Register of Lords' Interests

– in the House of Lords at 2:49 pm on 16 October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 2:49, 16 October 2001

asked the Leader of the House:

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, as a matter of traditional courtesy I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for his reply. But, may I ask, if these suggestions, which to some noble Lords may appear to be manifestly reasonable in the interests of the House, are to be rejected, surely the Government would give some thought to the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, that there should be some joint decision on registration? Is it accepted by the Government that ordained disclosure of private interests of spouses, relatives, friends, if it is disproportionate to the rights and freedoms of others--as, indeed, I suggest it is--is contrary to Article 8 of the convention and incompatible with it and also with Article 10 as interpreted by the Court of Human Rights?

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

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

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

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

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

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