§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
I beg to move,That, in any debate or proceeding of the House or its committees or transactions or communications which a Member may have with other Members or with Ministers or servants of the Crown, he shall disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I propose to the House, as a necessary consequence of the Business Motion which has just been agreed to, that all three motions relating to Members' interests should be discussed together. The other motions are:That every Member of the House of Commons shall furnish to a Registrar of Members' Interests such particulars of his registrable interests as shall be required, and shall notify to the Registrar any alterations which may occur therein, and the Registrar shall cause these particulars to be entered in a Register of Members' Interests which shall be available for inspection by the public.andThat a Select Committee be appointed to consider the arrangements to be made pursuant to the Resolutions of the House this day relative to the declaration of Members' interests and the registration thereof, and, in particular:
and to make recommendations upon these and any other matters which are relevant to the implementation of the said Resolutions:
- (a) what classes of pecuniary interest or other benefit are to be disclosed;
- (b) how the register should be compiled and maintained and what arrangements should be made for public access thereto;
- (c) how the resolutions relating to declaration and registration should be enforced;
- (d) what classes of person (if any) other than Members ought to be required to register;That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to report from time to time; and to report from time to time the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them: That the Committee do consist of Fourteen Members:That Five be the Quorum of the Committee:That the Committee shall report to the House, within the shortest reasonable period, their recommendations, especially with regard to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).392 It will be in order to refer to any of the points raised in any of the amendments which have been put down.
As to the selection of amendments, for the purpose of putting the Questions which I am required to put not later than 11 o'clock, I would inform the House that I have selected the amendments to the first and third motions standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior).
They are to the first motion, to leave out from 'disclose' to end and add'any pecuniary interest or benefit of whatsoever kind which in his judgment would be regarded by the House as relevant to the matter under consideration'.and to the third motion, to leave out from 'consider to' the said Resolutions 'and insert'a Register of Members' interests either voluntary or compulsory and recommend—The amendment to the third motion, however, is clearly intended to suggest an alternative course to the second motion. Therefore, I would make it clear that if the second motion is agreed to, the amendment selected to the third motion will fall and cannot be called.
and to make recommendations upon these and any other matters which are relevant'.
- (a) what class of pecuniary interest or other benefit should be disclosed;
- (b) how the register should be compiled and maintained and what arrangements should be made for public access thereto:
- (c) how, if the registration of Members' interests is to be compulsory, this should be enforced;
- (d) what classes of person (if any) other than Members ought to be required to register;
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure what my right hon. Friend will wish to say, but it seems to me that some of the amendments that you have not selected could conceivably have been selected. My right hon. Friend would not be precluded from accepting an amendment if it was one that you had not selected, would he?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a matter for the right hon. Gentleman. We shall deal with that situation should it arise.
I add that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to catch my eye. Therefore, I hope that there will be moderation in the length of speeches.
§ Mr. Short
The subject that we are to debate today is one which in recent years, both before and since the publication of the 1969 report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, has been discussed at great length almost everywhere except on the Floor of this House. I hope, therefore, that it is common ground on both sides of the House that it is right that this extremely important and sensitive issue is before the House today in clear terms and that on a free vote on both sides of the House we can at last come to a conclusion in the matter.
Generally speaking, the question whether hon. Members should have outside financial interests has not been an issue in these discussions. I know that some hon. Members feel that we should not have outside interests of any kind. But that is not, I think, a view at present shared by the House as a whole.
In any case, and I make it quite clear, it is not in issue today. The issue today is not whether Members should have outside interests, but whether and how we should make them known to our colleagues and to our constituents.
Some people take the view that there is nothing improper in a Member having outside interests as long as those interests are made known publicly. Others take the view that they should be declared only when some action is taken by a Member to further those interests.
Increasingly it has been felt that what is needed is not only declaring them in public debate, dealings with Departments, and so on, but making them known to the House as a whole and to the general public whether action to further those interests is taken or not. If that is done, a Member then has a complete protection against any unfair allegations or innuendos which might be made against him.
This has been the philosophy behind the long series of discussions between the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and myself, and I should like to express my gratitude for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman conducted these discussions when he was Leader of the House. I am also grateful for the very useful discussions which I have had subsequently with his right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) and with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, 394 Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). The motions that I and my right hon. Friends have tabled are rather different from the common ground that we were able to reach in those discussions, for reasons which I know the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen understand and which I hope to make clear later in my speech.
In addition to the discussions which I have had with the Opposition parties, I have had valuable discussions with the Public Relations Consultants Association and the Institute of Public Relations. I am grateful to their representatives for the help they have given. Both bodies either have or are planning to have public registers which they would be willing to make fully available to the House in whatever way we think appropriate. I believe the House could well find these registers of considerable value. I am sure that if the House decides tonight to set up the Select Committee that we are proposing both bodies could give extremely useful evidence to it.
I should now like to outline very briefly the proposals on which we invite the House to come to a decision. The first motion relates principally to the verbal declaration by Members of relevant financial interests when they intervene in debate or other proceedings. As those hon. Members who have vainly sought guidance in Erskine May on this point will have discovered, there is at present virtually nothing in the way of formal rules or procedures to guide Members in this matter. I notice that my Labour predecessor as Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), once referred to this guidance as marked bynarrowness, imprecision and extreme brevity ".The early nineteenth century ruling of Speaker Abbot, and its later interpretations, that a Member having a direct pecuniary interest must abstain from voting, is of course well established. I emphasise that that well-established rule refers only to voting.
But the practice with regard to the declaration of interests during proceedings, as distinct from voting, rests only on an extremely vague, ill-defined convention. I believe the only declaration as to personal interest which the rules of the House specifically require a Member 395 to make is to disavow any personal interest in an opposed Private Bill.
As hon. Members know, however, a convention—it is only a convention—has grown up in comparatively recent years for hon. Members to declare any direct pecuniary interest when they intervene in debate. As a Deputy Speaker said in 1956:If there is a direct pecuniary interest, an hon. Member declares his interest; otherwise it is not necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24ith July 1956; Vol. 557, c. 358.]The first motion now before the House is identical with the first recommendation of the Select Committee of 1969 under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss).
It would clarify and also extend the present convention. In the first place, it makes it clear that the convention should extend to all proceedings here and not only to debate on the Floor —that is to say, that it would extend to all Committee proceedings, and not merely to Standing Committees; and to Question Time. Secondly, it extends the practice of the declaration of Members' relevant pecuniary interests to cover all dealings between Members themselves and between Members and Ministers or officials. Thirdly, it amplifies the range of potentially relevant interests to include other benefits—for example, gifts or free hospitality—besides simply pecuniary benefits.
Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Perhaps inadvertently, the right hon. Gentleman is giving the impression that what he calls a convention did not work. In practice, whether it is a convention or not, it is a fact in the recollection of most of us here that interests have been declared, both on the Floor and in Committee. Whatever may be the outcome of what is laid down in future, we should be fair to the past and, in being fair to the past, it should be said that the House has operated honourably, effectively and honestly by what is now called a convention.
§ Mr. Short
That is a point to be made by the hon. Gentleman in debate, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. The point that I made was that there was a clear rule about voting. There is a convention—a very vague convention—which 396 has grown up in recent years about declarations of interest.
Finally, the first motion makes clear that a Member is expected to declare past and expected as well as present interests if they are relevant. I believe that up-to-date, comprehensive and clear rules in this matter are long overdue and will be of considerable assistance to Members who are uncertain at present in what circumstances their relevant interests should be declared, and who may in some instances even be deterred by this uncertainty from participating in debates to which they might have a valuable contribution to make.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft has tabled an amendment to this motion whereby the individual Member himself would be left as the sole arbiter of whether a particular interest was relevant. I have some sympathy with this approach, but 1 think that in any case of doubt the final criterion must be the objective judgment of the House as a whole and not of the hon. Member. That is a matter for the House to consider, and we all have a free vote tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman's amendment goes on to propose that the motion should no longer make it clear that such relevant interests could be in the past, the present, or the future and could be direct or indirect. I believe this guidance would be useful to Members.
I realise that some hon. Members may have some reservations about the inclusion of past interests in the first motion dealing with the declaration of interests. But I think there might be fairly general agreement that if, for example, a Member were to be speaking or writing to a Minister, say, about the affairs of a company of which he had until a few days previously been a director, he ought to declare that fact. But to take another extreme example, no one would normally think it relevant to declare an interest given up many years previously. It is a question of balance which can, I am sure, be left to the good sense of the House. I emphasise that I am talking about the declaration of interest, not about the register.
I now turn to the motions—clearly much more controversial—for the establishment of a compulsory register of Members' pecuniary interests. What the 397 Government are proposing in this matter is twofold. First, we are proposing to the House that it should endorse the principle of the establishment of a compulsory register of Members' interests. Secondly, that the major questions of scope and enforcement of such a register, and the practical arrangements for access and custody, should be remitted to a Select Committee of the House for urgent consideration.
I hope that it will be possible, if these motions are agreed, for the Select Committee to report its recommendations with regard to a Members' register in time for a further debate to take place before the House rises for the Summer Recess.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Declaration No. 3 qualifies Declaration No. 1?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman were not given so much help, we might get on more quickly.
§ Mr. Fell
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is sympathetic to me so far. I am dealing with Declaration No. 1, which states that a Membershall disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit … that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have".If Declaration No. 3 is passed, will it qualify Declaration No. 1?
§ Mr. Short
Declaration No. 1 is about (he declaration of interests on the Floor of the House, or in a Committee, or when Members are dealing with each other or officials. Declaration No. 3 sets out the matters which we propose to ask the Select Committee to consider. Therefore, No. 3 does not qualify No. 1, but I imagine that if there were an allegation of a breach of No. 1, the House would be guided by whatever the Select Committee might propose should be included in the register. That would be a matter for the House.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
Motion No. 3 states:That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the arrangements to be made pursuant to the Resolutions of the House this day relative to the declaration of Members' interests and the registration thereof …Therefore, the Select Committee would have to advise the House both on the declaration and on the register.
§ Mr. Short
The first motion is about declarations. The third is about the terms of reference of the Select Committee. One of the terms of reference is to do with the content of the register. I am sure that this would guide the House in deciding whether there had been a breach of the obligation to declare under the first motion.
There is increasing public concern and anxiety about these matters, a great deal of which has been generated by the Press. Because of this, there is a need for Members to have better opportunities to protect themselves against allegations of concealed financial motivation.
As a result, we believe that the balance of advantage for the House has now swung decisively in favour of the establishment of a register of Members' interests. If this is to command public confidence, it clearly must be a compulsory register. The long-term disadvantages to the House and its reputation of not establishing such a register are, in our view, more important than the minor imperfections and inequities that may arise. I believe that no register is likely to be fully comprehensive in its scope, or wholly fair between Members, nor will it be proof against the occasional Member who may deliberately seek to evade the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Short
Motion No. 1 deals with the oral declaration of one's interests in any proceedings on the Floor of the House or in Committee. Motion No. 3 sets out the terms of reference for a Select Committee to advise the House on the content of a register, how it can be made compulsory, on sanctions and on the mechanics of access to and custody of the register. They deal with quite different points.
399 We believe that any disadvantages of the kind I mentioned are now clearly outweighed by the need to reassure the public that we as a Parliament are doing all we can to allay public anxiety in this matter and that, in order to do so, we must collectively recognise that we are prepared to pay the price by giving up a certain amount of our privacy in these matters. That is greatly to be regretted, but it is the case today. Having arrived at that conclusion, the Government had to consider how best to proceed.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already announced the Government's intention to establish a Royal Commission on the whole subject of the standards of conduct in public life, but although the work of the Royal Commission may touch on aspects of Members' contacts with official bodies, it seems clear that parliamentary codes of conduct must remain matters for Parliament itself and not for the Royal Commission.
Secondly, as a Government we might have to put our own detailed proposals for a compulsory register to the House. We take the view that these are essentially House rather than Government matters. They affect all hon. Members personally as well as the House collectively. They are intensely personal, and there is room for genuine and deeply felt differences of opinion on both sides of the House.
We decided therefore—and this is the subject of the third motion—to recommend the establishment of a Select Committee from both sides of the House to give urgent consideration to the way in which the decision in principle to establish a compulsory and public register of Members' interests should be put into practical effect. The Select Committee would consider what types of interest should be registrable, how the register should be kept and what sanctions, whether legislative or procedural, should be applied if the provisions of the register are not observed.
No one who has ever looked into this problem—and no one realises this better than the right hon. Member for Lowestoft and myself—will underestimate the task before the Select Committee. If any hon. Member does not already know the difficulties in the way 400 of defining an interest, I am sure that there will be speakers in the debate who will be only too ready to point them out to him. The difficulty lies in defining the range of registrable interests in a way which is enforceable; in a way which is as fair as possible between Members with differing types of interests and which sets an acceptable balance between the need to achieve a degree of openness about our financial affairs, on the one hand, and on the other hand will not make unjustifiable inroads into the personal privacy of Members of Parliament.
I believe that it would be wrong and not in the best interests of Parliament to strip Members of all their privacy in this matter. Hitherto, the problems of the balance of definition have been thought to outweigh the merits of a register. That was the conclusion of the Select Committee of 1969. After an extremely full consideration of the subject, the conclusion reached by the Select Committee was that a register of financial interests was simply not on—the Select Committee left no doubt about that—and that all that could be done was for the House to adopt a very generalised code of conduct, the first half of which is the first motion. Thus, I fully recognise the difficulties, especially of definition, to which the previous Select Committee and others have drawn attention over the years, but those difficulties can no longer be regarded as decisive.
If, as I believe, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft would prefer us to go for a voluntary register, I think that he will acknowledge that in practice such a register would be virtually compulsory. Given the present mood of the House and of public opinion, no Member in practice could fail to take advantage of the opportunities to register his outside interests without running a risk of incurring severe criticism.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House whether the Opposition would expect all Members to register their interests, or whether they would regard it as acceptable for any hon. Member to decline to do so if the register were voluntary. I would certainly regard it as unacceptable for any Member to decline to make use of the register. If that were the general view of the House, we should face it clearly and unequivocally by passing the second motion.
401 Equally, we need further carefully considered advice from the Select Committee before we come to a view on the detailed make-up of the register. Hence, the proposal for a Select Committee to consider that. In that way—which I think is the right way—the House can finally decide the details of the register on the basis of recommendations made by an experienced House body and not solely on the basis of the Government's thinking.
If, as I hope it will, the House accepts the second motion, you said, Mr. Speaker, that you would not then select the Opposition amendment to the third motion. If, on the other hand, the House were to reject the second motion, the Opposition amendment would provide the opportunity for a Select Committee to advise on the establishment of either a voluntary or a compulsory register, and in those circumstances I would advise the House to accept the Opposition amendment.
There is little further that I wish to say, but I should like to refer to one aspect of the Select Committee's terms of reference.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Opposition view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I hope that there is no Opposition view. I understood that we were here as back benchers to consider a matter which affects the whole House.
Is it fair to hon. Members to ask them to express a view on the second motion before they know what kind of register there will be? That is a genuine matter of concern to many hon. Members. It is neither logical nor fair to consider the second motion before knowing the outcome of the third.
§ Mr. Short
The register would not come into operation until the House had debated the matter further. Motions would have to be put down giving effect to the Select Committee's report. There would be an opportunity, therefore, for debate. Certainly the second motion would commit the House to the principle of a compulsory register.
There is another aspect of the Select Committee's terms of reference. The House will have noted that it is proposed 402 that the Select Committee should be able to consider whether any classes of persons other than Members should also be required to register their interest in the parliamentary register. This is a reference to the point of view expressed by a great many Members and others outside that, for example, parliamentary journalists, candidates, or close relatives of Members of Parliament should also be required to register.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
Did the right hon. Gentleman refer to close relatives of Members of Parliament? If he did, he must be talking out of the back of his head.
§ Mr. Short
If the hon. Gentleman reads the third motion, he will see that it says that the Select Committee should consider… what classes of persons (if any) other than Members ought to be required to register.I am saying that the Select Committee will be free to consider any class of persons.
In recent months, a great many hon. Members and people outside the House have expressed the view that parliamentary journalists, candidates, spouses and children of hon. Members should be required to register their interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not expressing an opinion, but I am saying that the Select Committee should have the opportunity to discuss these matters.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
While my right hon. Friend is listing those categories, does he not agree that it is important that members of the other place should be included?
§ Mr. Short
There is a constitutional problem involved in that suggestion, but if my hon. Friend looks at the terms of reference for the proposed Select Committee, he will see that they would enable it to consider any other class of persons. Perhaps we should leave the constitutional point to the Select Committee.
It is right that these important issues should be fully examined by the Select Committee. However, I should like to make it clear that I do not think that this particular aspect of its inquiry has the same urgency as does the question of how a compulsory register of Members' interests should be established. The House will note that in its terms of reference 403 the Select Committee has been asked to give a degree of priority to the consideration of the matters directly affecting Members.
The Government fully recognise that this is above all a House of Commons matter. I understand that the matter will be decided on a free vote on both sides of the House. We propose that the arrangements for a compulsory register should be devised urgently by a Select Committee, but it will be by the House itself, and not by the Government—and I hope that it will happen before the Summer Recess—that these recommendations will be debated and decided.
Nevertheless, I believe that we as a Government would be failing in our duty to give a lead—a lead which the House has a right to expect—if we had not tabled motions expressing our belief that the establishment of a compulsory register of Members' pecuniary interests is the best course for the House to adopt. I therefore hope that the motions will be endorsed, and that the views expressed in this debate will help the proposed Select Committee in its difficult task of filling in the details and of devising a compulsory register which is practicable, fair, effective and which, above all, commands public confidence. If the three motions are passed, I am confident that they will prove to be in the best interests of the House as a whole and of hon. Members individually.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say why the first motion on declaration of interests is limited to pecuniary interests? The right hon. Gentleman will see on the Order Paper an amendment in my name and in the names of some of my hon. Friends to leave out the word "pecuniary" since we believe that it narrows the issue. There are a number of interests which may affect hon. Members which should be declared in certain debates. I am thinking for example of religious interests.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
I beg to move, to leave out from 'disclose' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'any pecuniary interest or benefit of whatsoever kind which in his judgment would be regarded by the House as relevant to the matter under consideration'.This amendment is tabled entirely on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself and in no way commits the Opposition side of the House to any policy at all. Everybody on this side of the House—and I understand that this applies to the Government benches, too—will decide this matter on a free vote,
I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for his speech, which was expressed in very moderate terms. I hope that my speech, too, will be fairly moderate, although I may have one or two harsh things to say about parts of the compulsory register or indeed any register at all and people's attitudes towards it.
Undoubtedly there has been increasing anxiety among the public that people in public life have been using their position for lobbying purposes. These claims have been fanned by certain people, particularly by those who wish to undermine the reputation of Parliament and those who serve it. I wish first to examine how much lobbying goes on and how effective it is. Without in any way wishing to discount the position and influence of a Member of Parliament, I think one should make it clear that an hon. Member as such has no opportunity whatever to influence the letting of a Government contract and therefore can have no financial interests in it. In my experience as a Minister, the letting of contracts was very much a matter for the Civil Service and a Minister would be informed only if he specifically requested information about a particular contract. The opportunity for corruption in its broadest sense, as the public know about it, is nil. Anybody who thinks otherwise does not understand how our system works. One headline that appeared in the Press ran:PR Man says 20 to 30 MPs are bendable".I wonder who is fooling whom—probably a very gullible PRO or Press man.
However, general policy and broad publicity can fall into a different category.
405 Some hon. Members are known to have been paid to represent the views of foreign Governments, others to put the case for a particular industry. Undoubtedly the client concerned at the time was hoping that his agent would influence the House and perhaps be able to put over a more favourable point of view than otherwise would be the case. Those Members generally become known to the Government, they often become known to other Members of this House, and I think that it would be much better if they were openly known and their interests declared. The first motion seeks to do just that. In fact, I believe that this should always have been the custom of the House and is for the convenience of the House. In a number of cases I would hope and expect that such disclosure would stop that interest, and I have good reason to believe that it would.
I come to the terms of the motion. I do not particularly like the wording adopted by the Government. I know that it was suggested by the original Select Committee, but it seems to me to go far beyond what is required. Why do we have to spell out the words,may have had, may have or may be expected to haveMuch of the motion must be totally irrelevant, could be misleading and could involve a breach of privacy which we would regard as quite intolerable. I prefer to place more emphasise on the word "honourable" before a Member's name, and that is why we seek to introduce the concept "in his judgment". I think that it is far better to leave these matters as far as we can to the judgment of an hon. Member.
§ Mr. English
The right hon. Gentleman used the word "irrelevant". Surely under the wording of the Government motion that is exactly what the situation cannot be, because the motion says that the interests a Membermay have had, may have or may be expecting to havemust be arelevant pecuniary interest or benefit".I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can stretch "relevant" to include the use of the word "irrelevant".
§ Mr. Prior
That may be correct—but who is to judge? One of the troubles in this whole matter is the concept of who is to judge what is a "relevant" interest. An interest possessed many years ago may appear to the hon. Member concerned to have no relevance, but to a Press man or to another hon. Member in a different part of the House it may appear to have some relevance.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. Let us not have any private arguments. The public one is enough.
§ Mr. Fell
It still appears to me from a reading of Motion No. 3—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps Government supporters who do not want to think about this before voting on it will listen. It reads:That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the arrangements to be made pursuant to the Resolutions of the House….It does not say "Resolution No. 1" or "Resolution No. 2 ". It says "Resolutions of the House". Then it goes on to say what should be done about them. It is clear from Motion No. 1 that the Committee could nullify completely what is said in the amendment to the motion suggested by my right hon. Friend because, if the Committee comes to a decision on paragraph (a) which deals with the classes—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) will try to get into the debate. Interruptions should be as brief as possible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Yarmouth is making a speech. Mr. Prior.
§ Mr. Prior
I do not want to give a long reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). In any event I am not certain that it is my job to do so. But he has a point. I am certain from my reading of Motion No. 3 that it deals with Motion No. 1. In our amendment, we seek to exclude the consideration of No. 1 by the Select Committee. I think that my hon. Friend is on to a point, although I should like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) to deal with it more fully when he winds up the debate.
I turn to whether Members of Parliament should have outside interests at all. There are some Members who believe that we should be full-time Members with no outside interests—presumably not even fees from television or anything like that. There are some Members who make a very good living out of raising a bogus issue and then getting on television to talk about it. So a good deal would need to be declared on this subject by those who say "Hear, hear" most loudly when it is suggested that Members should have no outside interests.
There are some Members on the Left wing of the Labour Party who regard this whole exercise as one of creating a full-time House of Commons. By stirring up malice or envy towards those who have outside interests, they seek to bring pressure to bear on Members to give them up.
I have a quotation from a recent speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department. He begins his handout by saying:One day Parliament may be prepared to resolve once and for all the matter of Members of Parliament's outside interests by insisting that they are full-time professionals, properly paid and serviced at Westminster and in their constituencies, with any form of outside income totally banned.We know how the hon. Gentleman stands.
In the final paragraph he says:I am sure Labour Members of Parliament would back a compulsory register of Members of Parliament's interests. It would undoubtedly mean the loss of some able and talented people from public life but it would be elitist arrogance to suggest that any one of them is 408 indispensable or that Parliament would be an inferior place without them.If ever there were elitist arrogance, that statement is it.
This is a contemptible piece of humbug by the hon. Gentleman. Apart from its other unpleasant manifestations, it seeks to suggest that Members who have no outside interests are those, and those alone, who do the work in Parliament and that the rest of us are passengers or hangers-on. That is emphatically not the case and, as we all know, some who protest the loudest about the fact that they have no outside interests are the Members quite often the most conspicuous by their absence from this place.
I believe that the wealth of outside experience available to this House is perhaps one of its greatest strengths—
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The right hon. Gentleman should not base his case upon innuendo. If he makes charges of that kind about Members who shout about other people and who do not do their own work here, he should name them. Let the right hon. Gentleman name those Members with no outside interests who do not do their work here.
§ Mr. Prior
I thought that I was voicing, though perhaps not expressing it so well, the view that the Patronage Secretary voiced the other day at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. But perhaps the report which emanated from that meeting was not entirely accurate. I see no reason why I should go any further than the right hon. Gentleman went on that occasion.
As a preparation for Government, the experience gained by Members before becoming Ministers is of great value. Some large, forward-looking companies like to employ potential Ministers or Members —of any party—in order to give them experience of the problems faced by industry.
Again, I have never been one who has thought that our learned Friends in this place are always right, but, if we did not have their expertise and it was not kept up to date by their practise of it, they would not be able to play a full part in this House and it simply would not be able to work. That is particularly true of the time when a party is in opposition.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
If the right hon. Gentleman is advocating the presence of part-time Members in this House, does he agree that any part-time Member should forgo some of the full-time parliamentary salary on which some of us have to live?
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham) rose—
§ Mr. Atkinson
The right hon. Gentleman is answering his own argument in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise). A little earlier he said that in preparation for being a Minister or going into a period of office as a Minister, it was a good idea that a Minister should have no outside interests and that his would be a full-time job as a Minister having no outside interests. If that is the case, some of his right hon. and hon. Friends will object to that. But surely this is the case. A Minister cannot have outside interests, because it is assumed that he is doing a full-time job. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West made the point that the logic—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must point out that I have a very long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak. Once a point has been made, I hope that whoever has the Floor will be allowed to get on with his speech.
§ Mr. Prior
I shall move on from that point.
We are often accused in this place of being remote and removed from reality. How much truer that would be if we were all, in the words of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), full-time MPs. A wide variety of interests leads to a varied group of characters 410 and personalities, and Parliament would be a poorer place without them. It would be a second-rate or third-rate Parliament and a much less independent Parliament. It would mean that the Whips were on top or that the party caucus was on top. Let us be under no illusions about that. I for one would not wish to continue in a Parliament of that nature— not that that would be of interest to anyone but myself.
Should the public know of our outside interests? My answer, strictly speaking, is "No". Why should they? There is no opportunity for corruption, and precious little opportunity for influence, and in any case Motion No. 1 would make that declarable. But having said that, one must recognise the concern which has been built up outside Parliament and the annoyance which innuendo and unfair imputation causes to hon. Members.
If I favoured a voluntary register, 1 was asked, would it not, in fact, become almost compulsory? I think it would, but it would be up to the individual Member if he wanted to stand against this and to say to his constituents quite plainly that he was not prepared to take part in the register. That would be for him to decide—and his constituents and the rest of the nation could draw conclusions.
We are not crooks and we want it to be seen that we are not crooks. We are in the public eye, and we hold jobs which in the eyes of the public are very important. I am certainly entirely happy that the public should know my interests. I will volunteer the information, but if I were told to give the information under compulsion, it would make no difference to me. But whichever way I might want to evade giving information, for good or bad reasons, as the Select Committee pointed out in paragraph 78, it can be done.
I turn to what is an interest. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with this a little. Some categories are easy to define, such as any paid appointment or employment, directorships, sponsorships, consultancies or regular professional or business activities. But what about shareholdings or debts? What about bank overdrafts? Perhaps at times such as the present one could be subject to more pressure in that respect than at any other time—I speak here with a certain personal experience.
411 There are without doubt immense practical difficulties. That is why I favour the voluntary approach. I recognise that voluntary can quickly slide into compulsory as a result of the pressures of public opinion. However, these are all considerations for the Select Committee to examine. If the Committee can define interests precisely, then a compulsory register could be the right answer. Surely it is wrong that we should commit ourselves to a course of action as suggested in Motion No. 2 before we have any idea whether it is workable and what the Select Committee is able to recommend.
It must be right, bearing in mind the difficulties which the 1969 Select Committee found, and those difficulties that the parties have found and have expressed in considering these matters in the last year or so, to await the deliberations of the Select Committee before reaching a final decision.
I understand the reasons for Motion No. 2, but it bears all the hallmarks of a decision under pressure in order to meet the outcry of the moment. It would be much better if this motion were withdrawn for the time being, and for us to wait until the Select Committee has reported and then to reach a decision.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Surely the whole point is that Motion No. 2 will set the terms of reference for the Select Committee and that it will prevent it from reaching such supine conclusions as did the Select Committee in 1969?
§ Mr. Prior
That is one way of endearing oneself to one's hon. Friends, but I would not say that that was fair. The amendment which I have put down gives the Select Committee the authority to suggest whether a register should be compulsory or voluntary.
I want to express one or two other reasons on this issue which may clear up the point I am trying to make. This is far too important a matter for the House to commit itself in advance of the facts. It is not our intention, and I do not think it is the intention of anyone in the House, to delay a decision. The report of the Select Committee will have to come back to the House of Commons and be voted on by the House before a decision can be taken. It cannot be argued that there is any device to try to put off taking 412 a decision. The matter must come back to the House at a later stage for further debate, after which a decision can be taken.
We have sought to amend Motion No. 3 in the light of the withdrawal of Motion No. 2. We seek to leave the Select Committee freedom to recommend the type of register which it considers correct. It could be that the Select Committee will say that part of the register should be public and part should be private. It could be recommended that the register be part compulsory and part voluntary. We ought to await the views of the Select Committee. If we look at other countries, their experiences, and what they do it is seen that undoubtedly they do not all follow the same pattern, or the same pattern in the same register. I believe that it would be far wiser for the House not to jump the hurdle today but to allow the Select Committee to be set up, give it the terms of reference which we have suggested, and let it come back to the House for a final decision. The matter has to come back in any case.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. Samuel Silkin):
I wish to raise a point merely for clarification. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the Select Committee would be able to suggest, for example, that there be a part voluntary and part compulsory register. The right hon. Gentleman's amendment to Motion No. 3 states:(a) what class of pecuniary interest or other benefit should be disclosed; ".Is that intended to refer only to the compulsory part of the register? It does not appear to go with what the right hon. Gentleman was saying earlier about the voluntary nature of a register, which he would recommend and which, one would have thought, must leave it to the individual hon. Member to decide for himself what he discloses in the register.
§ Mr. Prior
If the Select Committee expressed the view that a voluntary register was right, it would still be entitled to tell us what should be included in the voluntary register. Therefore, the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises could be covered by that. We have tried in the amendment to stick as closely as possible to the words which the Government have put down, but I do not think that there need be any particular trouble about that. 413 There is also the question of the class of persons who should register. Many people have far more opportunity than hon. Members to indulge in corruption. Local councillors have large financial patronage and it is this, rather than anything involving hon. Members or anything which has happened in this place that is, paradoxically, the reason we are having this debate. We certainly could not agree that local councillors should be excluded. We must also consider the Press and people such as City editors and others who have real power and influence. Here we prefer to await the views of the NUJ and the newspaper proprietors. But what about parliamentary candidates? Some must not be seen to be treated in a different way from others, and, after all, we are all parliamentary candidates when it comes to a General Election.
I have no doubt that the debate will produce many further examples of difficulties which we face on this issue.
We are not a corrupt Parliament.
§ Mr. Prior
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
We are in a special position in public life. Pride in one's membership of this place makes one wish to see full public confidence in the manner of our business and the way in which we carry it out. That now requires disclosure, so let us get on with the job of preparing for it in a sensible and dignified manner.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
On a point of order. As so many hon. Members wish to speak, I wonder whether you could urge all hon. Members, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to limit their speeches to ten minutes.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I shall try to keep my remarks as brief as possible, but I had some responsibility for the Report of the Select Committee in 414 1969 and I spent many months of that year in considering this matter deeply. I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that it is not a supine report. It is a carefully thought-out report which comes to clearly stated conclusions and gives the arguments which supported us in reaching those conclusions. I therefore hope that it will not be dismissed offhand.
I am glad that our main recommendation has been accepted by the Government and I think that it will be accepted by the whole House. That is the recommendation contained in the first motion, which the Select Committee over which I presided considered to be of the utmost importance. If that were accepted in the spirit in which it is set out, it would cure the mischief of non-declaration which has troubled hon. Members and the public.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) asked for the reason for the reference to declaring an interest that a Member may have had, may have, or may be expecting to have. We tried in that proposal to be comprehensive, to make it certain that any financial interests that a Member has at the moment or has received in the past—he may not be receiving any at the moment—or has been promised in the future, whether that support were financial or came into some other category, should be declared when the Member is speaking to other Members on the subject connected with that support. Unless it is made comprehensive, it would be ineffective.
We put this proposal forward as we did believing it to be a better alternative to the proposal, which we had studied at great length, for a compulsory register. We rejected that, for reasons which I shall describe, in favour of this proposal. I hope that the right hon. Member will not press his amendment or that, if he does, it will be defeated. It would very much weaken the motion and anyway it would be unwise to turn down a proposal like this which had the unanimous support of a Select Committee, with all its considerable authority.
We thought that this proposal was sufficient because, in the opinion not of the Committee but of all those who 415 appeared before us, the practice of disclosure of Members' interests required revision. New action had to be taken, for reasons which all hon. Members know. There had been a great development of public relations activity. Large numbers of hon. Members, perfectly properly and honestly, were acting as public relations men for various organisations, some good, some bad and some indifferent. Foreign Governments were using their help. The expansion was such that the old custom of declaration was completely out of date. New proposals were necessary and we brought forward these.
We said that any remuneration—not just any money—should be declared to other Members at the time that the Member concerned was talking about the subject for which he had received, was receiving or was likely to receive remuneration. That would be all-inclusive. Remuneration in the old terms meant payment of a retainer, a steady income, but nowadays remuneration takes a variety of forms—casual gifts, perhaps even large sums of money, a payment for a secretary, the provision of offices, luxury trips abroad. There is nothing wrong in such remuneration in itself, but we felt that all these things should be declared so that, when a Member spoke about the glories of a regime in Patagonia and had had a luxury trip to Patagonia paid for by the Patagonian Government, he should mention that fact and thus allow other Members to judge his speech with that knowledge. He might criticise Patagonia, but all that should be declared.
The other and more important consideration that we had in mind was that the custom—it was not a rule; up to now there have been no rules, but we suggest that there should be firm rules, strictly enforced—had been that Members should declare such interest as they had only in the Chamber or in a formal Committee. We knew, as do most Members, that a great deal of the public relations work done by Members on behalf of organisations is done not in the House or in a formal Committee, but informally, at gatherings of Members, at parties and in discussions in corridors.
Some Members may say to another, "I think that something is good. Could I have your support? I am organising 416 this or that activity."We say that whenever a Member is active on behalf of any organisation from which he has or has had remuneration, he should disclose that fact not only in the House or in a formal Committee, but on all occasions to any hon. Member or civil servant to whom he is talking or writing.
Mr. Michae! McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
The right hon. Gentleman has singled out public relations men. Why should they have this odium attached to them? Anyone with an interest could do that sort of lobbying. Why should not he be put in the same category?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not clear about the hon. Member's point. What we had in mind was that anyone receiving remuneration for carrying on a case or influencing other hon. Members on a certain matter should declare that remuneration when talking to other hon. Members, whatever the circumstances, in the House or outside.
We are asked now to accept the first motion, with an amendment which I hope that the House will reject. I will now go on to the more controversial proposal—
§ Sir M. Havers
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the first motion, could he explain where he sees any great difference between the motion as proposed by the Government and our amendment, save that our amendment emphasises that a Member of Parliament should exercise his judgment, as we believe is right?
§ Mr. Strauss
Ours is stronger than the amended version. A Member might argue before the Select Committee on Privileges, if a matter went there, "I thought that it was all right, so I did not declare it." As the matter stands, it would be for the Select Committee, acting objectively, to come to that decision.
I now want to say something about the important motion which sets up a compulsory register. I echo the view that it is ridiculous to ask us to accept the principle of a compulsory register before we have any idea what that register is to be. Indeed, my Committee—if I may call it that—dealt with that point. We said in paragraph 70 thatit was not enough…to accept the principle of the register as granted, and leave it to the House to settle what its detailed requirements should be. The content of a register is the point at which the problems and, perhaps, insuperable difficulties arise.417 Therefore, to ask the House to accept the principle of a compulsory register without any idea whether it will be good, bad, sensible or whatever its provisions may be, is ridiculous. It should not have been put to the House in that way.
The arguments for a compulsory register are well known. It is said that a Member's constituents should know what his private financial interests are. If that is so, the proposal should apply not only to Members but to candidates. It should apply before a man is elected. But that would be difficult. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is difficult for all the candidates at an election to declare their private interests at some registry before they are Members of the House. I am sure that that is obvious.
§ Mr. Strauss
I will willingly do so, but hon. Members must not complain if my speech is too long. If I have six opponents as candidates and before nomination day they have to declare all their interests on a register in the House, the situation would be quite ridiculous.
§ Mr. Strauss
I know that many of my hon. Friends disagree with my point of view, but it is shared by many others of my hon. Friends. It was shared by all the other Labour Members of the Select Committee—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
On a point, of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right that we should have to suffer these contemptible interruptions, which are becoming so frequent, without the protection of the Chair against the scandalous conduct of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), whose sheer folly and slimy stupidity are absolutely contemptible?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There is no advantage in putting a point of order in such a way that it arouses even more emotion. We are being addressed by the Father of the House, and I suggest that 418 the right hon. Gentleman be allowed to proceed with his speech.
§ Mr. Skinner
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not singularly inappropriate for the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) to raise a point of order about my conduct in this Chamber when he, in another capacity, has broken the rules regarding the publication of drawings in court, of which he is supposed to be—
§ Mr. Atkinson
It is people like the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) who do it no good.
§ Mr. Strauss
It is urged that it is desirable that the public should know the private interests of all Members of Parliament, and—
§ Mr. Strauss
—that is an argument which is put forward. It is not when or whether those private interests conflict with his parliamentary duties, but that all those private interests should be known.
I suggest that that is nonsense. I do not believe that there is public demand for it. I have asked many of my colleagues whether their constituents or local parties have ever asked them what their private interests are. They have not asked me. What, in effect, would happen?
What is largely at the back of this demand is the desire of the gossip columnists of newspapers to be able to pick up facts and figures from the registry and then compare one Members' income in one year with his income in another year, or to compare the income and position of various Members with that of other Members, and so provide them with material for malicious but popular gossip articles.
419 Nowadays, one of the greatest social evils is the extent to which people and their families, especially those in public life, are exposed to hostile and unfair newspaper gossip so suffering interference with the privacy of their lives. This is a grave and harmful development and should not be encouraged. Other hon. Members have no doubt been victims of this sort of thing. I have been a victim of it myself. To extend it would be exceedingly unfortunate.
A serious difficulty arises when the House considers, as we considered in my Committee, what should be declared in a public register, and tries to differentiate between those things which could well be declared and other things which might be declared but which would gravely interfere with the legitimate privacy of a Member and his family. One example is directorships. That is easy enough—put down "directorships". But a directorship which pays a small amount annually to directors is unimportant compared with shareholdings which may involve substantial sums of money in public companies. If directorships should be declared, what about the value of shareholdings, and not only those of the Member, but those of his wife and children? If this is to be logically——
§ Mr. Strauss
If this is to be logically done, every Member would have to insist that his wife—and every lady Member would have to insist that her husband—declared in the registry what her or his shareholdings were and the size of the income from various investments. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about mistresses?"] I suggest that would be intolerable and unacceptable to the House and the public.
The next point is, which Members will have to declare what their interests are and their income? Is it to be only public relations advisers and consultants? What about other professional people, such as accountants, doctors and solicitors? Are they to declare every year not only what their income is from their work, but who their clients are? Is that the suggestion? That would be a grave situation. Some people may support it, but I should have thought 420 that it was plainly contrary to the public interest and not acceptable to the House.
I am pointing out only some of the difficulties that are likely to arise.
Another is that of enforcement. It is all very well saying that one can enforce this by, perhaps, the Committee of Privileges. But how is one to do it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I would remind the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that running interruptions made from a sedentary position spoil any debate, and that the least we can do is to be courteous to each other.
§ Mr. Strauss
We have to look at the reality of the situation. Whatever form of register one has, compulsory or otherwise, one is bound to have a number of Members who, through negligence or because they disagree in principle with the whole philosophy of public registration of private affairs, would not register, or would register inaccurately. They may not register at all. and it may be a substantial number. That is possible. There are many people on this side of the House as well as the other who think that the principle is wrong and contrary to the best public interest.
What will happen? Who will deal with them? Will there be a special Committee of the House with, perhaps, police powers looking into the affairs of Members and checking the register to see whether it is correct? If it is wrong, what will happen? Will it be reported to the Committee of Privileges—which would have its time cut out checking all this? It is an impossible situation.
The only other way of doing it is the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) when he appeared as a witness before the Select Committee. That is to make it statutory. But what happens then? If it is alleged that a Member has not declared his interests, there will then arise the question of the police courts; the fiat of the Attorney-General will be given, 421 and then the public prosecutor will have to take action against the Member and have the thing out in court. It will then be right outside the control of the House.
§ Mr. Edward Short
Would my right hon. Friend say how the declaration which was proposed in his Select Committee report was to be enforced?
§ Mr. Strauss
Our proposal is quite different. We made the limited proposal that only when talking about matters in which they had a private interest should Members declare that interest. We are not asking 635 Members to declare their private interests and keep their declarations up to date. This is such a limited problem that it is very unlikely to arise. In fact, custom has shown over many years that declarations have been honourably made by Members when talking about affairs involving their private interests. There has been no difficulty about that.
If there is to be a statutory obligation, if a Member may be prosecuted and by fines or otherwise punished as laid down in the statute, with the possibility of appeal to the High Court, it would go right outside the control of the House, and I do not think that that is a situation which the House would accept. For these and other reasons we came to the conclusion in the Select Committee that a compulsory declaration would not be a good thing. We thought it would cause many insuperable problems— although no doubt it would be warmly welcomed by journalists who deal with parliamentary affairs—and that it was not in the interests of the House.
In the Select Committe we said that if a register was to be meaningful, itwould entail cumbersome, inquisitorial machinery which is likely to be evaded by the few Members it is designed to enmeshand that it would be damaging to Parliament. I still believe that that is so.
I realise that because of a number of external factors which have occurred— exposures of local government corrupt practices—and so no—a demand has grown for a register. But that does not mean it is justified. People do not realise that, contrary to practice among local authorities. Members have no influence whatsoever in effecting contracts or on 422 policy. They do not see development plans. Whatever may be the case with local authorities or with the United States Congress, where members have considerable influence in effecting State contracts, there is no case for a general declaration of private interests of Members of Parliament.
A new Select Committee is to be set up to consider the same problem as we considered five years ago. That Select Committee may come up with a different answer; I do not know. It may find that there are aspects to which we did not give full weight and it may come to another conclusion. But I cannot at present change my mind.
Of course, I have no objection to another inquiry. Its conclusions may be new and persuasive, and if so I may be willing to accept them. But I cannot vote for a motion whose premise reverses the conclusion of a Committee report which I, as chairman, signed together with my colleagues, and which categorically demands action which I and the other signatories considered was likely to damage Parliament.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Dr. Michael Winstanley (Hazel Grove)
Before proceeding to the motions on which we shall be voting later, may I begin with a few words about the background to this matter and the considerations which have led many Members to believe that these motions, or motions such as these, ought to be on the Order Paper and are necessary.
As hon. Members know, this is by no means a new subject. Anybody who studies the Report of the Select Committee on Members' interests will see that it has been discussed off and on for many years. We all agree, I think, that it is essentially a matter for the House and for individual Members rather than for the parties, although it is perhaps fair to say that the Parliamentary Liberal Party came to a collective view some years ago when we prepared a register of our own and made that register available for inspection by interested parties. As I was very much concerned personally with that event, it may be helpful if I tell the House something about it.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby) rose —423
§ Dr. Winstanley
To anticipate the interruption, when I said "a collective view" I claim no particular credit for that as against other parties. I freely confess that our unanimity at that time was not unconnected with the fact that there were hardly any of us. Had there been more of us, we might well have arrived at the same kind of disagreements as we find in other parties. Many people coming to the House nowadays notice that the Divisions in the House do not always follow party lines. Divisions are not always between the parties but are frequently within the parties. Whenever one sees two groups of Members not speaking to each other, one can more or less guarantee that they are in the same party.
Nor do I claim proprietary rights over the idea of a register. At that time— during Whitsuntide in 1967—the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was endeavouring to introduce a Private Member's Bill, I think under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure, to deal with this very point. It was because we realised that that Bill which he was endeavouring to introduce had not the faintest chance of seeing the light of day in any legislative sense that we felt that, as we agreed with the principle underlying it, there was no reason why we should not do voluntarily what was asked for in his Bill. It was for that reason that we went ahead and tried to do it. We said, "Why not do it voluntarily?"—and we did.
I suggested that we should prepare a voluntary register. All the Members concerned—there were not all that many— were consulted, and they agreed. We prepared a register, and that register was made generally available for inspection by interested parties. We wrote to the Chief Whips of the other parties asking whether they would do likewise and similarly prepare voluntary registers which would obviate the necessity for legislation. We received replies which amounted to little more than sympathetic noises, but they were not followed by any action.
Our register has been useful and it has been used. We have consulted it. We find it interesting and helpful to know what our colleagues' other interests are— not what we ourselves are doing. It has 424 been inspected many times by the Press, by other Members and by constituents who have written from time to time asking for details in the register.
§ Mr. Madden
The hon. Gentleman has not anticipated the point which I wished to raise. Will he confirm that while the register of the Parliamentary Liberal Party registers interests, it fails to register the extent of people's interests and that on one notable occasion at least it has failed to reveal the interests of the Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party?
§ Dr. Winstanley
I do not accept the last point, but I do accept that our register does not include some of the information which is now asked for. It does not include some information of a kind which I would gladly and readily give and which I am sure my hon. Friends would give. Certainly the hon. Gentleman is correct. The register is relatively limited so far as it goes.
Our collective view at that time, when we took this step, is perhaps best explained by reference to the evidence which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party and I gave to the Select Committee. In the memorandum which we submitted to the Committee before giving oral evidence we said—and this is reported on page 71 of the report:The Liberal Party sees no fundamental objection to Members of Parliament undertaking outside work. Indeed, we recognise that it is only by doing such outside work that many Members can provide themselves with the services and resources necessary to enable them to discharge their Parliamentary duties efficiently.If I may break off from the quotation there, I should explain that some of us believed that it would have been better to improve resources rather than require Members to take those steps. Since then, some of us have slightly changed our views and we tend to feel that if the resources for Members were better, certain other steps would be unnecessary.
Our quotation continues:We also recognise that a Member's part-time involvement in business, professional, industrial, trade union or other outside activities may be of direct assistance to him in his parliamentary work. The House benefits from a variety of knowledge and experience which is brought to it in this way.I do not claim that every hon. Member is some kind of universal genius capable 425 of taking over any Government Department, or the rudder of the ship of State, but I believe that the aggregated collective wisdom of the House and the experience and expertise brought to it by a variety of hon. Members from their occupations before they became MPs, and from their interest and involvement in their constituencies, is vast.
It is to be regretted that we do not always make as much use of Members' knowledge as we should. Often it is used negatively to show that things have been done incorrectly rather than to set out the correct way of doing them in the beginning. It is the lack of opportunity to make a positive contribution to the formulative stage of policy-making which deprives the House of the benefits of hon. Members' wide knowledge. We take the view that the House is cut off and somewhat inward looking. One could go through days without talking to anybody but other Members of Parliament or, perhaps, journalists, who are just as cut off as we are. Many hon. Members find it helpful to mix with people outside, whether in trade unions or the professions or in other connections, and that helps us to see politics in perspective. I know this from my own experience. Occasionally I get the opportunity to return to general practice in the health service, and it is when I go into a house and see elderly or young people in difficulties that I begin to see what politics is all about. It is when we go home and see people in those circumstances that we realise that they are not all consumed with interest in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill or whatever it may be, and that we learn what politics means to them. Outside interests are often a great help in doing our work here.
Our memorandum goes on to say:Despite the above, however, we are concerned about two things. Firstly, that a Member's financial dependence on these outside activities should not be such as to limit his freedom of expression on matters with which he is politically concerned and, secondly, that these business, professional or other attachments should be fully known and understood by his fellow Members and his constituents.That is the important point. It is interesting to know that people have suggested a number of ways for dealing with the possibility a Member's freedom of action being limited. I am reminded of an article written by the hon. Member for 426 Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), before he came to this House, for one of the Sunday papers at the time of the Brighton, Pavilion by-election. In that article he explained the procedures adopted by the Conservatives in selecting a candidate. He revealed that applicants for the candidature were required, before they could be put on the short list, to undertake that if elected they would be financially independent of their parliamentary salary. I acknowledge that this is one method of reducing Members' vulnerability to temptation. However, it does something else. It ensures that the House is recruited from one particular class, namely, the wealthy. A better way of doing things would surely be to ensure that Members are better equipped to do a full-time job.
As for the statement yesterday by the Leader of the House, we were right to leave for the moment the question of Members' pay, though it probably would be better to tie our pay to a Civil Service scale so that the House does not repeatedly have to deal with it. I support what was said on the remaining matters of secretarial allowances and provisions of that kind, because I am absolutely certain that this is one of the solutions to the problem. It does not matter that Members have outside interests. What matters and what threatens to limit a Member's freedom of expression is that sometimes he can become unduly financially dependent on that interest, and where a man is desperately afraid of losing that interest the danger arises.
I was associated, in what I may call an earlier life, which is when I was previously elected to the House, with an all-party group of back benchers who were then campaigning to get better accommodation, better tools for the job. I was joint chairman of the group of 180 Members along with two other former Members, Mr. James Dickens, who did excellent work in this respect, and Mr. John Smith, who worked indefatigably for hon. Members on this question. At that time we somehow managed, in spite of the Table Office, to get a Question on the Order Paper whichasked the Lord President of the Council if he will give, from information available to him from international sources, a comparison showing the position regarding salary, allowances. tax relief, travel, postage, telephones, and secretarial services between Members of the House 427 of Commons and Members of the West German Bundestag, the French National Assembly, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Japanese Diet and the Canadian House of Commons,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May 1969; Vol. 779, c. 40-1.]Curiously enough, the Question was answered and the Answer ran into a number of columns of HANSARD. From those answers and from all the other evidence we collected at that time from all over the world, we were able to deduce that the Members of the British Parliament were worse staffed, worse paid, worse equipped, worse accommodated and worse served in terms of resources than any Members of any Parliament anywhere in the developed world.
It is that background that makes the vulnerability of a Member of Parliament to financial pressures particularly dangerous, and it is to that point that we should be directing our attention. If we put those problems right, there would then perhaps be less need for such procedures as we are discussing today. I am coming more and more to the view that it would be better if more hon. Members were able to devote themselves full time to their work here for however long they are here. I do not take the view that a man is elected to sit in this House for ever. I have just had a four-year sabbatical period, and no doubt certain hon. Members would be only too willing to help me to have another. However, it is no bad thing to get away from this place occasionally and to return refreshed.
When we think of the career structure of hon. Members, therefore, we should not think of their coming here at an early age and remaining here until their dotage. It would be a good thing if some hon. Members returned to other occupations from time to time.
However, we support the idea of a register. We also agree that if there is a register it must be made compulsory and fairly comprehensive. Obviously there must be sanctions, and those sanctions should be applied not by the courts, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) suggested. A Member who failed to record in a register information that he was required to provide would be regarded as being in contempt of the House and could be dealt with accordingly. I hope that we shall never move 428 to the situation in which we begin to feel that Members must not talk on any subject they know something about.
A farmer's opinion of agriculture is quite useful. Are we to say that when we wish to formulate agricultural policy he must not talk about it, because he has a point of view? I want to listen only to people with points of view. Having heard them, we must decide what weight we attach to their advice. Just as a farmer's view is important on that subject, so a doctor's opinion is worth hearing on National Health Service matters. We need the advice of teachers on education. Let us not become hysterical about the matter. Let us not deprive ourselves of the kind of advice we can obtain from hon. Members with special knowledge, experience and expertise.
We favour the register. We shall support the motions, which I think all lead in the same general direction. In a way, we are having a kind of Second Reading debate, to be followed by a kind of Committee or Report stage.
§ Mr. Fell
The hon. Gentleman has made a speech full of common sense, for which he is noted. But he says that the motions which we are debating, and which we shall vote upon later, all have a natural progression and will have a certain result. The fact is that we do not know what we shall be voting on—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) had better ignore other interruptions while he is interrupting the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley).
§ Dr. Winstanley
I should be delighted to help the hon. Gentleman out of his difficulties. All I can say is that, as the Leader of the House made absolutely 429 clear, whichever motions are passed the matter will inevitably have to return to the House on the detail. Therefore, we shall certainly have an opportunity to discuss the detail again, and no doubt we shall then have an opportunity to amend it or even reject it.
I have a final comment on the possible extension of the register to others, such as the Press and our wives. That would be fraught with difficulties. On the whole, I believe that there is no need to have it extended widely to all sorts of people, because the public can look after themselves in that regard. The kind of machinery which exposes journalists, or directs scrutiny on to them and others can perhaps for the moment be regarded as an adequate safeguard.
Broadly speaking, we welcome the idea of a compulsory register. My party has had one for seven years. We shall be glad to amend it, to expand it, to increase its depth or its scope, according to any instructions the House may give. I am sure that hon. Members in other parties will find that it is not difficult and that it is a helpful thing to do.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I do not find this the most pleasant debate to take part in, but it is necessary in view of recent developments outside the House, some involving hon. Members. Some might think that the debate is unnecessary, if not distasteful, based on an unwarranted assumption that we are not all honourable men and women, above suspicion, incorrupt and incorruptible—in fact, angels without wings.
I appreciate the sincerity of the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). I understand the difficulties his Committee faced, but I remind him that his report received a very bad Press. The Sunday Times said:Like so many of the Houses's dealings with itself, the report smacks powerfully of the gentlemen's club: 'Strangers, Keep Out'.To reject the committee's conclusions is not to say that Parliament is corrupt. On the contrary, it is quite exceptionally sea-green, compared with other democratic assemblies.I think that is right.But the report has a fundamental weakness. Much of its argument rests on the 430 assumption that MPs should be treated no differently from private citizens.The newspaper then talks about the problems of definition, penalties and the rest.
We had better face the fact that men and women in national or local government voluntarily come into public life. None of us is a pressed man or woman. All of us are here because we wanted to be here, and—by God!—we cling on once we get here. We must expect to put up with a greater intrusion into our affairs than into the affairs of those who choose to remain private citizens
I have been on the receiving end. There have been monstrous intrusions into my privacy. 1 accept that. It is part of the price one pays for being here. If one does not like it, one can get out. I have seen no resignation because of the invasion of the privacy of any hon. Member, and —by heavens! —some recently might well have done just that.
My right hon. Friend talked about MPs not being able to obtain contracts and so on. That may well be true, but anyone who watched that television programme on the Malta hospital might choose to differ. The hon. Member concerned did not actually get the contract, but he played a prominent part. And it was not only one hon. Member. I make no party point, because hon. Members on both sides of the House were involved.
Therefore, it is proper that the media, whether Andrew Roth or Private Eye, should have a right to probe and ferret and find out things. Maybe they come up with some falsehoods and inaccuracies, but that is all part of the game. It is what a compulsory register would be designed to prevent or limit.
Of course, one comes to the question of the extent to which we leave the matter to the media, to the kinds of people and organisations to which I have referred, or whether we should reveal ourselves as political streakers, or strippers or sadists, punishing ourselves and the public by total exposure. Or should we titillate by partial exposure, or pretend that we are all unsullied virgins? I do not believe that we can smugly accept that everyone comes in here exclusively or predominantly to serve either his constituents or the country. We had better face the fact that, rightly or wrongly, an increasing 431 number of people outside the House, fortunately or otherwise, are cynical and sceptical about this place. We are today engaged in an exercise designed to allay their anxieties and suspicions.
I appreciate the difficulties. At one time my own party would not accept even the limited proposals of the Select Committee over which my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall presided. We have come only recently to accept the proposals. My party leaders have reluctantly been forced, under continuous pressure from their own back benchers, into accepting a compulsory register. When we had our debates upstairs, some of us suggested amendments to cover not only hon. Members but members of the other place and parliamentary correspondents, because they may be just as guilty of such malpractices as are possible here.
I quoted the case of Burmah Oil in those discussions. That case was quoted at length in the book written by the late Member for South Ayrshire, Mr. Emrys Hughes. The company had claimed millions of pounds because of the destruction of its oil installations during the last war by the British Army to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands. It obtained a court judgment in its favour, but successive Governments refused to pay the cash. But the House of Lords voted solidly and massively in favour of paying Burmah Oil.
I got the House of Lords research department to find out the titled shareholders in Burmah Oil, and built up a great dossier. I found out how many of those who voted in the Lords on that issue were directors or shareholders of Burmah Oil. Out of the 144 peers who voted, 54 had not voted before during that session. One of them had taken his seat that very day. He was a Burmah Oil shareholder. He had never before appeared in the House of Lords, Another, Lord Strathalmond, who had taken his seat in 1955, had not opened his mouth in the Lords for years, but he came that day to vote. He had been a director of Burmah Oil until only a few months beforehand. Out of the 144 peers who voted, 38 were shareholders in Burmah Oil. They did not declare an interest. Indeed, more shareholders took part in that vote in the House of Lords than attend an annual meeting of Burmah Oil.
432 The third motion on the Order Paper concerns the setting up of a Select Committee designed to tell us whether people outside this place but connected with it should be on the register. I say that the journalists in the Lobby and the Members of the House of Lords should be on the register as well. Let us all be treated alike in this place.
But I agree with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley). The pay we get and the conditions under which we work are a temptation to the kind of corruption we are trying to eradicate for the sake of the public image we present outside. Outsiders tend to think that we are overpaid, and looking around me I think that some of us might indeed be overpaid. I could—well, I had better not name names! But few people with knowledge of the place think that the pay is excessive, certainly not in comparison with other Parliaments.
But even if the pay were trebled, we could not guarantee that Members would not have paid interests outside the House. It all depends very much on the integrity, judgment and character of the individual Member himself. I do not believe in a full-time Parliament. God forbid that we ever get 635 full-time Members of this House. It would be a political monastery. A motion which would have brought that situation about was decisively rejected at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and for very good reasons. I believe that the House is all the richer for having people with outside interests— doctors, for example.
§ Mr. Hamilton
What disturbs me as much as anything is the intolerance of some of my hon. Friends because they differ about certain details. If my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) will keep his mouth shut for a moment, I will put my case
. This place benefits greatly from people with outside financial interests. What I want is those interests declared and a recognition that the House could not work unless it had a considerable nucleus of full-time Members. I do not believe that the place could work unless it had at least 200 full-time Members. The Select Committee might well examine the possibility of asking each Member at the beginning of a new Parliament 433 whether he is going to be part of the 200-strong nucleus of Members who will man all the Committees and of giving a differential payment to such Members.
There are Members who are full time; there are Members who are definitely not full time, primarily because they have massive outside interests. But in the end it comes to the decision of the local constituency party. There may be some constituency parties which want Members like the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. It may be that the Tories in Aldershot look for a man of big business. If they want such a Member, that is their prerogative. Fife, Central would not want that type of man. But it is up to the local party to decide what kind of candidate it wants. It is up to the local party to say to a prospective candidate, "Will you be full time? Will you represent us, or will you represent Burmah Oil, or Mr. Poulson "—
§ Mr, Hamilton
—exactly—"or Fife?" It all depends on the local party. I do not think that there is any doubt that we have moved a long way since the Select Committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall. So has The Times. It has a very good editorial on this point today. It comes down predominantly on the side of the Labour Party in this respect. It says:… a number of recent episodes concerning members of Parliament have aroused some public unease and it is essential to restore confidence. A register cannot provide a guarantee of probity…. We do not have, and we do not need a full-time professional House of Commons. Parliament benefits from having men and women who are currently engaged in professional and business activities outside.It goes on to spell out some of the difficulties of defining the limits of the register. Of course there are difficulties in that connection, but they are not insuperable. I take the view that the register should be limited to the Member himself.
Of course there are ways of avoiding full disclosure, but we all know that there are ways of avoiding income tax and surtax. It is many years since Douglas Houghton said that there were two groups of taxpayers—"pay as you earn" and "pay as you like". That is very true. 434 Whatever register we have, some Members will find some means of evading disclosure.
But it would be up to their constituency parties to ascertain why they were not registering their interests and to be satisfied that they had good reasons for not registering. The Press and the other media would be asking why someone had not registered, and the House itself could take action against a Member who was not making his declarations properly on a compulsory register.
I accept the argument before the House I believe that it is time to establish the principle of a register and that such a register should be compulsory. Having accepted these two principles, we should set up a Select Committee to draw the limits.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) suggested that a voluntary register would be acceptable, but that would be worse than useless. It would be the worst of all possible worlds. We either have a compulsory register covering everyone, or we have nothing at all.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Godber (Grantham)
1 listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) with a great deal of interest. I agreed with much of what he said, including part of his concluding remarks. There were some things with which I did not agree, but I will not go into them now. I agreed with him when he said that it was better that Parliament should have people with outside interests. I believe that very strongly. I have always believed that Parliament would be a worse place if there were not those with outside interests, on both sides of the House. This would not be a competent forum to debate the issues of vital interest to the country if a substantial number of Members did not have those interests. I know that this view is not welcome to some hon. Members opposite but it is my belief.
If we were a body composed totally of professional politicians who spent their whole working lives in the Palace of Westminster, then Parliament would lose its character and independence and we should become totally subservient to the party machine. In my view that is not the hallmark of a free democracy. That is my position, and I make no secret of 435 the fact that I have obtained outside interests since ceasing to become a Minister. I have stated publicly in my constituency what those interests are. It is right that they should be known and that they should be held where a Member so chooses.
As the Leader of the House has said, that is not the issue. The right hon. Gentleman remarked that there was increasing public concern on these matters. The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that there were people outside who were cynical and sceptical about Members. I agree. That is bad. It is why I welcome the debate. Whether we like it or not, we have to look at ourselves in that context, not as we know ourselves, but as people outside tend to look at us. In this country we do not have the problems of a Watergate, but we should make no mistake about the fact that the scandals of Watergate are affecting democracy all over the world. They are harming democracy everywhere, just as the scandals surrounding Mr. Poulson, largely in local government, are affecting us.
Democracy is being questioned by a large number of people and it is up to us, as the spearpoint of the democratic system, to show that we retain the high degree of honesty and integrity which has always been associated with Parliament. That is why we must look at these matters with the greatest care. I agree with the leader in The Timesfrom which the hon. Member quoted. It says that to serve the purposes which it has described,the register would have to be compulsory. It would be tempting to suggest that a voluntary register would avoid unnecessary invasions of privacy and the need to define too precisely what interests were to be included. But that would be precisely the wrong way round. A voluntary register would either be virtually useless or would give rise to an endless flow of inuendoes against those who did not declare their hand.I agree with that.
There is another aspect of this choice between the voluntary and the compulsory register. There has been a lot of criticism about the difficulties of definition. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) put this extremely well. There are problems of definition for a compulsory register, but if there is such a register then there is one definition worked out in advance which will apply to everyone. If there is a voluntary register there will be 436 635 different definitions of what should be declared. I would rather have the one definition than have the imposition of definitions by each Member. If there is to be a register, I favour a compulsory one. Having examined the three motions on the Order Paper, I find it difficult to support the second one as it stands. I believe that the first motion is unnecessarily wide. I would wish to support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friends, although I am sorry that they have not accepted the suggestion put forward by some of my hon. Friends because I believe that the best solution would be to have the amendment of my right hon. Friends without the word "pecuniary" in it. This would give a wider and clearer situation without dragging in any attempt to define a benefit which a man may be expecting to have.
I do not see how anyone can possibly understand how he could define the advantages he may be expecting to have. I am sure that there may be some hon. Members who may be expecting or hoping that one day their statue will appear on a plinth in the Members' Lobby outside. Are they to declare that when debating the Votes for the Department of the Environment? This seems to be absurd. That example carries it to its logical absurdity. It would be far better to accept the amendment of my right hon. Friends.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. Gentleman is obviously making a fair point in its way. Ought he not to give his attention to the position which we must assume those concerned had in mind, that is to say, that of a Member who knows that, subject to a life or some other event, he will surely benefit within a certain period of time as a result of having a particular- interest? Would the right hon. Gentleman say that that ought not to be disclosed if it is relevant to the debate?
§ Mr. Godber
I would accept that in certain circumstances that is a perfectly valid and fair point. It will be extremely difficult, once we start widening it beyond interests which are clearly available and can be seen. If we do that we shall get into difficulties. Such a course would be harmful in the long run to the effective utilisation of this register.
437 I come now to the second motion. 1 believe that there should be a compulsory register, but like the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, I do not believe in buying a pig in a poke. I want to see precisely what sort of register is to be made compulsory. That will have to come before the House and we shall have the opportunity to debate it. That is the right time to reach a decision. It would be far better if we were not being asked to approve this second motion. I will abstain from voting on this second motion because, while I believe in the principle, I am not prepared to vote for it in this form while the third motion is on the Order Paper.
I do not like the wording of this third motion. It is too loose. I say to my right hon. Friends who have tabled an amendment that that is not much better because they still retain paragraph (d) which seems to be much too wide a definition and, as I understood the Leader of the House, refers to close relatives, too. That takes the issue too wide. I want to see it more clearly defined. I am willing to let the Select Committee bring its views to the House about the compulsory register. If those views seem reasonable and sensible, I shall be happy to support them.
We must recognise that we shall not get a perfect solution anywhere. What we have to get is the best and most sensible compromise. It has to be one which involves the genuine, legitimate outside interests of hon. Members. These must be included. If we seek to carry it much further we shall get bogged down in all sorts of difficulties. I hope very much that we can keep this to a degree of simplicity. There is much more I would like to say, but I have promised to be brief. Those are the points I wished to put to make my opinion clear to the House.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill) rose—
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A motion is before the House. Is it not correct, bearing in mind the usage of the House about declaring interests—I have it from the report of the 438 Select Committee—that any Member speaking on behalf of an interest should declare that interest?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is up to right hon. and hon. Members to declare their interests as they go along.
§ Sir Arthur Irvine
It seems that the motion for a register of Members' interests is a sign of the times and of the difficulties through which we are passing. It is a sign that we have lost trust in ourselves. Ideally, in a place such as this it should be enough to know that a colleague will declare an interest, and that having done so, he will be all the more aware of his responsibility for the public good and of the need to put the public interest first.
However, we are in a phase of distrust. Public opinion is watchful. I am sure that public opinion in this country is resolute that our system should not fall into the kind of trouble which has beset our friends and allies across the Atlantic. It is for that reason that I intend to vote for the motion that proposes a mandatory register in which hon. Members shall furnish particulars of registrable interests.
I understand the contrary argument and I shall have little regret if it prevails. But the existing public disquiet or cynicism—and one or the other exists almost universally—is to my mind the decisive factor favouring the mandatory register. It may prove to be only a temporary provision. It may be that we can rid ourselves of it after a short while when the present malaise has passed, as we all hope that it will.
I am sure that the main need is for candour and for frankness. There must be a stop to all the dodging about behind the names of nominees and such subterfuges. The need for candour and frankness is the most important of all.
This is, of course, a House of Commons matter. It is not a party issue in any way. It is a mistake to think of the law, if I may make a passing reference, as imposing significant restraints and restrictions upon the candour or frankness to which I refer. It is sometimes said that investigations into possible or alleged improprieties in a region or district should await appropriate police investigation. In my view which I have expressed to the House, that is a ridiculous and even a 439 dangerous line of thought. If activities among a body of people in any locality are subject to investigation with a view to determining whether there should be a prosecution, there is no earthly reason why that body of people or that locality should not at once set about putting their own house in order and finding out whether there are wrongs that need to be remedied.
Although I have said that this is a House of Commons matter and not a party matter, I can quite consistently with that view underline the special reasons that exist, in my assessment of the matter for my right hon. and hon. Friends to welcome the fullest disclosure of interest. I have often pursued the point in this Chamber. We are the critics of the acquisitive society and as such we should have a special interest in keeping the legislative process clean and letting it be seen that it is kept clean. We should do so because it is basic to our outlook that society as a whole, namely, the State, should intervene to ensure proper planning for the general good and a more just distribution of resources. Disclosure of interest advances that end. Whether it is an effective voluntary or mandatory process of disclosure is a subsidiary issue.
The greater part the State plays in our affairs the more important it is that this place, which makes the laws, should cooperate with the courts of law whose duty it is to interpret that law. And all this should be in the context of a system in which the facts are known and are above board. As I have suggested, we are all under a duty to ensure that the standards of public life do not fall away here as tragically as they have been seen to fall away in the United States. We can exert a great influence in that respect in the West. We have lost relative economic strength, but it does not follow that we have lost influence. It is a great error to underestimate the influence of this country and its people.
In that connection I was dismayed to read what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had to say in the debate on the Press last week. He said:I find it somewhat odious that others spend a considerable time pontificating to another great democracy across the Atlantic about how it should run its affairs in the troubles which beset it. I should have thought 440 that a little restraint might not come amiss in such matters where we have no powers and very little influence." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 1120.]Things have reached a pretty pass when the Leader of the Conservative Party is on record as saying that we have very little influence upon opinion in the United States in matters of this kind. I suggest that it is time that this phase of depreciation of our methods and processes should be ended.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
My speech will be short but I shall put one or two matters before the House because I feel that we are embarking on a wrong and damaging course if we approve these motions. I am strongly opposed to hon. Members having to register their interests either compulsorily or voluntarily. If it becomes compulsory to register, I shall comply with the law and the ruling of the House. If we are to have a voluntary register, I shall not register.
My reasons for hostility to these schemes are many, but I shall mention only two. First, I have always regarded Members as ordinary citizens. I have always believed that we are the same as the rest of our countrymen or women. I think that that is the right and constitutional way in which to regard ourselves. We are subject to the law just the same as anyone else. We are subject to the same fates, chances, misfortune and luck as are all other individuals who make up the population. The only distinction is that in this place hon. Members are privileged, but that is a minor matter and well understood as necessary for the job.
If we were to register our interests, we would immediately put ourselves in a category different from all others. Ours is an old and famous Parliament that is respected throughout the world. I find it incredible that we should be discussing this absurd register. Such an idea is demeaning not only to the institution of Parliament but to hon. Members. Nor is there any demand for such a register. I have not had one representation or letter from Edinburgh, South about this matter. I suspect that that is the position in many other constituencies. In any event, constituents are wise, and if they think that there is anything 441 fishy about their Member the remedy is in their own hands at the next election.
Secondly, a register would not work. No one seems to be agreed how far it should extend. In any event the rogue will always get by, at least for a while.
The present system is perfectly adequate. Hon. Members not only declare their interests when speaking but most of them are recorded in the reference books. The fact that we are all known to each other is the best safeguard of all against improper conduct. If anyone should unhappily fall by the wayside, the police, the Revenue or this House itself can take the necessary measures. I am convinced that the public know this. Sir, 1 detest this whole idea. I suggest that if we are to descend to these shifts and arrangements we might as well cease to call ourselves hon. Members, whereas I believe that colleagues on both sides of the House are honourable.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) said that the present system is perfectly adequate. If that is so there seems to be a lot of fuss about nothing, because we seem to be occupying acres of space in newspapers and commentators have spent hours in attempting to analyse some of the problems of our society, our malaise, and making suggestions on how best it can be put right.
I want to make three specific points arising from the premise that I fully support a statutory register of all Members' interests. Indeed, I want to go further and point out the reasons. However, before doing so perhaps I might be allowed the privilege of a few soft words to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West—
§ Mr. Atkinson
The middle-of-the-road man, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton).
During my 10 years as a Member of this House I have come to recognise that this place suffers tremendous privilege for certain Members. It is in many ways a very unfair, unequal and unkind place. It is based often upon the principle of the 442' survival of the fittest. It is a curious mixture, of which tolerance and decency are often looked upon as weakness to be exploited by one's political opponents.
I suggest to my hon. Friend that it is not the Left who are the persistent intolerant people in this place, but we have learned by bitter experience over the years that silence somehow or other means that we acquiesce to the argument. Therefore, we now try to shout as loud as others to make sure that our argument is heard. We try to balance what has always been the loudest minority who have dominated this place because of the factors and elements to which I have referred.
It is on that kind of experience that we have come to some conclusions about the debate both here and upstairs. My hon. Friend said that the argument about full-time Members of Parliament was overwhelmingly defeated. It was not. The argument was never really presented. We were tolerant. Only one hon. Member was able to put the argument. The rest of us were extremely tolerant of the overwhelming number of speakers who argued against a most ably put case. My hon. Friend assumes that the argument was rejected out of hand. It was not.
There is evidence to support the fact that the majority of Labour Party members throughout the country believe that we should have a professional, full-time Parliament composed of Members who are exclusively politicians in the professional sense with no other outside interests.
I turn now to the point about full-time Members of Parliament and the register. I should like to make a few brief comments about the third motion and the part relating to who should register, because I believe that is the most important aspect of the debate.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley), in referring to full-time Members of Parliament, put the argument very well. However, we should go further. The difficulty about arguing the case further is that we always come up against the situation of the lawyers. They are a special breed who are immensely privileged in this place. They are the only Members who are paid extra to what is paid to any other Member of Parliament by the Government, even when in opposition. Their appointments to the 443 courts are endorsed by the Government and they are paid, even as Opposition Members, by the Government. Therefore, they represent an extremely privileged class of Member of this House. The lawyers are exclusive in having that privilege.
I think the Attorney-General would agree that he has an extremely privileged position. It is no accident that he is and always has been the highest-paid Minister. He makes the rest look like peanuts.
§ Mr. Atkinson
He may be better paid, but he is in the same league.
The Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General are paid as they are because there is an assumption that they should represent and speak on behalf of the Crown in the courts, yet there is no obligation for the Attorney-General to represent the Crown in the courts. He does it because in that way he can keep his hand in. What is more pernicious than that, however, is that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General practise in the courts because by so doing, they justify their comrades in their trade union as part-time Members of Parliament continuing their lucrative practices in the courts. They are justified in doing that by the fact that their leader, the Attorney-General, does the same kind of thing.
§ Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to make it clear that he is referring to English lawyers, since Scots lawyers are prevented from carrying on such practices?
§ Mr. Atkinson
I am grateful for that intervention. It seems to answer most effectively the point that has been made.
Perhaps I may finish my second point on professionalism and so on answering the argument against the full-time Member of Parliament. We have a lawyer as Attorney-General. I do not believe that it is necessary for a lawyer to be Attorney-General. I do not believe that it is necessary for a doctor to be a Minister of Health, for a teacher to be Secretary of State for Education and Science, for a farmer to be Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or for a miner to be Secretary of State for Energy. 1 could go through the whole list. I do not believe that it. is necessary for a man to be professionally qualified to be an adequate Minister. However, I believe that it is necessary for someone to be a Socialist to do certain things as a Minister and to use this place in the way that we should like it to be used.
My final point concerns those who should register. It is in this area where most pain is felt. The whole argument is about who should register. It is indeed not the ordinary Member of Parliament. I wish, like many other hon. Members, that we had the influence that could enable us to earn the kind of money that has been talked about. It would be magnificent if we could do that. Tragically, however, power bypasses those of us on the back benches. Ministers are excluded from having outside interests, and I believe that that should also apply to back-bench Members. We should have no outside interests and we should be totally professional and adequately serviced in every way.
We are not able to participate in the decision-making process which gives us the opportunity of indulging in corruption in any way that is often suggested. I am sorry that that is not the case. I say that seriously. I am sorry that we are not in the position of being corruptible. We are excluded from the possibility of corruption, and I believe that Members should have the sort of power 445 which that involves. If what has happened in recent weeks has demonstrated anything, it is that once there is a situation of balance between the parties power immediately shifts to the Government and to their professional advisers.
I wish to deal with the question whether the Government's advisers should register their interests. I believe that every member of a Royal Commission should register his interest because he is the first person to be corruptible. Every member of a nationalised board should register every interest which either he or his family may hold. If there is an area in which people are corruptible and in which it is possible to make decisions in such a way as to give personal gain, it is this area. A mixed economy of the sort we have in this country is bendable or amenable to those who wish to exploit the system or the opportunities presented to them.
I mention one nationalised board only to demonstrate my point—the Nuclear Power Advisory Board. It demonstrates more clearly than anything else what the argument is about and why there should be full registration of the interests of all people connected with government.
The Secretary of State for Energy, a very intelligent man, was a coal miner. He is a first-class Minister and is incorruptible. But he is surrounded by people who will have to advise him on one of the most momentous decisions which this nation will have to take this century in technology. He must take a decision about the choice of a nuclear reactor. He is surrounded by academics, nuclear engineers, physicists and other people with a mountain of expertise and knowledge about nuclear matters, the choice of energy derivatives and all the other factors which he must weigh in order to come to the right decision on behalf of the nation.
The person who will be closest to my right hon. Friend will be Lord Aldington, who is chairman of GEC. I do not say that he is corrupt. He is probably an absolutely fine person. I do not know him. I understand, however, that he was Toby Low and formerly a Member of Parliament—but that is not against him. I do not suggest that Sir Arnold Weinstock is corruptible. But suppose 446 that the advice which those people are giving my right hon. Friend is accepted. Many millions of pounds will be involved in this decision, yet those people are directors of a company which stands to gain a monopoly in manufacturing the equipment which they advise the Government to take.
1 do not suggest that there is anything wrong with that. However, we should know the private interests of people who advise Ministers and Governments or who serve on the boards of nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Prior indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The ex-Leader of the House shakes his head, but it was he and his Government who, in answer to my request that such people should be asked to register their interests, said "Not on your life. In no circumstances must we put these people in such a position that they should register their private interests." I therefore assume that the Conservative Party is against the registration of interests of that sort.
§ Mr. Atkinson
That may be so. I am not making any allegations. If I were, they would make President Nixon's Watergate look like a drip from the tap.
It is insufficient merely to suggest that Members of Parliament should register their interests. The argument about full-time membership of the House and registration of interests must include people who are close to and advising Governments.
Therefore, if we are to consider this matter sensibly and come to such a conclusion that Parliament can regain its credibility, so that we can answer the critics and be proud of what we are doing, we must clear away all the innuendo and muck which perhaps exists. We would then at least have cleared out the stable and would be able to say that our system was beyond corruption. If we go in that direction, we shall at last get it right.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I apologise for not being present in the Chamber earlier. I was at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and have not therefore had the benefit of hearing all the speeches.
I take this matter very seriously. Members of Parliament have a high-faluting idea about their power. Labour Members and members of the Government infer that we on this side of the House have some privilege because we have connections with industry. I have no connection with industry at present, except for some shareholdings which I have held for a number of years.
When I became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Environment in the Conservative Government, the then Prime Minister ruled that as I had close connections with the building industry and held directorships in building firms, and as the Department of the Environment dealt with builders and allied trades, it would be better if I severed those connections. Although as PPS I had no power except the power to walk into the Secretary of State's office when he allowed me in, I thought that it was right and proper that I should do that. When there was a change of Government I expected to be invited back to industry. That has not happened. You, Mr. Speaker, can draw your own conclusions from that.
I was in industry for 35 years and I have been a Member of the House for 15 years. I look at this matter from the point of view of how we can improve the image of this place. All of us love it dearly and are ashamed of anything which besmirches it.
Many, if not most, of us arrived in the House because of what we did before we got here. We arrived here because a constituency decided that a certain person would properly represent the views of the constituents and would be the right person to get those views across to the Government. The debate is about the other side of the coin. Are we making something out of being here, or are we using our positions as Members of Parliament to help us to get another job? I look at it from the other side. We are here because we have had jobs that enabled us to become Members of 448 Parliament. I cannot see how anyone in his senses can object to that.
Some Members arrive in the House because they have been sponsored by trade unions. I suggest to them—they would be ashamed if I did not do so— that they represent their unions strongly in debate. We know why they do it, they are expected to do it, we appreciate them for doing it and we discount what they say. No one sees anything wrong with that.
We have heard an outburst from the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) about some of our old friends who are advising a Minister about certain procurement decisions. I am interested in nuclear power, and there is a nuclear power station in my constituency. Some of my hon. Friends on the Opposition benches and I went to the research department to try to get as much information as we could about nuclear power. When Opposition Members make visits they have to pay their own train fare and expenses and they get nothing back, but I have never heard any complaint about that. As Members of Parliament we owe it to our constituents to get as much information as we can to pass on to our constituents. The greater our knowledge, the better.
During the election campaign I was asked by my Liberal opponent whether I had studied the Liberal Party's document containing declarations of interest. Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and I went to the Liberal Whip's office and asked to see that document. Imagine our surprise when we were told that it had been lost. When we asked whether the information was kept in a book, we were told "No, it is on scraps of paper. The secretary has the key, but she has gone." I said that I wanted to see the information before this debate. It was agreed that I should go along at 10 o'clock this morning. I arrived at the Liberal Whip's office, where 1 was graciously received. I asked to see the documentation and was told "Yes, we are expecting you. Here it is." Several sheets of foolscap were produced. The Liberal Member's name was at the top of each sheet and his declaration of interests was underneath. It would have been better for me to read "Who's Who". It contains more information than appears on the 449 Liberals' declarations of interests. Let us not be worried that one political party has its own private list when others have not. Just as much information is contained in "Who's Who," which is available in every public library in the kingdom.
§ Dr. Winstanley
Without disparaging "Who's Who" or elevating the Liberal publication to a position greater than it merits, may I say that the register exists. I had it with me when I was making my speech which unfortunately the hon. Gentleman was not able to hear. The register is now back in the Whip's office, where it normally reposes. After the hon. Gentleman has finished his speech he will be able to go and look at it.
§ Mr. Costain
I am not suggesting that I have not seen it. I examined it with great care in three and a half minutes flat.
If we decide that all interests must be registered fully, we must make up our minds what we mean by "registering an interest". Does it mean that every time any one of us rings up his stockbroker and asks to buy 50 shares he will have to go to Mr. Speaker's office or to the Library and say "I have bought 50 ICI shares"? What wonderful opportunities that would give. A gentleman with a computer would say "This week the Liberals are buying ICI"—
Mr. Bob.Cryer (Keighley)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that under the Housing Finance Act 1972 that is precisely what he and his hon. Friends required council tenants to do, week in and week out?
§ Mr. Costain
In Committee this morning on a Private Member's Bill every interruption that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made was about the Housing Finance Act. Perhaps it is the only Act he has ever read.
If every Member of Parliament has to register every deal he does on the Stock Exchange, why should he not register every horse he backs? I should be interested to know what some of my hon. Friend's who are great financial experts were buying on the Stock Exchange last week—or, more so, what they were selling. 450 Equally, some of my constituents— very pleasant ladies— often come to me for investment advice. I cannot think why. Naturally I refuse to give it to them. But if what I bought last week was published in Folkestone and Hythe on Saturday, what a responsibility I would incur.
Let us not have a conceited idea of how important we are. Let us appreciate that the detailed information we declare may be more misleading than enlightening.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Walden (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I welcome the opportunity to support the three motions, the latter two of which would have the effect of establishing a compulsory register. I welcome also the speech made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), because by using ridicule he has exposed some of the nonsense that clutters any discussion of this issue.
One problem is that the issue is complicated by a welter of conflicting motivations and pressures. A sincere concern for the public interest has to coexist with a sincere concern for public mischief. A proper regard for privacy has to bed down with a desire for concealment, usually based on a fear of misrepresentation. It is not easy therefore, to unravel all the strands in the argument and all the motives. That does not worry me so much. When a person's argument is bad he has to concentrate on the motives of his opponents. I want to discuss what I believe are good reasons for having the register, to say a little about some of the consequences, good and bad, which I think will flow from it, and also perhaps en passant to make some reference to the many other issues which inevitably arise.
I begin with the question of corruption and privacy. If there be corrupt Members of Parliament, the register will not inhibit their activities in any way. It is no argument for the register to try to pretend that it will. The whole issue has got mixed up with the issue of corruption because it is very much in some people's interests that it should be. They are anxious to see the two things presented side by side. If a man wishes to be 451 corrupted, the register will have no impact at all. If somebody wishes to betray trust, that person will do so whether or not there is a register. Nor will the probity of others by some mystical process throw a golden glow on a personal dunghill. The fact that a lot of other people demonstrate that they are honest does not mean that any particular individual is honest and incorruptible. Only an irredeemably muddled mind could suppose otherwise. We should get rid of that issue straight away. Many people use the word "corruption" when what they really mean is "A practice of which I personally disapprove". If we use words in that sense, nothing I have said so far about corruption is correct. However, it is advisable to try to use words in a sense which the House in general will accept.
Let us look at the question of privacy. In arguing for a register I do not for one moment believe that it will not be an intrusion into a Member's privacy. It will be a gross and palpable intrusion, and we need not have the slightest doubt about it. I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton)—he is an old friend of mine —should say, "Oh, well, for somebody in public life what is privacy? One is not supposed to have any of that." Speaking personally, I tend to agree with my hon. Friend. The question of privacy does not worry me greatly. It is other people's privacy that worries me.
If it is said that a Member of Parliament by virtue of his avocation has no right to privacy, why is this interesting doctrine to be confined only to financial matters? Why does not the doctrine have general application? Why should it not thrive and bloom to encompass every aspect of a Member's life? If a Member of Parliament believes that he is an incorrigible drunkard, surely that is a matter of public interest. Should not such a man go along and sign a register so that everybody can check his daily intake of alcoholic beverages? Indeed, if he has no right to any privacy whatever, who is to say whether or not he is a drunkard? We should all sign the register every day so that the whole world can judge. Surely that argument is a nonsense. It is absurd to pretend that a public register will not be an intrusion into privacy, because it will be.
452 The way I would put the case is on these lines: "Yes, to serve a greater end we would sacrifice a degree of privacy to which otherwise we would be entitled". That is the moderate case I want to put for a compulsory public register. I have believed in this proposition for a number of years. In a less excited climate, along with 70 other Members I signed a motion on this subject tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Perhaps I should say why I signed that motion. I did not do so to derogate from the dignity of the House. I take the point of those who, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Vaux-hall (Mr. Strauss), shake their heads in bewilderment and ask "Why is a register necessary?" Not only do those Members underrate the impact of envy and malice in public life, but to a considerable extent they have not noticed what is going on in the country. This is the argument I want to put for a public compulsory register.
Whether we like it or not—and 1 unashamedly do not like it—the status of Members of Parliament has been relentlessly eroded in the recent past and is being eroded now. Modern political doctrines—we cannot consider this matter in any other context—have nothing to do with Aristotelian philosophical subtleties or the cumbersome economic analysis of Karl Marx.
There are those who are opposed to authority—all authority—whether of the Left or of the Right, whether public or private. The moderns are not interested in liberty, equality or fraternity or any of these peculiarly tedious intellectual abstractions. They have a simple slogan which runs "Show me a governor and I'll show you a crook". That is the gutter populism which is being pumped into the public, sometimes without the resistance in certain quarters which it ought to encounter. I at least have no responsibility for that. However, that is what is happening.
How are we to react to this situation? I suggest that there are three ways. The first way I regard with boundless contempt. This way lies in emulating or outdoing the mindless screams against authority. One can howl vociferously with the hounds in the hope that they will not notice that one is a hare.
453 The second thing one can do—I have respect for this course but no intellectual agreement with it—is to act like a Whig. This is to deign not to notice what is going on and to seek not to excuse a single one of one's actions. That does not derogate from the dignity of the House to anything like the extent of the first doctrine which denies the essence of its dignity. But it does not meet the case and will not survive as a viable attitude.
I prefer a third method, which is to fight back—to fight criticism and, if it be required, to fight on the critics' own ground.
There are those who say that there are things which are being concealed from the public gaze—things which if known would show the House of Commons to be a vipers' nest of jobbery. I suggest that if they want information we should give it to them. Let us gorge them on it. Let there be a register so comprehensive and detailed, so complex and all-embracing that the underground Press will have to run off hourly issues to keep the public abreast of the truth.
What are we afraid of? Why should we be afraid of criticism? If. as is so frequently said, the House of Commons is overwhelmingly a place for men of honour and if our interests are defensible and a man uses his own judgment, what are we afraid of? What are the dreadful facts that a register would reveal? Let me list three of them.
First, a register would reveal the extraordinary fact that some men are born rich and acquire riches before they come into the House of Commons. Does anybody seriously suppose that the British people have been left in happy innocence of that fact for all these years?
The second fact that it would reveal is that money tends to accumulate in relation to property and capital and, as one comes into juxtaposition, with business and industry. We must all grip our beaches and withstand the tornado of concern that that self-evident proposition when publicly acknowledged, will thrust upon the British people.
Third, there would be revealed the fact —I am told that this is where we come to a matter of sinister import, and I welcome the chance to discuss it—that some Members acquired business interests after they 454 became Members of this House. What are we to think of that? I will tell the House. In the first place, many Members of the present Government have done just that in the past. They have been consultants. The word is now used as if there is something disreputable about it. But properly done, and with an understanding of the ethics involved, which should be strict, far from there being something the matter with it, it is an exceedingly valuable function. When I say that some members of the Government have engaged in it, I say it with approbation and not with criticism.
What is it supposed that a reputable consultant does? What is this vision of the cringing toady of some lobby sneaking round Whitehall and Westminster suppressing his convictions for money and trying to suborn his colleagues to do something contrary to their consciences. That caricature is so farcical that no one ever thought it necessary to rebut it until, in the post-Watergate and post-poulson hysteria, it began to get a grip on weak minds. If it needs rebuttal, let it be rebutted. If there are abuses, let them be exposed. I shall believe in abuses when I see some substantiated.
If there are abuses, the guilt will be personal. It will not reflect upon the whole House. Do not let us vote for concealment simply because we are afraid that there may be an occasional scoundrel in the House. The House as a whole will not be judged by that. The guilt will be personal. I do not believe that there is guilt, but in any event that is all that will ever be demonstrated by a public register. We shall simply know a good deal more than we know at present about the interests—past, present and, if we have a certain Delphic gift, future—of Members of Parliament. Personally it will bore me to death, and I shall never consult it. But, chacun à son goût. Every night some people will go to bed with it, just to clue up on their own belief—their own belief and not that of any political party—that a man can have cause to vote or to hold a conviction only in line with his financial interests. I regard that as dangerous nonsense in politics.
It may be said that we have voted to make an obeisance to prejudice. I do not think we are doing that. I believe that there are many sincerely concerned 455 persons. We have to deal first and primarily with those who are not sincerely concerned. But there are many who are.
As to those who are not sincerely concerned, some hon. Members have said to me "Yes, but there is a problem about all this. We agree with what you say. But is it not the case that if there were a public register some gossip columnist, some of our constituents or possibly our personal enemies, would misrepresent facts contained in that register to our disadvantage?" Of course they would. Naturally they would. It amazes me that anyone should think otherwise. I did not suppose that any Member of this House was so naive as to think that all the clamour for a public register was solely motivated by concern for the public weal. Naturally it is not. But the whole House would not be affected by that. The individual would.
All individual Members must choose to live their lives and to work out their destinies as they see fit. Those who sincerely disbelieve in outside interests altogether will not have them. Those who are frightened will run away. Those who choose to cringe, caring more about appearances than about realities, will also run away. What does that matter to the rest of us? What concern is that to the whole House?
I feel sorry for anyone who has to live by surrendering his personal judgment to other people's prejudices. It must be a hideous life, and the life that he has to live is his own punishment. He pays the Danegeld but never gets rid of the Dane. But what do I care? What does the House care? If people are worried about this, they will not have outside interests. It will not affect the House as a whole. It will not affect the honour of the House as a whole.
If we sit still and allow the Louella Parsons school of journalists to go on— month in and month out, year in and year out—with bogus revelations about supposed things that they think might have happened——
§ Mr. Walden
—or real facts which are ripped out of context and put in a way which gives a wholly false impression-damage will be done.
456 Why let the Devil have all the best tunes? Once all the facts are known, a pretence at revelation is a manifest absurdity. If we choose, we can pull the rug from underneath them. If my experience of life is any guide, there is nothing so disappointing to the prurient as revelation. Once they actually know what is going on, their interest in it will subside rapidly. The suspicious will go to lusher pastures where someone is trying to conceal something.
My advice to the House is not to let the concessions be dragged from us reluctantly one by one. I know that there are unanswered and possibly unanswerable questions about the form that the register will take. I recognise the validity in many of the arguments that we have heard urged against it, especially those from the Father of the House. But contrary to what has been said by several right hon. and hon. Members, I feel that it is the most trivial and banal issue. At least the House has my judgment on it, that once we have a public register the whole thing will die in a year or two. No one will be concerned with it, except the primitives, and this House should not worry about them.
I advise the House to do it in that way. Tell them now. Make a wise and sensible obeisance to general concern at an early stage. In that way we shall not imperil the dignity of this House. We shall safeguard it.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
I am extremely pleased to be called immediately after the speech which we have just heard. Perhaps I may be permitted to say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) that I thought it was a speech in the finest traditions of the House. It was extremely well expressed, and I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said.
Before that, we had a very able and outstandingly entertaining speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). It will not be easy to follow two speeches of such calibre.
I propose to support the first motion unamended. I believe that there should be a Select Committee appointed with wide scope. I would prefer that such 457 a committee is untrammeled other than by the guidelines in the first motion. I shall support one or other of the motions or amendments for a register, preferably the amendment which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has tabled. But on this I have not made up my mind entirely.
With regard to Motion No. 1,I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). I say to him that if one is a person who forms a firm conviction and belief that it is possible to serve the House properly only by being a whole-time Member, if one holds this opinion and expresses it frequently—it is a view held by a small minority of Members—then obviously it is very much in such a one's interests to support the view that anyone who has outside interests must stand up and declare them.
One of the principal motives of the Press is that it thinks it may be able to get something to write about. One of the principal reasons involved here is that the Left wing of the Labour Party has sought to make this a party political issue, which it should not have done—it is a House of Commons matter—in the belief that the first thing is to find out the outside interests of Members.
I have been a Member of the House for 21 years. My constituents have known from the beginning that I was a barrister, that I was in regular practice, and indeed, I have always tried at least to convey the impression to them that it is a practice of some size and some success. I do not want people to think I am a total failure. Apart from that I have from time to time had other interests which my constituents know full well.
In this debate the House is concerned only with whether a Member's judgment is going to be unfair because of some pecuniary interest which he may have. This is a very small area and it is all that the House is now concerned with, but the issue which has been thrown up in the public eye is an endeavour to try to bring in by the back door in this debate and bring into public the question whether a Member of Parliament should be a full-time Member. I am ready to debate this question in the House or in my constituency, as I have often done, or anywhere else at any time.
458 I am absolutely certain that the House would be a poor place if Members did not have outside interests. Many of the chairmen of our back-bench committees are men renowned for ability in different fields. If they were not known to be such able and successful men I have little doubt that they would not hold the posts which they do in our back-bench committees. We like to see people not only with expertise but also with an up-to-date knowledge of commerce and industry. If I were not in continual touch with criminals—as well as with those engaged in other aspects of the law—I would not be able to express, with what I believe, is a not inadequate knowledge, views on their behaviour and upon the ways we should seek to improve a particular feature of our penal system, to name but one aspect of the matter.
I find it a most astonishing form of intellectual arrogance to suggest, as has a small minority within the Labour Party, that it is not possible for a Member to carry out properly his duties if he is not always here. There may be a few isolated hon. Members who may not get jobs anywhere else, but they are very few. Much of the view expressed by this minority arises, I regret to say, out of envy and out of the fact that there are men here, who can be named, who can earn £40,000 or £50,000 a year outside the House and who will be more valuable and influential in the House than half a dozen who spend all their time here—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Yes I am. It is a fact on both sides of the House—particularly when hon. Members are in Opposition—that practically all of the various members of the Front Bench take up outside interests and employment, with the exception, which was mentioned the other day, that as it appears that we may be going into another General Election, at any rate in the not too distant future, certain hon. Members of the House have not made final dispositions, largely because on this side we know that we will soon be in Government once more. That is the reasoning behind the decisions of one or two of our most able Front Bench members. I have no doubt that those who are in the Government today are perfectly entitled to consider if they meet the misfortune of being 459 back on this side of the House by next year, for example, finding good outside interests.
It is necessary for us all in this place to have continuing experience of what is going on in the world outside. It is this which makes our judgment of value here.
I must correct the hon. Member for Tottenham on a point about the lawyers. The reason Law Officers are given higher pay in the House than the holders of other posts is to compensate them for the tremendous loss which they suffer. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman recognises this. It is a true reason. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will listen to me I shall explain that with ordinary, adequate payment a good lawyer today may well earn over £20,000 a year, and in some cases over £30,000 or over £40,000. If people want the best in the world they are willing to pay for the best. This House is getting its Attorney-General and its Solicitor-General at a very reasonable price.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Is the hon. and learned Member justifying the fact that any lawyer, no matter how good he may be regarded by whatever criteria, is worth that sort of money, when our best engineers, scientists and surgeons are on no more than £12,000 or £13,000 a year? How does the hon. and learned Gentleman justify the figures he has quoted?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I do not justify the figures. I am not arranging them or laying them down. This is no Socialist doctrine; it is merely a straightforward arrangement. People wish to pay these sorts of fees to get these services, in the same way as, perhaps, an international surgeon may be paid a high fee for an operation—or he may do it for nothing. A great many members of the Bar have taken on cases for nothing. I am not here to justify these figures. I am pointing out, if Tom Jones can earn £1,000 a night with his voice why should not one earn £1,000 in one day for one's advocacy?
We must consider classes of people involved when this matter goes into Committee. It is important to recognise that whatever we lay down for ourselves will be carried through into local 460 government. In looking at this carefully I beg the House not to approve Motion No. 2 tonight but to let it go to the Committee. It has to come out of Committee later and it may be that the Committee will take the view that there should be a compulsory register of some sort. The view may be that the register should cover local authorities and possibly other interests, particularly lobbying inside the House—but I express no view about that. However, I am sure that the register will have to cover local authorities as well as ourselves. If it is to cover both classes we must consider what sort of register it should be and how it should be compiled.
I do not think that the quantum can be set out in all the details which are given. As was illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), we cannot possibly have such an arrangement, with all the trusts there are and all the changes which take place. I know nothing about the Stock Exchange, and such small shares as I have are held under power of attorney by my stockbroker under nominee names and he makes the decisions when to buy and when to sell. I do not know what shares he is buying and selling; I only look at them about every three months and by that time he has changed them. It is very small money. As many stocks and shares are held in nominees' names, I do not think that they can be dealt with.
The interests must be disclosed which fundamentally affect or could affect a vote in this House and the broad interests which will show the picture of what a person does. I believe that is what the country wants to see, but all that aspect is for the constituency. Hon. Members are wrong to believe that this country wants to take away from this House the people who are willing to serve as part timers—as it were, as professional amateurs—the sort of people who play county cricket as amateurs, who could not be there for every match but who still make some of the really great cricketers of this country. The Attorney-General and I played together many years ago as amateurs. I yield to no one in my view that I can hold up my head in this place as a professional politician even if for twenty years I have always had an outside interest.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
I am almost ashamed to confess that at this moment I have no outside interest whatever. It seems that industry has concluded that I am not worth corrupting, even by a meat sandwich, that I can exercise no possible influence on this Government or on any other, that any Members who may be invited to any reception that I might organise would be completely worthless and that, therefore, I have been written off completely.
At one time I did have an outside interest. It was placed in the tiny biography that we send to The Times book on the election—I think in 1966. I happened to be in a position to give advice to a big multi-national corporation, but none of that advice concerned either this. House or this country, and when one of its subsidiaries moved into operations in this country I abandoned the connection. There was nothing disreputable in the activities of the subsidiary and I found nothing deplorable in the activities, on the whole, of the main company. But I wanted nothing to do with any kind of public relations exercise. I am not by that statement denigrating public relations as such.
So I have no outside interest. I am a third-grade Member, by the definition of the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). It may be that, in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Lady wood (Mr. Walden), I am a political primitive in view of the voting action that I intend to take, the speech that I intend to deliver and the company which, geographically at any rate, I am now keeping.
Much of this debate has been totally irrelevant. It is not about whether some Members have more money than others. That question does not interest me in the slightest, except in the sense that I as a Socialist have always advocated greater equality, and will always vote in the House for measures of great equality as well as speaking loudly for them outside. That does not mean that I want to confiscate the hon. and learned Member's money, that I want to rob his bank or to cut down on his earnings for any personal reason. I just do not think that all the earnings in our society are necessarily measures of merit or worth. Mr. Harold Robbins, who writes books that are not 462 fit for anything except the pulp machine, can earn more than anyone in this House for six weeks' work. Few hon. Members bother to read the results, but billions of readers all over the world do. But those who write valuable books find them taken up only by libraries; if they can make £200 out of a really valuable contribution to knowledge, they are very lucky indeed.
So do not let us run away with the idea that because a skilled engineer cannot earn as much as a skilled lawyer the skilled engineer is inferior to the lawyer and automatically becomes an inferior Member when elected. That is wrong; it is a preposterous assertion. I do not speak from envy. I am not in the slightest degree interested in any hon. Member's outside interests, except in so far as those outside interests affect his inside conduct. Private affairs do not worry me at all, whether they are reported in the Sunday Times or in Private Eye. But if private affairs affect public conduct and public behaviour, they do concern me—not personally, but as a member of a collective body which is still in charge of this country's affairs.
I want to emphasise that I support the register because there is concern, and legitimate concern, outside this House. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood that this concern does not come entirely from political primitives. It is not entirely inspired by malignant motives. Other hon. Members, including myself, have stood up to the pressures that he has mentioned and have been publicly pilloried in the popular Press for so doing. I tried to defend the rights and dignities of this House, as did other hon. Members, in a television discussion only last July. I was savaged in the Daily Mirror by Mr. Keith Water-house—heaven knows he would have enough interests to declare, if ever journalists had to fill in a register—and I had no support whatever from other hon. Members. So those pressures are not what have brought this proposition before the House.
I want to make clear what I consider absolutely wrong in terms of the philosophy that I hold. It is not the ownership of property as such. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has considerably more property than I have. He has spent most of his time in 463 this House supporting measures both to reduce his own property and to stop people like himself from acquiring more property. In other words, he has more or less consistently voted against his own financial interests. Having given my right hon. Friend that word of praise I will now say that I think that he is totally wrong in his arguments and that he should be with us in the Lobby tonight. But I am merely underlining the point: I am not in the slightest interested in the fact that, when he leaves this House, he will not have to report to the local social security office in order to look out for his old age.
Certain hon. Members acquire interests outside this House solely and entirely because of their membership of the House, and that is wrong. If an hon. Member has business ability or forensic skill and can build up a practice or a business outside the House—it is fairly well known that I can earn an odd penny or two outside the House if I want to—that is unexceptionable, but if any hon. Member places on the market that knowledge and those skills which he acquires entirely and wholly by virtue of his membership of this House he is bringing this House into disrepute. That is what this argument is about.
I am not concerned with interests in general. I am inclined to agree with one of my hon. Friends who comes from the mining industry and who told me that when a register is prepared bearing the title "Register of Interests" he will simply fill in "Whippets and women" and leave it at that. But I am concerned as a Member of the House who will vote for the three motions, inadequate though they may be, because I believe that the projected Select Committee will produce modifications which may be helpful solely because of the generally held view outside the House that people are using this House not to further a political cause, to represent a legitimate political interest or to advocate the views of a given constituency, but simply to feather their own nests. Many people believe that. They are wrong.
In my 10 years in the House I have met many hon. Members whose views I deplore. I am looking at some of them right now. I have met many hon. Members with whom I have clashed in debate. 464 I am looking at many of them now. I have met many hon. Members whom I regard as slightly distorted in their personalities. I am looking at many of them now. I have met many hon. Members whom I have grievously insulted but to whom invariably I have apologised the following morning as soon as it was possible to do so However, I have never yet met a thoroughgoing villain in 10 years of parliamentary life. I have come across petty villianies or petty deceptions if one wants to put it that way—gross deviations from principles, if one put it another way, but I have not met villainy on the scale that we have seen revealed in the Watergate investigations.
I do not think that there is a great deal that will be exposed to the public when this register is established, but because public feelings are facts in politics we must do something. It is because we must do something that I shall vote with my right hon. and hon. Friends in support of the three motions tonight.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
In spite of the caution which we were given by the Leader of the House when he opened the debate, of course much of our discussion has revolved around the desirability or otherwise of Members having outside interests of any sort. I want to put on the record straight away that I believe that we are fortunate in this country in having the cleanest Parliament in the world and the highest conceivable standards of probity throughout our public services. The guilty few, who are the people who hit the headlines, are few indeed. All Members of the House and all members of the other services to which I have referred know well in their hearts whether they are guilty of misdemeanours of one sort or another. It is not, therefore, in my argument to discuss whether an outside interest is a good thing for a Member to possess.
My concern, which the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher) also pointed out, is that we in this House and, indeed, public servants elsewhere have been subjected in recent years, particularly in the last weeks and months, to innuendo, suspicion and gossip, which has created a situation within the last two or three weeks in which a witch-hunt appeared to be taking place inside this very building. It 465 is to prevent that kind of gossip, that slur, that half-truth, that I believe that we as a House of Commons have to take some action. It is not just that we are a body of comparatively clean individuals. It is that we have to be seen by the world at large and by others to be clean.
The present conventions were described in some detail by the Leader of the House when he opened the debate. The declaration which is now standard practice adds weight to what a Member says. Other Members listen with more interest to a Member who can declare some specialised knowledge of a particular subject. I have studied for many years the energy industries of this country. I have always found that in debates on the coal industry the Labour Party, because of the experience of many Labour Members, has a detailed knowledge of that industry which commands attention whenever Labour Members speak. But that convention, while meeting the point of declaration on the Floor of the House, does not meet the criticism to which I have just been referring.
I am a public relations consultant and have been for much of my working life, before I became a Member of Parliament and since I have been in Parliament I have worked in big industrial concerns, such as the British Iron and Steel Federation in the days before nationalisation, and I have worked for a consultancy dealing with a range of different clients. I shall not plead a special case for that profession tonight. The profession is much misunderstood by those who have only the slightest experience of it. There is an image of public relations which is described often by a carnation-wearing, gin-and-tonic young man giving free parties to all and sundry. I assure hon. Members that if they plodded through the rather rougher side of public relations, they would find that that side of that image has long since disappeared.
I am concerned, however, at the fact that the words "public relations" have been very loosely used in the criticisms of Members of the House. When unable to find any definitive criticism of an individual, a suggestion has been made that there are Members involved in public relations activities. I am concerned about this for two reasons. First, this heaping of 466 coals of fire on the public relations industry is, in a sense, providing a distraction from many other sources of income from which Members may derive certain benefits which can be every bit as dangerous, badly applied, as the crooked public relations man.
I want to make it clear, as it has been made clear by a professional body today to both my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and to the Leader of the House, that the public relations industry is desperately keen about, and, indeed, has taken action to establish, as near as possible, a code of practice which will prevent these rather loose slanders being made in the future. There is, for instance, in the Library a register of those Members of Parliament who are, like myself, members of the Institute of Public Relations, giving the companies for which we work, whose clients are also listed.
The Public Relations Consultants Association—of which one of my colleagues in my company is the chairman of the professional practices body—has recently produced a code of practice for its member consultancies specifically designed to deal with the sort of problems we are discussing today. I should like to quote merely the relevant section of that code of practice:A member firm of the Public Relations Consultants Association—I interject here that it covers most of the major consultancies in this country—shall cause all its directors, executives and retained consultants, who hold public office, are members of either House of Parliament, are members of local authorities or of any statutory organisation or body, to be recorded in the relevant sections of the Annual Register of the Public.Relations Consultants Association.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he is addressing himself to the motions under debate or is doing a public relations job for the public relations men?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The hon. Gentleman can make up his own mind about that as I continue with my speech. As the Leader of the House referred to the Public Relations Consultants Association, I merely wanted to get on the record the fact that the code of practice exists. It is worth putting on the record that such a document is in existence.
467 A letter was published in the Daily Telegraph today, signed by a Mr. M. C. Atkins, and headed "Honourable Member". It merely said:Sir—l am only an ignorant Englishman who does not understand British politics: so could someone please tell me the difference between a sponsored Member of Parliament and one allegedly for hire.There are ways of describing the employment of Members of Parliament, other than in their parliamentary duties. I have been referred to in the Press during the last week. The point I am making is that whether one is a consultant or a sponsored trade union member, or whether one has any other outside sources of income or influence, it is essential that these should be recorded.
I believe that if this record is not compulsory it will fail. I believe that if the record is not available for public scrutiny it will fail, because if we here today try to choose what one might describe as a form of words to lessen the blow, we shall merely be creating additional opportunities for those who wish to exploit gossip and other damaging actions not only against individuals but against the whole framework of our parliamentary system.
Of course this register will be a register of honest people. The venal will not register. The crook will never tell us what he is up to. But I believe that such a register will at least give us an opportunity of seeing quite clearly that the interests of Members of this House are interests of which none may be ashamed, and those who feel that they hold interests of which they are ashamed may then perhaps be shamed into parting with them before they continue as Members of this House.
The Select Committee has an extremely difficult job to do because it has to do it quickly. It also has an added problem that there are now a number of bodies —Royal Commissions and the like— which are studying various aspects of our society. It must not become the broody hen on the china egg. It has to come out quickly with some positive recommendations. It has to blow away this cloud of suspicion and innuendo which has lasted far too long.
I believe that if we as Members of this House grasp this nettle firmly, we have 468 nothing at all to fear. But if we shy away, if we try to be less than frank, 1 believe that we shall provide ammunition for those who are the enemies not just of us as individuals but of our greatest institutions. We are public figures. We have come here because we have chosen to be public figures. Of course, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) pointed out, we have private lives too, but a public figure must necessarily find his public and private lives closely intertwined. It is inevitable, if one chooses to have a public place in society, that one must be regarded by one's fellows as occupying something of a peculiar position. If we declare ourselves honestly, we have nothing to fear from those whom we serve. I believe that it is our duty to make it clear to them that they have nothing to fear from us.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
Like so many debates in this House in which the conclusion is to be on a free vote, this debate is turning into what seems to be a good one, something which inspires trepidation in any speaker. We know that at the end of the day every Member will be voting according to his conscience and perhaps his interest.
I agree with nearly every word uttered by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—a situation which would be quite different, perhaps, in another kind of debate. I congratulate him. I missed two speeches in this debate because I was in a Committee upstairs, but I have heard all the others and, so far as I am aware, he is only the second Member in the debate actually to have declared his interest. I found it quite extraordinary that others did not do so on such a subject when, after all, it is the main subject of the day.
I might educate the hon. Gentleman a little on the question of sponsored trade union members, because I am one. I am sponsored by the National Union of General and Municipal Workers and I regret to assure him that this means that my constituency party gets a nice sum of money, but that it does not come to me personally. There is the difference between a consultant and a Member sponsored by a trade union. The only thing I get directly from my trade union is in 469 the form of occasional expenses, the principal part being some expenses if I go to a Labour Party conference, or something of that character. As to my other interests, I am not a shareholder in anything. I think that roughly specifies my situation.
Nor am I interested in the slightest in the income of any of my colleagues. Nor do I think anybody outside should be, except the envious and the malicious, and they are very widespread in modern society. I recently received a letter from a vicar in my constituency. He sent me a parish magazine containing an article of which he did not claim the authorship. The author is anonymous. He asked whether I wished to comment on various passages in it. One of them was a passage about the Prime Minister's houses. I thought it an extraordinary thing to find in a Christian church's parish magazine.
Another passage in the article found it remarkable that I should be a Governor of Nottingham High School, one of the half-dozen academically best public schools in the country. I wrote back to the vicar saying that I had not commented upon this when I first saw it during the last election. Had I commented, my comment would have been the same as the comment of the man who wrote the Magdalen Pontifical of 1250, which is better known in its translation by Cranmer. a free translation in the English reading:From envy, hatred, and malice and all uncharitableness, good Lord deliver us.I am, incidentally, a Governor of Nottingham High School because Members of Parliament for Nottingham are ex officio, and I could not cease to be a Governor, because it is written into a legal document which I have no power to alter except with the aid of my colleagues in the House.
This is the sort of extraordinary attitude that one meets. If one finds this sort of attitude to hon. Members in church parish magazines, one can imagine —indeed one knows—what sort of attitude is adopted elsewhere. Anybody who seeks to know the income of any hon. Member is seeking to know it out of either curiosity or possibly envy. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) has been extremely badly treated. He 470 acted entirely properly by declaring an interest even before he had received it. Perhaps the issue would have been totally forgotten had he—or whoever did it—not made the mistake of declaring the amount.
Envy, hatred and malice are in the world. My hon. Friend should be congratulated on making his interests clear, especially as he made them clear before he had even received them because of their relevance to a particular Committee debate. Instead of that, we get little carping, snide comments because somebody else is not as clever as he is and is not able to earn money. That is what it amounts to. Everybody in the community is always envious of the man who is earning more than he is. The man who is earning less may not be contemptible, but he certainly gives one a nice rosy glow in the heart. The man who is earning more, alas, arouses some of the nastiest emotions of humanity.
I had some share in constructing the principles which are on the Order Paper. Hon. Members may recollect that there was once a Select Committee on Members' Interests which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). Some of us in Parliamentary Labour Party were deeply concerned about that. We felt that the Select Committee had been set up for the purpose of pigeonholing the issue and we felt that for an extremely good reason, for every member of the Committee had outside interests.
I am not averse to Members of Parliament having outside interests. I do not believe that if we set up a Select Committee everybody on it should be spotless as the day is long—to mix my metaphors —in that respect. A Committee to discuss Members' interests that consists entirely of people with outside interests, however, is taking it a little far, and that was the view shared by many of my colleagues at that time.
When the Labour Party reconsidered the matter recently, when in opposition, we set up a committee in a rather different form. It consisted of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and three other members of our Front Bench and four back benchers, including myself, who came from the party's parliamentary affairs group. Basically, most of the conclusions we reached—although not all of 471 them—after having been discussed with the Opposition Front Bench and considered by the Government, have popped out in this new form. The first of them is a direct copy from the Strauss Committee report.
We thought that there was very little controversy about the matter, and I was amazed to see the amendment put down by the Opposition. I do not understand it. The Select Committee was weak enough, so there is no need to weaken its motion, and I am not even sure what the tortuous phraseology of the Opposition version means. I am even surprised that the former Solicitor-General should put his name to a set of words clearly less precise than the original proposal.
The Opposition amendment simply says that the judge in this cause should be the man himself, that he should decide whether he has anything to declare. Surely to pass a motion in that amended form would mean that we had no need of this debate or anything else, because that is exactly the situation which now exists, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made plain. Most of us already declare an interest when making a speech. We already decide for ourselves whether we should make a declaration, but there is no penalty if we do not, and some hon. Members do not. The Opposition amendment would mean merely that we continued exactly as before.
I hope that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members will vote for the first motion as it stands. It was produced by a Select Committee of the House. It was passed unanimously in this respect—there was a minority report but it suggested going further not less far— and above all it was a Committee the very nature of which provided it with plenty of scope to consider all the difficulties that face Members in wishing to declare an outside interest since every Member of the Committee had one.
Everyone seems to agree that we should have another Select Committee, and that is always easy to agree to. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has been saying with great fervour that the Select Committee applies to both the motions. He should have been addressing his remarks in a different direction. As we have worded the Select 472 Committee's motion it applies to both the other motions. The Opposition version of the Select Committee motion however, would not. The hon. Member's attention should be directed not to the Government motion but to the Opposition amendment. The point is that if there is to be an objective test about declarations there must clearly be someone to define what should be declared.
§ Mr. English
I am sure that the hon. Member is wrong about that. The wording of the Government's motion would give the Select Commitee the power to discuss all mattersmade pursuant to the Resolutions of the House this day—that means, both the first and the second motions. Only if it were reworded in the form proposed by the Opposition would the hon. Member's point be valid. The hon. Member might care to think that one over before he votes, because he has intervened six times on the subject and I hope that it is now clear to him that it is his Front Bench which is causing his difficulty, not ours.
I come to the meat of the subject. The extraordinary thing about this business is the heavy weather the House is making of it. It is heavy weather in the House because there is heavy weather about it in the country. No one has put the matter in the context of the social feeling of the country. The British people demand privacy for things which do not enjoy privacy in other countries.
In Sweden, for example, not only Members of Parliament but everyone has to declare his income tax publicly. The Swedes do not single out income tax because they have a morbid curiosity about other people's incomes. The reason is that, except for foreign affairs and defence, every document of government is open to public inspection. Citizens may go into an office in Stockholm, pay a fee and see anything that does not concern the security of the State. That means they may see anyone else's income tax including that for every Rikdogman. What a furore it would cause in Britain if we suggested any such thing! There 473 was even a slight discussion in the Press today about proposals by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to open up a little his Department, to throw a little light into it.
The House is making tremendously heavy weather of the issue. We are having a great discussion about whether we should declare interests. I am not a believer in declaring income, but I believe in declaring interests. They are not the same thing. I am concerned with whether a man has a connection with a body that is paying him money; I am not concerned with the amount it is paying, because that constitutes morbid curiosity.
The Opposition say they wish to see a register and a Select Committee but their first argument is that they do not want to vote for the second motion because that would accept the principle before the details are set out. I hope therefore, that never again will they vote for the Second Reading of a Bill. Some legislatures follow that logic. Congress, for example, derived its procedure from us but has made the Second Reading of a Bill as formal as we have made the First Reading. Second Readings used to be debated, but now Bills are referred directly to a committee and the Bill is discussed fully only on Third Reading. They adopt the philosophy that hon. Members are enunciating here. The hypocrisy comes in when hon. Members advocate the philosophy for the motion and not for the innumerable pieces of legislation we pass for other people.
§ Sir M. Havers
If the hon. Gentleman has thought about the matter as carefully as I would have expected, surely he has realised that what we seek to do is to leave a discretion to the Select Committee to advise the House, if there is to be a register, whether it should be voluntary or compulsory. If the third motion goes unamended, that discretion is taken away. Any comparison with a Second Reading and any allegation of hypocrisy are unjustified.
§ Mr. English
There is one set of hon. Members who will be weaker than the hon. and learned Gentleman's case tonight —those who abstain. Some will do so, because they do not like to make up 474 their minds one way or the other. The second weakest set will be those who believe in that argument. What they are really saying is that we should not make up our minds about the principle on the Floor of the House, but should leave it to an elite body of half a dozen of us better qualified than any of the remainder of the 635.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
If we accept the second motion, we are committed to a register open to public inspection. There are those among us who are happy about a compulsory register but who do not think it should be available for everyone to look at.
§ Mr. English
I was coming to that matter. I have already discussed the extraordinary question of the intense desire for privacy of people in this country, which can be carried too far. I do not believe in going as far the other way as the Swedes do. But it is a little odd if we come here after immense publicity about ourselves—having encouraged people to know all about us, and having tried to get to know everyone in our constituency in the process of getting ourselves elected—then to say that we do not want to tell them any more about ourselves in case they may be worried about it.
The other side of that argument is the contention that Members should be no different from private citizens. The fact is that they are different. It is one of the causes of some of the envy and malice of which I have spoken. People do not like our being different from private citizens; everyone would like to be elected, and everyone thinks that those who are elected are targets for attack simply because they are in some ways different from private citizens. The reverse of that coin is that we are in fact somewhat different from private citizens. We should accept that, and be prepared to declare not income but interests.
The most important point about compulsion versus a voluntary register is that it draws a line which is not one that I have determined. That determination has to be made by the Select Committee. The Committee, and ultimately the House in the next debate, will decide. The public will have the opportunity to comment before the House decides. That 475 procedure draws a line that is in that sense objective. The weakness of the amendment of the Opposition Front Bench is that it does not. I do not want to decide what other people think is relevant. I want to know what they think is relevant, and then I will tell them about it. I might be wrong, so I do not want the job of deciding. None of us can ever be totally right.
The whole argument for publication is that social customs change. At present, for example, if a Member declared that he was receiving income from a foreign government, most people in this country would object. If he said that he received an income from practising in court as a barrister, they would not. There is a line somewhere between those two examples. The only way to do anything about the matter is to publicise the facts and let public opinion decide. In 10 years' time the public may take a different view of the Member's job. Circumstances, society, and social customs nowadays change very rapidly. That is the real reason for publicising a register.
The reason for making it compulsory is slightly different. It should be compulsory because I do not want the odd man who is a villain to be able to say, "I know you have found it out, but I did not put it down because I did not have to". A compulsory register means that the villain is ultimately dealt with. The hon. Member for Yarmouth shakes his head. We often pass laws and assume that most people obey them, and that the odd person who does not do so is a crook. Such is my pessimism about humanity that I believe that some crooks are not found out. But I believe that many are. A Member who did not declare an interest which was subsequently discovered would have no leg to stand on. A voluntary register would be meaningless, because he could always say "You made it a voluntary register. I did not have to declare my interests."
A compulsory register is also a defence mechanism for the profession which is registered. If someone says, "You did not register that", a Member's simple answer is, "No, I didn't. I am not supposed to. It is your own morbid, prurient curiosity that makes you ask why I did not. I did not, but I registered what I was supposed to register."
476 Those are the good reasons for a clear line agreed by the House, agreed not by one individual in it or by a series of individuals, but by the majority. If we make the register compulsory, not only we but everyone outside the House will know exactly where we are. I want a compulsory, public declaration of interest, but not of income or matters just chosen to satisfy morbid curiosity.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
Any subject for debate which touches upon our lives, our interests, our pastimes and our finances, as the motions do, is bound to lend a certain vitality to the debate and to cause considerable concern among many hon. Members. I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and, in particular tandem, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), all of whom I congratulate on their excellent and thoughtful speeches. Unlike the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, some Labour Members may feel that the motions should be considered as yet another thin end of the wedge, a point of pressure in their attempt to establish that the House would be better if hon. Members had no outside interests. I do not subscribe to that proposition.
§ Mr. English
I never suggested that hon. Members should not have outside interests. I firmly believe that some should.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I apologise if I said that. I meant to say that, unlike the hon. Gentleman, some Labour Members felt that that was the case. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are of a mind.
I welcome the fact that hon. Members have outside interests. I immediately declare my own interest, as a director of a large advertising and public relations group of companies. I believe that I and other hon. Members can bring to our debates a greater breadth of experience and knowledge because of our interests outside the House. The House would be a less lively, less colourful and far less well informed forum if it became an ivory tower inhabited by people isolated from the outside world. As the 477 hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) put it so well, it would be a political monastery.
It is all too easy to apply our minds and behaviour to that which seems most appropriate to the established ways of the House and what is thought to be important or not important within it. I believe that we should be applying ourselves to the view of the people outside the House, the people who seldom if ever see us in action and who find it difficult to comprehend what we are about when they see us in action. We must build bridges between ourselves and the worlds of business, commerce, agriculture, the law, the unions and the professions, as well as with our constituents.
Our life in politics must be dedicated to building bridges and not to burning them. These motions should not be looked upon as just the thin edge of a wedge. It is a fact that anyone who enters politics gives up a considerable degree of personal freedom. We relinquish individual privacy to no small tune. Compared with what we have already had to relinquish, the declaration of interests covered by the motions is but a minor extension of the public's concept of what we are, what we do and how we go about it.
In the same way that the presence of the Press in the House was once feared and fought against, and in the same way that television coverage is still being resisted, so I believe that history will show that those who felt that Members' interests should not be registered were overly defensive about the step of establishing a body of facts about themselves.
Hon. Members will perceive that I stand in favour of the three motions and I do not agree with the amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I do not believe that it achieves what is desired. In our debates in the House and in our relationships one with another we can all draw upon literally centuries of accepted custom in the declaration of interests. We all benefit from such declarations. Since I arrived in the House a relatively short time ago, it has become clear to me when hon. Members are speaking of their own special interests. The effect of what they say is naturally affected by that knowledge.
478 But we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of contemplating the pros and cons of registration of interest solely from the standpoint of the working relations among ourselves. With almost instantaneous communication, people outside the House know more of what we do, what we say and even of what we think. As a result, people living within our British democratic system are better informed and bring greater intelligence to bear on the analysis of our democratic procedures as they unfold.
We deceive ourselves if we do not admit that there is a widespread feeling throughout the country that things are not always what they appear to be. Can it be that the lack of exposure of interest, taken in the context of a better informed electorate, may have contributed to the cynicism that people now feel about politics and politicians? If there is any grain of truth in that contention—and I believe that there is more than a grain— the motions take on a rather different character.
If that is the case, we are now considering a matter which could contribute significantly to an improvement in people's attitudes to their Government and the underlying democratic process. Our system of parliamentary government is feeling strains of a nature which it has not felt for centuries. The strength of the institution of parliament rests upon people's acceptance of it as the place where some form of national consensus can be struck and where a national leadership can be found. Too often now we see bodies of influence seeking to assert themselves not through the democratic process, but through other institutions or by direct actions. Such action sometimes takes place literally at the barricades.
If by establishing a register of Members' interests we can instil just a little more in the minds of the British people that Parliament is their institution and that it is inhabited by people in whom they may place their trust, we may be taking quite a step back towards the proper operation of a form of government which has been trusted and tried but which in many people's minds is now found lacking. Of course the difficulties of forming a register, namely, what the register should or should not contain and the people that it should 479 cover, are enormous. But it is the task of a Select Committee to tackle those difficulties and to return to us and advise how a register should be formed and undertaken.
Of three things 1 am convinced. First, there should be disclosure of the very widest kind. For that reason I intend to support the first motion unamended. Secondly, I believe that disclosure should be through a compulsory and public register. As the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) has said, it should be compulsory for convenience. It should be compulsory because for most hon. Members such a register would be no different in operation from a voluntary register. But, more important, it should be compulsory and public because it is only through such a register that the outside world can see what we are doing and what influences our actions. Thirdly, I believe that a Select Committee should be established and that it should report as quickly as possible so that a properly conceived register can be established within the guidelines of Motions Nos. 1 and 2. Further, it should be established as a guideline for similar registers for local authorities and for people in positions of influence and authority.
One question which must be answered this evening is whether our House of Commons, this old and proven democratic institution, is resilient enough to respond to the challenge of our times, or whether worried electors will be forced to turn to demagogues for easy answers to our complex problems. Does the representative form of government have the vitality and capacity to evolve and reform itself? I believe that support for all three motions unamended will show that it does.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I say at the outset that I support the first motion. It has already been debated at some length and I shall not weary the House by giving the reasons for my support. I support the motion entirely and I shall vote for it tonight.
I am in some difficulty when I consider the second motion. I shall abstain from voting on it. I inform my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that I shall refrain from voting 480 not because I am weak and unable to make up my mind but because I cannot vote against it. That is because I am in favour of a compulsory register of Members' interests. However, I cannot vote for it because it is bad for dubiety. We are asked to disclose such particulars of our registrable interests "as shall be required …". But no definition of "interests" is given. We do not know which interests the motion includes and we do not know which interests hon. Members shall be required to register.
A reference to such interests is to be found in the third motion, with which I am in agreement. The third motion recommends that a Select Committee shall make recommendations on what constitutes "interests" and which interests shall be required to be registered.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Pecuniary."] It does not matter whether it is pecuniary or otherwise, the Select Committee will recommend to the House.
If we agree to Motion No. 2, we shall be putting the cart before the horse, the conclusion before the premise. We shall be asking hon. Members to give a blank cheque to Parliament, to accept the recommendations of the Select Committee. We are being asked to agree to the rules of the game when we do not know what those rules are to be.
§ Mr. English
Surely my hon. Friend cannot try to persuade us that we are giving a blank cheque to the Select Committee. He knows that a Select Committee report is not worth the paper it is printed upon unless and until this House acts upon it. The report will come back to this House, when there will be a set of motions based upon it which my hon. Friend and everyone else can discuss and try to amend and which will eventually be decided upon. We are giving a blank cheque only to ourselves, not to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Tuck
I disagree. We are giving a blank cheque to the Select Committee, and the House, if my hon. Friend likes, without knowing what the word "interests" means. If the Select Committee makes a recommendation which is against my whole moral philosophy and I vote against it, I shall be told, "You voted for it on Motion No. 2".
§ Mr. Tuck
Yes. The analogy my lion. Friend has drawn between this case and a Second Reading is false. For the reasons I have given, I cannot vote either for or against Motion No. 2.
If the Select Committee were to recommend that a Member's public interests or his private interests in so far as they impinge on his public interests must be disclosed, 1 should be willing to sign my name on the dotted line. But if it tells me to disclose any shares I might have, any money I might have in the bank or any money I might have in a building society, or my wife's interests—in other words, that I must strip myself naked and become what I might call a "financial streaker"—I shall be opposed root and branch to such a proposal. I know that some of my hon. Friends have said that the Select Committee would not go as far as that, but how do we know? We are in fact giving the Select Committee and the House this blank cheque.
§ Mr. Tuck
It is all very well saying that, but this is why I put down my amendment to Motion No. 2,'That on receipt of the recommendations of any Select Committee appointed to consider Members' interests, the House shall decide the specific details of the Members' interests which it shall require Members to disclose'.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Second Reading analogy has any meaning at all, it is that we are being asked to vote, on Motion No. 2, for the Second Reading of a Bill which has not yet been published?
§ Mr. Tuck
That is a very good analogy indeed. I have no objection to disclosing that I am a barrister. I still practise a little when I have time from Parliament. I am a former university professor and a member of the court of one of the well-known universities of England. I do not mind at all stating these facts, but I do not want anyone to know how wealthy or how poor I am.
§ Mr. Tuck
But the Select Committee might recommend that everything a Member has should be put out on a platter.
I come from a very wealthy family— almost an obscenely wealthy family. When 482 I became a Socialist, I became almost an outcast from the family. I am, as it were, the "red sheep" of the family. In that respect, they have all the money and I have the principles. One cannot take principles to the grocer, but I still have them. I have had many contemptuous remarks from my family about my being a Socialist. I do not want any further contemptuous remarks. I do not want them to look at the register and say, "He has not done much with his life has he? He has not got much money." They will think that I am a poor man.
To others, however, I might appear wealthy. I have some money in the bank and a few shares. Those to whom I am a wealthy man might well say, if I had to disclose these matters in the register, "He has a few thousand pounds; let us get to know him because he might leave some to us in his will." Worse still, I can conceive of charities coming with their begging bowls to my door in thousands, so that if I gave everything I was required to give I should have nothing left. I give as much money to charity as I can afford and I do not want these further incursions.
I do not wish to disclose all these things, but I might be forced to disclose them by Motion No. 2. I shall not vote for or against it, but I hope that it will be rejected. I hope that we shall not reject the idea of a compulsory register, but I hope that it will follow from Motion No. 3 when the Select Committee makes its recommendations and Parliament decides. I shall vote for the principle of Motion No. 3 or the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), which is broadly in the same terms.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I think I may be in a minority in the House in that I view with concern and dismay the present clamour for compulsory and complete disclosure of the private interests of Members. I am therefore totally opposed to our introducing any kind of register, and I shall vote against all the motions.
I do not believe that there is any real public demand for these measures. I have not had one letter on the subject from any of my 82,000 constituents, nor have I heard of any other Member who 483 has. I believe that the agitation for these disclosures has been to some extent artificially drummed up by those who wish to make a fundamental change in our way of conducting business in England, a way which has served us wonderfully well over the centuries and which is still, I believe, the envy of a great part of the world.
I also believe that certain sections of the media want this register for what I call their perpetual longing for one kind of trivial sensation after another. Naturally, before coming here today I thought about my own life and career before I was fortunate enough to enter the House. Since the war, I have spent all of my life in personnel work, first in two great industrial companies, ICI and Courtaulds, and for the past 15 years as a partner in a firm of management consultants specialising in personnel selection and, of which I was the joint founder.
I venture to believe that the experience, particularly the knowledge of industry and commerce and above all the knowledge of men, that I have gained has stood me in good stead here. I earn my living by judging men for senior jobs. Sometimes when I look about the Chamber I am bound to wonder what jobs certain hon. Members might do if they were not here. I believe that we are all hon. Members, and to me this is still a kind of club.
Over the years we get to know each other well, our strengths and our weaknesses. If there are black sheep among us, they are soon found out. I do not believe that any disclosure, voluntary or compulsory, will deter the scoundrel from misbehaving. But I do not believe that there are many scoundrels among us. Bribery and corruption do not find fertile ground in the House of Commons, certainly not among back benchers: we have too little power. As for Ministers, surely they are too close to each other and to their civil servants to be subject to any kind of bribery.
I believe that this agitation is part of an attempt to try to make hon. Members give up or diminish their outside interests. That would be a great pity. I view with alarm the modern attempt to make us all whole-time professional politicians, cooped up in the sometimes hot-house 484 atmosphere of Westminster, out of touch with real life as it is lived by those for whom we legislate. The practice of another profession by a back bencher not only keeps him in touch with ordinary people, but gives him the necessary financial support if he should lose his seat and, equally important, it gives him financial independence from the Whips and from his party.
The present movement for complete disclosure is part of a modern and insidious attack on privacy. We have always valued our homes and our lives as private. It would be the greatest pity if, as a result of our passing these motions thoughtlessly today, the whole of our private lives and the lives of our families and possibly our friends and relations were to be dissected by the media. If once we give way to this sort of demand, there is no knowing where it will end.
Hon. Members should still be trusted to make a proper disclosure of pecuniary or other interests where appropriate. That should be enough. If they cannot be trusted, they should not be here. The two qualities we ought to look for in our colleagues are surely patriotism and integrity. I expect to find those virtues at least in all hon. Members. We must resist pressures from the media. Today news tends more and more to merge into some kind of show business. Disclosure will only magnify trivia and personalities.
I believe that Parliament is too serious a place to be subjected to such treatment. Disclosure also lowers our dignity. Why should the Press try to look through a keyhole at our private interests'? I consider these proposals to be typical of the trendy nonsense that is so prevalent today. I hope that the House will have the good sense to reject them all.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
In an interjection earlier in the debate I tried to indicate that the House had certain rules about the declaration of Members' interests. Several hon. Members have said that interests should be declared. The ruling is that an hon. Member speaking in a debate in which he has an interest should declare it. However, in this matter the rule, which is clearly drawn, has not been observed by many hon. Members. I want to try to illustrate that the rules are not operating 485 because they are not satisfactory. That is why, apart from other things, we should consider changing the situation.
I am a sponsored Member of Parliament of the National Union of Seamen. My position is quite different from that of a consultant. I do not receive one penny from my union. Any money goes to my constituency, as in the cases of other sponsored Members of Parliament. I speak for that interest, but I am not here purely to speak for that interest. I believe that we should declare the interests for which we speak but not be paid for doing so. If an hon. Member holds a certain view, he may put it to the House. We gain from and judge by such experience.
The rules regarding sponsored Members of Parliament are clear. The Conservative Party, in the early part of its history, laid down the rule that money for political activities on behalf of trade unions should be spent in certain ways and had to be recorded publicly each year and that Members of Parliament who gained from those funds must publicly declare their interest. It is accepted by the country at large that the Labour Party is in many ways supported financially by the trade union movement. Of course, the trade union movement has political representation in that way.
I believe in one man, one job. That idea seems to be treated in a peculiar way here. It may be thought by some that we are in a kind of monastery, as one hon. Member said. But one does not come here at 16 years of age, although many hon. Members may feel that some of us are far too young. However, we all come with a certain amount of experience. I am prepared to put my experience to the test and to compare with any other hon. Member my ability to articulate the interests of those whose views I attempt to put forward in this House.
None of the motions refers to the principle of one man, one job. It is not necessary to argue the matter fully. I am convinced, however, that that should be an essential principle. The House would be considerably more effective if it were to adopt that principle.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. 486 Hamilton) that there was an overwhelming defeat in our party on this matter. That does not reflect the true position. I do not wish to debate that point, but many hon. Members would have expressed that view. It needed to be argued by others, not simply myself raising the principle. I did not have time to advocate all aspects of this difficult problem and to take the issue to its logical conclusion of permanent, professional Members of Parliament.
Eighteen months ago, when trying to get support for a compulsory register— many hon. Members have been associated with that idea for much longer—I found great difficulty in getting more than 70 Labour Members of Parliament to sign my motion. The situation has now changed. I welcome that change. But we must bear in mind that the vote we may get for the principle of one man, one job is still at the level it had reached 18 months ago. However, I do not think it will be long before, whether we like it or not, the principle will be generally accepted by the House. On that front these are still early days. The ever-increasing desire for specialisation in this House will bring with it even more contention.
The Boyle Committee, which looked into top salaries, took into account for the first time the principle that Members of Parliament should not be considered part time. Indeed, it decided their salary on the basis of full-time membership. That is an important pointer. If we adopt that view, the chance of conflicts of interest, proper or improper, will lessen. I am convinced that the facilities in the House, which are very poor, would be considerably improved for those who choose to work here full time if everybody was in the same position.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Does the hon. Gentleman find that the time he spends in promoting the interests of the National Union of Seamen cuts into the time he spends in looking after the interests of his constituents?
§ Mr. Prescott
It seems that the hon. Gentleman does not realise that I represent part of the port of Hull in which there are many seamen and dockers. The House must judge whether I am able to represent their interests, but I am convinced that I am. However, if I work 487 here for more hours than people who work here part time, it is more likely that I shall be able to deal with both sets of interest. Some Members hold outside interests which may not directly affect their constituents but for which they receive payment. As I represent a maritime constituency, my interest directly and indirectly helps my constituents. If the hon. Gentleman cannot understand the argument, I do not propose to waste further time on it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford) rose—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. OscarMurton)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must be allowed to make his speech in his own way.
§ Mr. Prescott
I have spent enough time on the point, and it would be unfair to hon. Members who are waiting to speak if I were to continue with it. The debate reflects the concern being expressed outside about the question of Members' interests—
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The hon. Gentleman has enunciated a very important doctrine. He has said, in effect, that because he represents the National Union of Seamen and he has seamen in his constituency, his outside interest is all right. But it is still an outside interest. Does he agree that if as an outside interest a Member represents an industry which has a factory in his constituency, it is all right because the factory is in his constituency? The hon. Gentleman is getting into difficult waters.
§ Mr. Prescott
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber whereas many of us have been waiting throughout the debate to speak. The question was whether I thought that I could effectively represent both interests, and I have tried to answer it.
The debate reflects the concern about Members' interests which is felt outside the House. It is not unique. Looking into the history of the matter of Members registering their interests when it was felt that there were conflicts between their duties as parliamentarians and the interests which they represented, one has only to refer to the matter of the public 488 relations issue concerning the Greek Government which was referred to a Select Committee. We cannot ignore the fact that the House is debating this issue not only because of general concern in the country but because of the effect of the Poulson affair and other matters.
The demands which have been made for the registration of interests and the question of what the register should cover have been referred to a Select Committee. It has often been argued that the House can deal with this question. How effective has it been in dealing with it? The record speaks for itself. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was Chairman of the Select Committee which went at great length into all aspects of the argument. In its report in 1969 it made great play of the fact that the concern arose out of public relations exercises. That was not the only reason, but much attention was paid to it.
The Select Committee recommended against the creation of a register and gave a number of reasons why a register should not be imposed on the House. Many of them were due to the fact that it was felt that not all Members would be treated fairly. If a rule were to be made about one occupation, it might work unfairly on some Members because of their occupations, perhaps as lawyers, and would perhaps be more advantageous to journalists. Many arguments are put forward in the Select Committee's report. Many of the reasons which are given for not introducing a register arose from the Committee's efforts to justify a Member of Parliament having paid interests outside Parliament.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It may not be against the rules of the House, but is it not against the conventions that an hon. Member should walk past the Front Bench and examine your private papers to see who will be called next? Is not that a disgusting way to behave, and is it not typical of what we have to tolerate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must point out that the hon. Gentleman was doing no such thing. He was discussing an entirely different matter. [Interruption.] Whatever else occurred did not occur with my knowledge. It occurred when I was not looking.
§ Mr. Prescott
I could not have a better example than that of how the House handles its own affairs.
The Select Committee made recommendations for a code of conduct. One of them was as follows:In any debate a Member shall disclose any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have.The second recommendation for a code was as follows:It is contrary to the usage and derogatory to the dignity of the House that a Member should bring forward by speech or question, or advocate in this House or among his fellow Members any bill, motion, matter or cause for a fee, payment, retainer or reward, direct or indirect, which he has received, is receiving or expects to receive.Those are the two recommendations about the code of conduct. How is the House to challenge a Member for offending against the code unless it knows his interests? A code on those lines could not be operated without a register of interests.
If a Member wishes to complain about another Member infringing the rules, he must approach the Chair immediately before the vote and communicate that complaint to Mr. Speaker. How, in the hurly-burly of a vote, can Mr. Speaker identify the hon. Member's interests unless there is a register of interests? The public would be able to refer to the register, and it would enable us to operate the code recommended by the Committee.
The House did nothing about even those weak recommendations made in 1969. Now, more public concern has been expressed and the House must consider yet again conflicts of interest and the possibility of instituting a register of interests.
Many hon. Members have said that even if a register were to be introduced it would be possible for hon. Members who wanted to do so to circumvent it and to use subterfuge in breaking the rules of the House and Standing Orders. The introduction of a register would not prevent that happening. A good deal of the legislation we pass in this House is passed on the understanding that many people will probably not observe its provisions. We know this to be the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for 490 Bolsover—or should I say "Clay Cross" —(Mr. Skinner) well knows. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) said that some people had different motives for requiring a register. I am sure my hon. Friend recognises that many of us have no desire to know whether any Conservative Member receives £50,000 or £40,000—although I find it a little hard for somebody in that position to support an incomes policy and to ask the nation to go in for restraint. I think it must be said that this situation has not been created by anybody outside the House but has arisen because Members of Parliament have been involved in these matters.
It is not correct to argue, as some Members have done in this debate, that Members of Parliament are the same as persons outside the House, because clearly they are not. A Member of Parliament is very different from a person outside the House. He is a privileged person. If any hon. Member doubts that he has privileges, he only has to ask an ex-Member of Parliament what it is like when those privileges are lost.
We are concerned with the integrity of hon. Members and with the fact that the whole situation may be brought into disrepute. This affects all hon. Members. By the nature of his job a Member of Parliament has to appear to his constituents to be objective; he has to decide issues. Furthermore, when constituents see their Member of Parliament they hope that he will give them objective advice. That is the image of Members of Parliament, and it is important that they should be seen to be doing the job. It is important that we should take account of anything that seeks to undermine that authority.
I should like to instance one or two examples to pinpoint the situation. I shall not refer to illegal practices but I suggest that these illustrations relate to the integrity of hon. Members and the role we fulfil. For example, it did the House no good when certain hon. Members who voted for the imposition of an incomes policy and a wage freeze salted away thousands of pounds in tax havens outside the country. That sort of practice must undermine a Member's authority.
491 My hon. Friend the Member for Lady-wood, in an excellent speech, could not get away from one important fact. Although he may deplore some of the arguments that were raised—indeed, he was honest and said that he favoured the idea of a register—I must point out that it is still felt that a Member of Parliament should not be involved in legislation when money is being received from bodies which have an interest in that legislation. That sort of practice is not generally acceptable to people outside the House.
§ Mr. Brian Walden
When my hon. Friend says that that view is "generally acceptable". I should like to know who generally accepts that view. Is he referring to the House of Commons, to which I am answerable, or to some other body to which I feel less answerable in a matter in which I feel that I can use my personal judgment and integrity?
§ Mr. Prescott
That is a very fair point. My hon. Friend asked me how it is possible to measure the support for that view. There has been no opinion poll on it, of course, but we all know about the great concern that there is outside this House. I cannot say whether those who are concerned about it represent 50 per cent. or 60 per cent, of the electorate, but we are here debating it because of that concern.
§ Mr. Walden
My hon. Friend is very courteous in giving way to me again. He is in error. There has been an opinion poll on it. Fifty per cent. of the people polled by a BBC institution did not agree with Members of Parliament having outside interests. What is more, 79 per cent. did not agree with trade union sponsorship. In my view they were wrong on both counts. But how can my hon. Friend justify the one as an expression of public opinion without equally surrendering to the other?
§ Mr. Prescott
For a start, I adopt my hon. Friend's own advice to go out into the country first and argue what is the difference. I attempted to show earlier that there was a difference. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that the representation of the trade union movement in the Labour Party is a legitimate interest.
492 My hon. Friend said that there had been a poll. Probably he is right. That, however, does not defeat my argument that there is concern outside this House and that that is why we are debating the matter here. I am equally concerned with actions that, while not incorrect in any way, contribute to the confusion of the general public about conflicting interests that arise out of employment outside the House. One that clearly undermines the credibility of Members of Parliament is when we are called upon to ask sacrifices of the country as in wage freezes and some Members at the same time salt thousands of pounds in tax havens abroad.
Many other examples exist, but genuine conflict can arise as in the case of a close friend of mine, whom I greatly respect and who is a Member of Parliament employed in the legal profession, who was approached by one of his constituents who asked him for assistance with a landlord problem. My hon. Friend was obliged to tell his constituent that he was acting for the landlord. There is nothing wrong in that, of course, and it is a situation which arises quite normally out of his job. But it does not do a Member of Parliament any good to have to explain that state of affairs to one of his constituents. It is a conflict which arises. There is nothing wrong in it, but to my mind it reduces people's opinion of a Member of Parliament.
1 give one further example which involves a matter in which I have been personally concerned. In the last Parliament we had occasion to discuss the deplorable wages paid to African seamen on board merchant ships. We heard of wages of £10 a month. I seem to remember describing them as "poverty level" wages. The hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) said that it was outside the responsibility of this House to discuss matters that were the concern of another Government, namely the South African Government. However, the hon. Gentleman did not declare his interest in the company employing these seamen—
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that I failed to declare my very-well-known connection with the shipping industry to 493 which reference is made in every publication which has anything in it about me? Is he saying that on the occasion to which he is referring, when we were discussing a general topic involving this House and which was not specific to the shipping industry, I failed to declare my interest?
§ Mr. Prescott
This is a classic example of our difficulty. In my view the hon. Gentleman should have revealed his connection with the shipping company concerned when he advised the Governmnet to adopt a policy which would stop any pay increase to its employees who were on starvation wages. It was a deplorable action on the hon. Gentleman's part, and he knows my views about it. Actions of that kind discredit Members of Parliament, and any register which reveals these matters will give rise to certain problems, not the least of which will be what is to be included in it.
The Boyle Committee made it clear that 70 per cent. of Members of Parliament had other interests outside this House and that 25 per cent, of them thought that those interests affected their work in this House. Clearly that is a reflection on the conditions of Members of Parliament. When those of us who are without any outside interests wish to work full time when others who have outside interests wish to pursue them, what they do is bound to affect us. In an indirect way this state of affairs affects the conditions of our secretaries, for example, and I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that he intends to look into the situation. There is also the question of research work in the House and those who undertake that work.
Let us also consider the question of travel. Hon. Members may want to inform themselves about jobs in distant places. Do they, for instance, have to pay their own fare to Aberdeen to look at an oil rig? They do not want to be dependent upon, say, a company paying that fare. There are many matters concerning our conditions which should be improved.
It is important not only to have a register established but also to take the first step towards both obtaining acceptance of the principle of one man doing one job and improving conditions in the 494 House, though declaration of interests will make it more difficult to get the public to accept increased benefits for Members.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I wish to remind the House of what Mr. Speaker said earlier about many hon. Members wishing to take part in this important debate. Mr. Speaker asked for moderation in the length of speeches. There are still a large number of right hon. and hon. Members who desire to speak, and I wish to remind the House of that fact.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Before making the remarks which I intended to make, I must ask right hon. and hon. Members to reflect upon the difficulties of the Member of Parliament who is a solicitor and who finds himself acting for the landlord of a house when a constituent comes to him saying that he is in dispute with that landlord. That has nothing on the dilemma which faces an hon. Member sponsored by the National Union of Seamen when someone visits him and says, "You are my MP. I am in conflict with the National Union of Seamen." How does one rationalise that sort of situation?— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-HuIl, East (Mr. Prescott) says he dealt with the matter but he has not rationalised it; he has pushed it aside.
Let us be plain about this. In any circumstances, where any hon. Member has an outside interest, as a Christian, or as a Buddhist, or as a member of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, or as a member of the Women's Institute, there will be moments when one of those interests comes up against the interests of one of his constituents.—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman brings money into it, and I shall bring money into it in a moment.
Under these circumstances, whether money has changed hands, or whether it is merely a nomination to a rotten borough seat which has changed hands, there is a degree of conflict. Those of us with any interests at all admit that there is that conflict, whether it be between a Member and a trade union, between a Member and the Bar Council —if that is not a trade union, and J 495 have my doubts—or between a Member and a commercial organisation. Let us get rid of a little of the hypocrisy.
I regret that I was unable to be present to hear the speeches by the Lord President and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I have to rely on the BBC, in order to know what they said and I am sure that both agree that that is not perhaps the best stick to lean on at all times.
We all know why this issue has flared up to its present extent. It is because allegations of corruption were made recently about distinguished Members of the House. Let me now take the opportunity, because this is a calm and sensible debate, to say that I for one, upon mature consideration, have come to the conclusion that in the case of the Lord President I am perfectly certain that the actions he took some years ago were in no way corrupting upon him, nor were they the result of any corrupt motive on his part. Others, unknown to him, may have had corrupt motives—let us be plain about that—but that is the conclusion to which I am forced and to which I believe most of us here are forced.
Since we are discussing interests, let me disclose mine. I checked before I came out today and found that in the last financial year—I had been making out my means-test form to send to the tax accountants—my income outside Parliament derived from journalism, from broadcasting, from the princely sum of £8.05 from" Essex County Council for lecturing to a group of foreign students —any other hon. Members who are tempted to do the same should beware of Essex County Council: they do not pay well—from a pension that I earned during my service with BOAC and from a small salary which my wife earned as a part-time nurse.
I intend to do rather better than that in this financial year, and it is possible for me to do so. I am no longer a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I no longer have the heavy burden, which is well known and understood by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), of trying to look after a constituency, as both he and I have done, which is twice as large as any hon. Member should have to look after. Those of us with that 496 experience would not wish it on anyone. I am sure that he did not wish it on me in June 1970, at any rate.
I have now undertaken to advise a sort of trade union, the British Airports Authority Police Federation. I have undertaken to advise an insurance company and an aviation company. It is relevant to the debate to know how those interests came about. The interest in the aviation company is fairly obvious. The insurance company came to me after I had spoken in the House about new ways of raising mortgage finance and said, "We have been thinking of these matters. Will you tell us whether they are politically acceptable?" It seems that I might have got caught out sadly by the first motion with its reference to the possibility that one might be "expecting" to have certain remuneration. I was not expecting it; it came to me out of the blue. But it could be doubted, if anyone wished to doubt it.
The British Airports Authority Police Federation came to me in the same way after I had discussed matters affecting its affairs. Particularly the insurance company did not expect me—as most of the clients that Members have do not expect one—to promote legislation on its behalf. It is far more interested in political advice. If it wanted legal advice, it would go to a lawyer but it wants political advice so it goes to a politician, to know whether something affecting its business is acceptable in the world of politics.
It is acceptable that Members should give that advice—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Why pay?"] Because I have always believed that the labourer is worthy of his hire. There is another reason for paying. I have always taken an interest in this House in aviation, but aviation is a swiftly moving industry. If I continue to have that interest, I want to maintain an airline transport pilot's licence. There are only two ways to do that. One either pays for one's flying or one is paid for it. I am sure that hon. Members would not suggest that, when the golden day dawns, I should go to the Fees Office and ask for a couple of thousand pounds to do some flying on Concorde so as to keep my licence current. Perhaps they think there might be some better way of managing these affairs. These are some of the problems which we should face if we ever had full-time Members.
497 As to how full time a person is, that depends on how many hours he works. When I am out gathering material for an article to sell as a journalist, I am frequently doing my work as a Member of Parliament at least as much as some other hon. Members who are downstairs at the time in the Kremlin Bar and have been there for most of the evening. I do not know to what extent they are advancing the interests of their constituents or improving their minds there. I venture to suggest that it could be that although they are present in the building, they could scarcely be regarded as being present in the House.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman does not have to ask me to name them. He can go there from the Tea Room and find them there. He is welcome to do that. I find myself tempted towards what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady-wood (Mr. Walden) described as the Whig attitude. That is not merely because I value my privacy but because I believe that the register would be likely to be a sham and would not do that which it would purport to do. Anything which is a sham in that way is dangerous. Unless we treat it as a joke, and a joke in very bad taste in many ways, it will not satisfy the carrion crows of the gutter Press, however far we go.
Let us consider the position. I have mentioned the fact that my wife has a small salary as a nurse. We could all agree that, perhaps, our wives' interests should be declared. If someone made a gift to my wife, and I had advised them on some matter, it would be reasonable that I should declare that. But what about those hon. Members who have mistresses? These things are not unknown in this broad-minded age.
§ Mr. Tebbit
If the hon. Gentleman is not very careful, I shall be tempted. But it would be better if hon. Members read Private Eye rather than that I should take the advantage of the privilege of the House in doing a rather ungentlemanly act. But should an hon. Member list the fact that his mistress has received a gift?—[An HON. MEMBER: "Definitely."] That is the sort of 498 absurdity to which we shall be pushed in the House.
One can continue. Does the lawyer have to list all his clients by name? Does the doctor have to list his clients by name? Does he have to list the complaints with which they came to him so that we can make sure that it was not for political advice as distinct from medical advice? There may be some interesting complaints recorded, but it would not improve the work that we do in the House. It would be merely the starting point from which the crows would work.
Should not those who indulge in the matter of finding out Members' interests also declare their interests? Is not that much at the heart of the matter? What are the interests of the gentlemen who write Private Eye? They would be interesting to hear. What of the political opinions of those who interview Members of the House on television? What are the interests, political beliefs and objectives of those who write columns in our newspapers? Surely those are at least as important as the fact that one or two hon. Members take fees from one company or another.
I am inclined to accept the verdict of the poll to which reference has been made—that the public want this thing. I am not sure that, after a while, they will get much satisfaction out of it. I have listened to the arguments today and I am still not totally certain, because I have not heard all the arguments, about which way I shall vote.—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) says "There is no doubt about that". If he approaches a debate in that manner, he lacks some understanding. He should not assume that everyone enters this Chamber with a closed mind. If one keeps one's ears open as well as one's mouth, it is possible to have one's opinions changed. I recommend to him that he takes careful note of what some of his hon. Friends have said, even if he does not like it, in the same way as I have listened to both sides of the House in trying to make up my mind on this matter.
When the time comes we shall vote on it. I fancy that in the end I shall decide to act like a Whig and tell the public that if they want to know what 499 my interests are they can come and ask me. When I speak in this House on any matter which is affected by my interests I will declare them, and I will do that as faithfully as I believe most hon. Members already do, whether there is a register or not.
I believe that I can act at least as freely while I receive money from outside interests, whether they be magazines for which I write, whether they be companies for which I work, which I can junk when I wish, as can those Members who, as I say, are sitting for rotten boroughs, nominated by trade unions.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
I believe that there are two urgent internal reforms in the House which are urgently overdue, namely, the introduction of a compulsory public register of interests, and television. That the first, the register of interests, has struck the central nervous system of the House can be witnessed from the very touchy debate which we have had today. It is clear that the majority of people want to see a compulsory register of Members' interests, and for that reason I shall be voting tonight for all three motions.
Those who oppose these motions have come up with a variety of excuses, or reasons, for not introducing such a register. First, they say that it is unworkable. Others say that it has been foisted on us by the media. Others say that it is desired by only a minority of the public. Others say that it is an unreasonable intrusion on privacy and, if all else fails, we have the injection of ridicule.
In my view, and in the view of others, this register has been a longstanding desire of the public. It was first advocated in 1958, and it has been advocated on a number of occasions since. That desire has now reached overwhelming proportions, and I believe that there is a fierce desire to see a register and an equally fierce desire on the part of thinking people outside that Parliament must be clean, but, much more important, it must be seen to be clean, and I believe that this is an important step along that road.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden), in one of the most alarming and disturbing speeches that I have 500 heard from a Labour Member of Parliament, that he believes this register is being discussed today because it reflects a contempt by the people for authority. If that is true—and I reject that notion— one must accept that the House is itself part of the system of authority, and, if authority is being rejected, so also is the House being rejected. I say to those who support the hon. Member for Ladywood in his argument that if the desire for social and economic change, which I believe is part and parcel of the desire for this register, is a contempt of authority, so be it; but I joined the Labour Party and came into the House because I wanted, with a majority of people, to see social and economic change achieved.
I do not believe that the people who sent me here had contempt for authority, but they are beginning to develop a contempt, and reforms such as the introduction of a register could combat that trend. Much as it might upset some hon. Members to realise it, none of us was sent here for his own shining virtues. We were sent here because we represent political parties.
§ Mr. Madden
The people who voted for us did so because they supported a broad political philosophy— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Tebbit rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. If the hon. Member does not give way, other hon. Members know the rules and therefore know what to do.
§ Mr. Tebbit rose—
§ Mr. Madden
The people who voted for us did so because they shared the broad political philosophy of the parties we represent. None of us was sent here for his own virtues. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood, who was espousing the philosophy of a totally irresponsible Member of Parliament——
§ Mr. Walden rose—
§ Mr. Madden
I am not prepared to give way, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to be brief. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] My hon. Friend said that a Member had a right to live out his unfettered destiny. Members of Parliament are responsible to those who elect them.
§ Mr. Brian Walden
Will my hon. Friend give way? If my hon. Friend is referring to me, he might at least quote me correctly. The view I was expressing was that I was a representative of a constituency not, as my hon. Friend appears to be arguing, a delegate from a caucus.
§ Mr. Madden
Our constituents have a right to be represented by a responsible Member and to know his financial interests, and that is what I am arguing. It is necessary for constituents to know their representative's financial interests, because inevitably from time to time conflict could arise between interests, and an hon. Member's interests could determine his action.
An attempt has been made to present this debate as a sort of gentlemen versus players match. I hope that the pressure we are facing will soon create the situation in which the people who vote will be voting to be represented by full-time Members of Parliament. They do not vote for Members of Parliament to be lawyers, accountants and wheeler-dealers in the City. They vote for a full-time representative.
§ Mr. Madden
While we are at it, can we also get rid of the club-like atmosphere which exists in this place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—and get rid of the unreasonable working hours? It is total lunacy that we start at 2.30 in the afternoon and continue until whatever hour we might finish. Let us have proper conditions and salaries so that Members do not have to rely on outside financial interests.
I warn the House that we resist reform at our peril. I hope that tonight there will be wholehearted agreement and sup- 502 port for the motion concerning what is, after all, a most innocuous reform.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) might join the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who unfortunately is not present—I hate to mention him when he is not here—who told us how the House should be altered after he had been here for, I think, two days. The hon. Gentleman might have a talk with him and then they could co-ordinate matters and tell us, on the basis of their deep wisdom and experience, how to run the House.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) made a brilliant speech. I agreed with every word except his conclusion, but the speech was so well made that I was drawn to agree with even that.
A number of hon. Members who have been strongest today in advocating the three motions have themselves declared that they have large interests. That is relevant to the speech of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in which he referred to the Father of the House and his chairmanship of the Select Committee on the subject. The hon. Gentleman also said that all the members of the committee had interests. Even if that were true, it is interesting that tonight there has been such a change that a number of hon. Members have declared interests. That type of Member has changed his mind to such an extent that he now welcomes compulsory registration of all interests.
What is the basis of that? The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) hit the nail on the head. He was one of the really honest Members who came right out with it. He did not actually use the words "One man, one job", but that was the whole philosophy behind everything he said. [Interruption.] Another hon. Member wants that as well. What frightens me more than anything about the debate is that it is all those on the far Left in the House who most want this change.
We are being asked to put the horse before the cart. The horse is the resuscitated committee that will look into the whole matter. One Labour Member complained that he did not know what 503 he would be voting for tonight, because he did not know what the committee would decide. In other words, he would be voting a blank cheque. I agree. Why could the matter not be dealt with the other way round? Why do the Government not have enough confidence in a committee they have set up to believe that it will agree with what the Government want to do, under pressure from the Left?
It is a pity that so many hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, who are greatly respected but who have declared that they have large interests, have spoken in favour of the motion, because that may give the wrong impression. On what do we gauge the claim that the public wants an MP's register? My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) has said that he has 81,000 constituents and that he has not received one letter on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir H. Nicholls) says that he represents many constituents and that he has not received such a letter.
If we had been talking about greyhound racing, the taxing of women's institute subscriptions or rates, we would know that there was great public feeling and that the public wanted us to take certain action. That cannot be said with regard to this matter. It seems that it has come about as a throw-off from Watergate and the various scandals that have arisen in this country over the past few years. There is no real demand for registration that I have been able to perceive.
I shall not be rushed along before the faint wind that has been blown up by the media into voting for these motions. I shall vote against all three.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Reference has been made to the competence of hon. Members who have been in the House only for a brief period and it has been questioned whether they should enter into this debate. Will you rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that any hon. Member, no matter how long he has been here, is entitled to speak on this subject? This debate has proved the competence of those who have recently become hon. Members, and the House 504 would be better served if it listened to them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
I can tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and the House that all hon. Members are equal in this Chamber.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has made an emotional case and has developed very few points. As he knows, I normally try to follow all the arguments that he produces and I am never discourteous to him. However, he will have to forgive me tonight when I go straight to the argument that was produced on behalf of his party earlier this evening.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that he could not speak for his party, but he made a case which was greatly influenced by the views of many within his party. That is normal and I make no complaint about that. I do not want Conservative right hon. and hon. Members to move away from that trend because it is important that the country should realise what it is.
We have seen employed the method of making everything appear 300 times as difficult as it is. That is a favourite method to adopt in opposition to a given policy. If it is desired to prove that a policy is absurd, it is common to put forward all sorts of things that are not really issues and then to say, "How can you possibly support this sort of case?".
I begin by supporting what I consider to be the moderate motion that was moved by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. I do so because I think that we should take the step that is contained within the motion.
Reference has been made to Watergate. We should dismiss Watergate from our minds immediately. It has nothing to do with what happens in this country. It has nothing to do with the House of Commons and nothing to do with this debate. I happen to have sat for a time in the Watergate hearing. I am not, of course, the only person to have done so. I listened to every word that was said. It is my opinion that the Watergate affair has nothing to do with events that 505 have taken place in this country. In fact, Watergate is untypical of American political life. Those hon. Members who know the situation will agree with me. Let us dismiss that suggestion right away, therefore
. We are discussing a moderate proposal to take a step in our political life, to make a reform which must justify itself on our home ground, and if we are to attempt to do so, there are arguments in its favour. I do not hold the view that the House of Commons will only be a good House if it has full-time Members only. If it had, in 15 years' time people would be living on each other's White Papers, Green Papers and Blue Books. It would not be a House of Commons.
Secondly, I believe that the representation of interests has always been the heart of the matter in the House. This is not the Oxford Union. It is not a debating society. The representation of real interests, whether they be on the trade union side, or on the employers' side, or on the farmers' side, is part and parcel of what has made the House of Commons what it is, and had the attempt been made by the early Members of the House merely to make it into a debating society, it would never have become the centre of British political life.
But that is not what we are discussing today. We are discussing not the representation of interests in general, as traditionally referred to by Burke, as the "Farming interest" or the "Industrial interest" or the "trade union interest". We are discussing whether we should give an account to the nation of what interests an individual has so that the people may be able to judge for themselves whether those interests influence his conduct as a Member of the House of Commons. That is what we are discussing, despite the attempts deliberately to widen the discussion in order to drag the argument into other areas.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft was much more careful. He strayed just a little into things not necessary to the debate, reflecting some of the views of some of his hon. Friends. But he was more restrained than some hon. Members opposite. The logic of his case should lead him to support the motion. When we say that the people should know the interests of a Member of Parliament, we 506 have in mind two different kinds of interest. I have always distinguished between them.
If a man grows up in engineering, on the employers' side, for example, spending 20 or 25 years in the industry, and then becomes an hon. Member, it would be absurd to say that he should then give up his interest and thus become in effect merely a member of a debating society. His experience and knowledge are valuable.
But that is not the same as in the other kind of interest. By that I mean the Member who comes from one background and suddenly, after a few years in the House, because he speaks well and can make a case, gets directorships and financial emoluments thrown at him by interests which want him to make their case in this place. There is a world of difference between the two kinds of interest, and I think that I carry many hon. Members with me when I say that it is fundamental.
The first kind of interest is perfectly legitimate and contributes greatly to our work. In my judgment, the second is illegitimate in moral judgment. Let us take the example of a Member who seeks election, on a general philosophy and on a general programme, to represent the interests of his own constituency, broadly understood. But he may say, "I am going also to represent for the payment of large sums of money the"—for example—" Horse Racing Association if you elect me now on my party's programme." It may be an interest in horse racing or anything else.
If he has not said to his electorate during the campaign that he will accept large sums from that association and represent its interests in the next Parliament, he has no right to do it later on once he has been elected. No one is proposing to make that illegal. The freedom of the individual Member is not involved. No one is suggesting that this should be made illegal. All that we are being asked to do is decide that it should be disclosed at the earliest possible moment.
Here the phrase "future prospects" arises. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Lowestoft, a former Leader of the House, questioning that. It is conceivable that half way through a 507 piece of legislation an association interested in changes in a Bill might approach a Member and say, "You are doing so well on this subject that, while you are not receiving any payment from us now, we should very much like to offer payment to you in future over a period of years". I do not ask for a law against that. It would, however, be a future prospect.
1 put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is important that we should say that such an interest must be disclosed, not when the money is being paid, but on the day after the approach has been made. This is a very limited motion, important despite its limitations. It is compact. There is one major problem. It would be unworthy of the House if anyone were to be influenced in voting by a desire or fear—I use the words deliberately—about what might be done later. The House is not asked to commit itself to any course to do with the future nature of the House of Commons. There may be different alignments if in future we are ever asked to do so in a different debate. We are asked merely to make this limited choice.
There remains, therefore, the simple question whether we should do this now or ask the Select Committee to look at it. I think I will carry the right hon. Member for Lowestoft with me when I put the choice in that way.
It is preferable to regard this as a traditional Second Reading debate in which the Leader of the House has made a number of proposals. We then say to ourselves and to the country, "Given all the evidence before us, we have taken a decision in principle. The details are important: the Government do not want to impose them by a whipped majority vote, which is right. We want a Select Committee to look at the details". That is how we ought to conduct ourselves. It would redound to our credit; it would strengthen democracy and the position of the House and the country if we do so tonight by a convincing vote.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
There was much in the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) with which I agree. However, I remain unconvinced that we need a register.
508 I say that for three reasons. First, 1 do not believe that it is desirable for the private finances of Members of Parliament to be made public for anyone who wishes to know them. I believe that that would have a grave effect on the composition, character and quality of this House. I regard it as an unwarrantable intrusion into our private lives. [Interruption.] We are entitled to privacy just as much as ordinary individuals. [Interruption.] If I may continue— obviously the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will continue ad nauseam, as he usually does—I suggest that evidence and experience of this idea from abroad does not support it.
Such evidence as we have of the adoption of such a proposal in other countries indicates that it does not remove the taint of corruption from legislatures in which it has been introduced. The only example we have of it in this Parliament —the register maintained by the Liberal Party—shows that even if the idea is a good one, what is produced is innocuous as regards the objects which so many hon. Members wish to achieve. My third and most important objection is that this is not the way to deal with the mischief. In this respect too much attention has been given to the idea of revelation of the details of individual Members' finances and too little to the mischiefs and the evils that we wish to combat.
We ought to start by defining the mischief we want to cure. I suggest that it is primarily the abuse of the position of a Member of Parliament. The misuse of the authority of a Member of Parliament ought to be controlled and, if possible, dealt with so as to render any offending Member unworthy of holding office in this House.
Looking at the matter in that way, we should first examine the possibility of defining a Member's duty in this House. Surely his duty is to represent his constituents and the country as a whole. I submit that it should be wrong for any hon. Member to be paid to represent anyone, any group or any interest other than his constituents.
I have ventured to put on the Order Paper two ideas which, I believe, express that view. If it is wrong to represent any outside interest in this House—I 509 accept what the hon. Member for Peni-stone said about the difference between general and specific interests—it must be wrong from our point of view if we wish to maintain standards.
Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) did not consider the second of the motions suggested by the Select Committee in 1969. In some ways that is a pity. I believe that we should consider the difficulty of distinguishing between those who might accept a larger sum than they are paid as Members of Parliament and those who, as one of my hon. Friends said, might be paid simply as parliamentary consultants or advisers. There are many good, honest and respectable precedents for the latter. But there must be a distinction between the two. I wonder how often we try to observe and define that distinction.
The Select Committee found it difficult to make the distinction. In paragraph 107 of its report it stated:If the role of a retained Member of Parliament is restricted to advising the public relations consultancy on those specified matters, no problem arises.That was referring to general background information about Parliament.But as the consultancy is likely to be advising its client on 'actual or proposed legislation' or 'the ventilation of a matter of public interest in which the client has a case to represent', the temptation to extend the role of the retained Member of Parliament from advice to advocacy must be strong.The Select Committee went on to recommend, in effect, that it would be contrary to the usage and dignity of the House for any hon. Member to act as the representative of a specific interest. It is the evil of direct representation of an interest which an hon. Member was not elected to represent about which we should be concerned. I do not believe that a register would help to eliminate that evil.
I believe that more thought should be given to defining the proper line between respectable and perfectly honourable representation or advice given to outside interests and holding oneself out for the purpose of representing specific interests in this House.
Another mischief that should be cured is that of using the position of Member 510 of Parliament to obtain private profit. We do not seem to consider it very much. We know of Members being properly paid for appearances on television and broadcasts. We know of Members using their authority as Members for the advancement of private commercial ventures. The former is right, the latter is wrong. But we cannot blame them for this blurring of the distinction, because we do not lay down the distinction. It is necessary to lay down a distinction. Therefore, in the amendment which I have tabled I suggest that posts which attract payment, fees or reward should be subject to approval by resolution of the House and that jobs and payments which do not come within that category should be stigmatised.
In sum, we should leave the matter to the honour and dignity of each Member but we should crack down hard on backsliders with our own internal disciplinary procedures.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
Having sat here for almost six hours listening to the debate, I have not failed to be impressed by the many points of view expressed by hon. Members on both sides about this volatile and serious subject. I am grateful to be able to express my view, even at this late hour.
On Friday this week I shall have been a Member of this House for exactly one year. I suppose that for a politician the supreme accolade is to be elected to the British House of Commons. It was for me, at any rate. In the past 12 months my personal respect for the parliamentary institutions has been greatly enhanced. At first probably rather subconsciously, but latterly more consciously, I have become aware of the great values of British democratic institutions. We in Britain have always prided ourselves on having open, free and democratic government.
Over the years this Chamber has witnessed many historic events. Decisions made here have had far-reaching consequences throughout the world. In this House Members can exchange views and take part in the cut and thrust of debate. Speeches have been made in this Chamber—I have been privileged to witness some of them—which have riveted people to their seats. We heard such a speech 511 today by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady wood (Mr. Walden). Great men and women of this century have sat on these benches. It saddens me greatly to see our great values being eroded by the growing suspicion of uninformed cynicism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) drew attention to the matter of cynicism. Before I became a Member, I spent all my working life in industry, and I became acutely aware of the growing cynicism among my colleagues. Who can blame them for being cynical about politics and politicians when election promises seem continually to be broken, the gospels according to the party manifestoes seem to be blatantly ignored and the visions of our "Better Tomorrow" seem to be falling on the distant horizon?
Recently, that cynicism has been compounded by allegations in the Press and the proceedings in Leeds Crown Court where senior local government members have been convicted of corruption. There has been speculation that hon. Members have been involved in certain shady deals. All that has been reported with paranoid enthusiasm by certain sections of the popular Press. That is what is bringing politics in general and the House in particular into disrepute.
From my short experience as a Member I say without equivocation that the vast majority of Members of Parliament are honourable men and women who in their rightful place are pursuing policies which they feel to be correct. I feel strongly that these innuendoes and volatile germs of suspicion must be allayed. We can start to do that by having a public register of our interests.
I have heard hon. Members argue that such a register would be an unwarranted intrusion into the private life of Members. That is the rock upon which their argument is built. Why should we, they argue, divest ourselves of information which is personal and private to ourselves, information which will not prevent our carrying out our duties as Members of Parliament?
There are those of us who are in agreement with the growing demands which are being made by a large section of public opinion for such a register to 512 become a reality. When one enters public life, one does so in the full knowledge that one's personal and private life will be subjected to debate and conjecture. After all, no one is forced to become a Member of Parliament. None of us was dragged unwillingly before a selection conference. We are here because we want to be here and because our constituents elected us and, therefore, our private lives are open to some degree of examination.
I can only surmise that those who argue against a register of financial interests do so because they have something to hide. That is the logical consequence of their argument. I am singularly unimpressed by the argument that the existence of such a register would be an unwarranted intrusion into a Member's private life. What possible harm could it do for a Member of Parliament to disclose his financial interests on a register? I suggest, none whatsoever, if those interests are perfectly honourable and legitimate.
I should be perfectly willing to divest myself of such information because it would not require more than two minutes of anyone's time to register my financial interests. I have a season ticket for Burnley Football Club and one share in the Rochdale Equitable Pioneer Society. I acknowledge sponsorship by the Post Office Engineering Union, for which I receive no annual pay. The union contributes the standard amount to my constituency party funds. Should the House have the good sense to institute a register—which I believe would have the overwhelming support of public opinion— I beg leave to reserve one line in it.
The extent of the corruption of people holding public office that has been proven recently on both sides of the Atlantic is leading to disturbing rumours throughout the country. The practice by which people attempt to use their positions in public life to further their own interests is held in contempt by the general public as a whole.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.