is that one cannot if one does not know. Nor is one required to look at PEPs or ISA statements every year, if one has those.

I thought that there would be more division among Members of the Committee. It seems to be the generally, though not exclusively, held view that we need to have a code, or perhaps it is better to say that we should have a code. The arguments produced by the majority for the code are strong. It is said that this is a report which I have put before Members of the Committee. That is literally true but it is not my report; it is that of a distinguished committee which, by and large, agreed on everything.

I believe that the procedure is now for the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, to take his view and for a vote to be taken on his amendment. Should he not succeed in seducing the Committee into error, my Motion will be put.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Conservative

While respecting the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who I wish had tabled an amendment in the sense of his speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and myself are in almost total agreement. On the principle of approach there is nothing to divide us. As regards two of the five issues that do divide us, the noble and learned Lord has, in effect, accepted the point of view that I expressed in my amendment on the question of privacy of reporting; and I accept, in turn, his interpretation of the obligation in respect of registration of private trusts.

There remain but three issues between us. The first is whether or not somebody in receipt of money for providing parliamentary advice should declare that amount in circumstances where they are obliged neither to take part in debate nor vote.

The second is the vexed issue of "friend" and "relative". The noble and learned Lord will be relieved to hear that I shall not rehearse the debate. However, in final submission I draw the attention of the noble and learned Lord to the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, who pleaded, above all, simplicity in our code. I can think of no area more likely to achieve the opposite than declarations of interests held by either relatives or friends, for all the reasons that have been given by so many Members of the Committee tonight.

Finally, in my submission the arguments for categorising significant shareholdings in the discretionary rather than the mandatory category are overwhelming, especially when there are additional obligations to make a declaration where an interest should clearly be expressed in debate.

The noble and learned Lord looks characteristically adamant, so I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.

Photo of Lord Ampthill Lord Ampthill Crossbench

The original question was, That this House adopts a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords as proposed by the Lord Privy Seal, since when an amendment has been moved to insert an alternative code of conduct in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. Therefore, the question that I now have to put is that this amendment be agreed to.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (Lord Kingsland's amendment) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 149; Not-Contents, 152.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Code of Conduct

Aye: 147 Members of the House of Lords

No: 150 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Lord Ezra's Amendments Nos. 1 to 3 not moved.]

On Question, original Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

The Deputy Speaker:

My Lords, the Committee of the Whole House which has considered a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords has agreed a code of conduct in the name of the Lord Privy Seal and has directed me to report it to your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

The Question is, That this report be agreed to and that the House adopts a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords in the form agreed by the Committee of the Whole House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.