§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to disqualify from membership of Parliament people with pecuniary interests which are incompatible with proper representation of the people; and for related purposes.In a few weeks, the people will have the opportunity to elect their parliamentary representatives. Irrespective of party political allegiance, I am sure that all are agreed that the people deserve parliamentary representatives who will put the interests of their constituents before their own selfish pecuniary interests. Unfortunately, the law of the land and the rules of the House do not place an absolute prohibition, or even a clearly defined limitation, on the outside interests that an hon. Member may have. Of course, there is the Register of Members' Interests, but registration on it seems to be purely voluntary, because the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has for years refused to comply with registration, yet he continues to sit in the House. I submit not only that registration should be made compulsory but that a mere declaration of interest is inadequate. After all, in local government, council members are expected to declare their interests when matters in which they have a vested interest come up for discussion or vote. Normally, those members would not take part in that discussion or vote. There is no parliamentary equivalent to that. There is nothing to stop Members of Parliament from voting to benefit their financial interests and there is no limit on the number of outside financial interests that they may have.
Recently, there was the much-publicised case of two Tory Members who had made multiple share applications in British Telecom. I do not want to dwell too much on that example, because I realise that it is embarrassing to the Conservative party. But it was a example of hon. Members making a financial gain for themselves or their relatives by using their parliamentary vote. Perhaps it was an extreme example, in that the hon. Members who were responsible appear to have broken the law, although it remains to be seen whether they will pay the penalty. There is no doubt, however, that they voted for the legislation to privatise British Telecom and, therefore, were able to take advantage of their vote in Parliament.
Apart from those two hon. Members, more than 100 hon. Members—91 of them Tories—bought British Telecom shares, and most voted for that legislation.
Shareholding is not the end of the story. More than 50 per cent. of Tory Back-Benchers—155 to be precise—and almost a quarter of alliance Members are company directors. Thirty Tory Members are directors of or consultants to companies that are involved in public relations, including the professional lobbying of Parliament.
Take the case of my own Member of Parliament. I used to have the privilege, or otherwise, of being one of my own constituents for a decade or so. The Boundary Commission came along just before the last general election, and changed the goal posts, so I find myself represented for the first time in my life by a Tory moonlighter, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth).He has a company called Michael Forsyth Associates Ltd. which counts among its clients people intent on making profits from the privatisation of the National Health Service. The hon. Member, in his company's literature, 183 openly boasts about using his position as a Member of Parliament to introduce clients and prospective clients to Members, including Ministers, to influence governmental or parliamentary decision-making processes.
Lest anyone think that that is an exaggeration, I have with me, on headed notepaper of Michael Forsyth Associates Ltd., a recent annual review in which he refers to receptions, lunches and briefings for Members. The review states:John Patten MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, attended a CIC luncheon in January. As a result, it is understood that an internal department inquiry looked at problem district health authorities as outlined at that meeting.I do not think that I am alone among the hon. Member's constituents in beginning to wonder where on earth his loyalties lie. No man can serve two masters. Constituents are entitled to expect their Member of Parliament to put their interests first before any pecuniary interests of his own. I will not dwell entirely on my own Member of Parliament, because he is not unique in having more than one job. Many hon. Members have more than one paid job, while at present about 4 million people do not have any job at all.
The register of interests discloses that the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) has 12 jobs, seven directorships and five consultancies. The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has 10 directorships. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) has over 40 directorships, including over 30 chairmanships. I do not know how they find the time to represent their constituents properly. Is it any wonder that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham is hardly ever here? Is it any wonder that the hon. Member for Stirling seems to find it very difficult to find time to hold a surgery in my home town of Bannockburn?
The Bill proposes a five-point statutory code of conduct. At present, there is a code of conduct for Ministers of the Crown. It is not statutory, but they are not allowed to be company directors, for example. The first provision seeks to extend that to all Members of Parliament, so that there will be a ban on Members of Parliament being company directors or having any paid link with professional parliamentary lobbyists.
The second provision is that there be a limit on the amount of outside income that Members of Parliament can earn. Most Members supplement their income in some way or another—for example, by writing the odd article for a newspaper, by a broadcast or whatever. Some Members donate their fees to their constituency party, or a charity. No doubt, especially during the next few weeks, most Members of Parliament would be prepared to appear on television for nothing.
In countries such as the United States of America it is interesting that legislation exists that limits the percentage of outside income that a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator may earn. I propose that 184 there be similar legislation in this country. Even if we limited the external income to 5 per cent. of parliamentary salary, that would enable Members to supplement their incomes by about £900 a year. If Conservative Members think that 5 per cent. is ridiculously small, they should remember that they recently patted themselves on the back for awarding a 5 per cent. salary increase to student nurses, claiming that it was a very generous increase indeed.
The third provision is to make the registration of all other financial interests mandatory. The fourth provision is that, if an hon. Member has an interest, when the matter is under discussion or vote, the hon. Member should not be allowed to speak or vote on that matter. The last provision is that the registration of interests should be extended to parliamentary candidates as well as sitting Members, so that all parliamentary candidates must declare their interests at the time of their nomination.
In a few weeks, the people of this country will have the opportunity yet again to elect their parliamentary representatives. They are entitled to know what interests various candidates have, and they are entitled to full-time representation of constituency interests in Parliament, without any possibility of conflict between the private pecuniary interests of an individual Member and the greater interests of the people we are elected to represent. After all, if Members of Parliament are allowed to use their position to line their pockets, parliamentary democracy will be the loser. Therefore, I ask the House to support my Bill unanimously.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Robert Parry, Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Eddie Loyden, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Bob MeTaggart, Mr. David Marshall and Mr. Dennis Skinner.