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Members' Interests

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 8 May 1985

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3.38 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order relates to applications to move Second Readings of Private Members' Bills, objections to those Bills, the right of Members to know of commercial manipulation of House affairs and the implications for Members' interests. It does not relate to any particular case of an individual's registration, as that would be a matter for the Select Committee on Members' Interests.

As the House knows, when a Member who is sponsored by a trade union or who acts as an adviser, consultant or director and is remunerated for that speaks in the House, he will make a declaration of interest in the Register and, traditionally, on the Floor of the House. The rules are clearly set out in paragraph 292(3) of the "Manual of Procedure", which states:
"A declaration should be made where appropriate at the beginning of most oral interventions in proceedings. This covers participation in debate in the House or in standing committee and at meetings of select committees".
This matter was raised with you last year several times, particularly when you ruled on my point of order about whether a declaration should be made before asking a supplementary question. You ruled:
"Looking again at the point you raised in the House after my ruling given on Monday 30 January 1984—namely, whether from the standpoint of declaring an interest, the answer to a question should be distinguished from the question itself—I have concluded that this matter would be best considered in the first instance by the Select Committee on Members' Interests and that you ought properly to raise it with them."—[Official Report, 9 February 1984; Vol. 53, c. 1039.]
I mention that because I am trying to establish whether there is a precedent for ruling in relation to these matters.

The position is now quite clear. The briefest of interventions constitutes an oral intervention for the purposes of paragraph 292(3). On 9 December last year, in column 645, the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) brought forward her Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Bill. It was objected to. It was again brought forward on 16 December, reported in column 1360 and on 20 January in column 607. On each occasion it was objected to, and on all occasions by members of the alliance.

Both Government and Opposition had agreed to allow the measure to go through on the nod, as it was about raising driving instruction standards. Despite obstruction from alliance Members, the Bill only cleared the House on the fourth attempt, on 27 January, when alliance Members arrived too late to object——

Order. The hon. Gentleman should make a point of order to me, and should not go over old history which we know.

This is absolutely crucial to my point of order, Mr. Speaker, as you will see as I develop it.

Having cleared the House of Commons, the Bill went to the other place. On 2 April, at the request of Lord Tordoff, the Liberal Chief Whip in the House of Lords, the House went into Committee to deal with one amendment, which would have curtailed the activities—[Interruption.] I am being barracked by Liberal Members. The amendment would have curtailed the activities of some driving instructors.

Lord Tordoff said:
"there is here a problem which is widely felt among the driving schools, particularly the larger ones".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 April 1984; Vol. 450, c. 486.]
He then referred to the British School of Motoring, which would have been a financial beneficiary had the amendment been accepted. It was by now clear that with alliance support in the House of Commons in the form of the use of the word "Object", and Lord Tordoff's speech in the other place—an oral intervention, by the way—a successful attempt had been made to extract concessions from the Government effectively to protect the position of the British School of Motoring.

We all know that Members speak up for outside interests in our debates. That is not unprecedented. Trade unions lobby Members of Parliament to raise issues, as do commercial undertakings. But on this occasion there is a distinct difference. When COHSE, the Confederation of Health Service Employees, sponsors me, from which I receive no personal remuneration but a contribution to my constituency party funds, and which at election time is worth approximately £1,300 a year towards my election expenses——

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech rather than a point of order. I think that I have got the drift of what he is trying to say.

I have nearly finished, Mr. Speaker. In my case, that is registered in the Register of Members' Interests. Likewise, if a Conservative Member acts as a consultant director or adviser to a commercial undertaking, he similarly declares an interest. But when Liberal Members of Parliament receive on behalf of their party part of £188,000—a contribution from the British School of Motoring—and in return obstruct a Bill in the House of Commons and try to move amendments to it in the other place, not one of them has the decency to declare that to the House.

What is the difference? My sponsorship goes to my party. The Liberals' £188,000 goes to their party. A proportion of the £188,000 is spent upon promoting alliance candidates at general elections. They are, therefore, effectively sponsored. That is in addition to the use of aeroplanes by the Liberal party leader from the same source. Furthermore, Mr. Anthony Jacobs, the chairman of the British School of Motoring, when asked to comment said:
"There is nothing I wish to influence. There is nothing really to influence. You can't influence the Liberal party."
The truth is that Mr. Jacobs has effectively bought the alliance.

My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is that in the same way as in column 1039 on 9 February 1984 you were willing to conclude
"that this matter would best be considered in the first instance by the Select Committee on Members Interests"—[Official Report, 9 February 1984; Vol. 53, c. 1039.]
I ask you to do the same on this occasion.

Order. Before I rule on the matter, I must hear the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Is it not an abuse of the points of order procedure to attack the personal integrity of hon. Members by way of a point of order rather than by way of a substantive motion?

Secondly, is it not a curious omission from the long account of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that he did not mention that the amendment pursued by the alliance received fulsome support from the Front Bench of the Labour party when it was pursued in the House of Lords and that it was designed to make the Bill more effective?

Finally, had any hon. Member risen in his place on any of the occasions when the Bill was brought before the House with the promoter's intention that it should proceed without any discussion and sought to declare any personal interest, if he had one, in the matter, would not that have constituted debate arising on the matter and would it not by itself—[Interruption.]

Order. I am not prepared to allow a debate on this matter. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) raised a point of order at considerable length. I thought it only fair to allow the Liberal Chief Whip to respond.

Order. The hon. Member for Workington kindly sent me a note when I had mumps saying that he would not raise a point of order with me until he felt that I was fit enough to deal with it. Therefore, I am all the more sorry that the point he has raised is not a matter for me. The rules of the House with which I am concerned apply to the declaration of pecuniary interests by individual Members, not by political parties. The hon. Member must seek other ways to pursue his complaint. The hon. Member mentioned my last piece of advice to him when he raised a point of order of a similar kind. Since he is a Member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, that is the place where he should raise it.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Your ruling means that those hon. Members who are sponsored by a trade union, as I am sponsored by the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers but who receive no personal remuneration from that sponsorship need not declare it.

I did not say that. I repeat to the hon. Member what I said: that I am concerned with the declaration of pecuniary interests by individual Members, not by political parties.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I share with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) membership of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, although I did not know that he intended to raise this matter. There is a specific point here which, as you rightly say, might be raised in our Committee, but may I suggest that the simplest way to deal with it would be for the leader of the Liberal party—his party's hypocrisy on these matters is well known in the House if not always outside—to come to the House and make a statement saying that no letters had passed or conversations had taken place between Mr. Jacobs and his representatives on the Bill?

That is a legitimate matter for debate; it is not a point of order for me.

I will take one further point of order from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Yes, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is somewhat different, yet it is associated with the initial point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Since I raised the matter last week, I have received an important letter and I need some advice from you on the appropriate place to raise the matter. The letter is from a driving school, and says:

"I am writing to thank you for bringing to light the scandal involving BSM and the Liberal party. It has long been common knowledge within this profession that BSM have extremely low standards of tuition, poorly paid and under-qualified"——

I shall just finish the sentence.

this is the point—
"their use of 'British' in their trading title has enabled them to continue in business over the years, but their performance does not live up to the promise of the name."
I have another letter from Yorkshire making the same point.

If that is the case, there was every reason to tighten up driving school standards, and from what I can gather, the Liberals were doing their level best to stop it.

Would the matter be better dealt with by the Select Committee suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington or by the Select Committee on Transport, so that we can unearth the scandal and find out the exact link between the sponsored Liberal Members of Parliament and the British School of Motoring and how much money they really have made over the years?

Order. None of that is a matter for me. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should study the proceedings of the Bill which I understand passed all its stages in both Houses.

I want to raise with you, Sir, the status of the Register of Members' Interests, because it appears to me that those of us who now disclose the fact that our constituency parties are sponsored by trade unions are placed at a public disadvantage. For instance, a Liberal Member of Parliament from an adjoining constituency need not declare that he is sponsored, but I have to declare my interests for the Register of Members' Interests. I have to declare that interest when I take part in debates in the House, but somebody from an adjoining constituency does not have to declare such an interest. The only remedy left to me as a Member who has declared his interests is to withdraw my name from the Register of Members' Interests because those of us who are sponsored by trade unions will now have to declare that while other Members do not.

The hon. Gentleman has raised exactly the same point of order as his hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). It has always been the case that Members declare their personal interests; it has never previously been the case that parties declare any funds that may come from outside the House, from whatever source. If the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about that, he should consult the Registrar of Members' Interests. He will tell him.

I listened carefully to what you said about the Liberal party receiving funds, but what is not clear from your ruling is whether, if the Liberal party receives money from the British School of Motoring—money which is passed to individual Liberal Members of Parliament—they then fall within the category of those who receive outside sponsorship. If that is the case, what they raised during the debate should fall within the purview of your questioning.