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House Buyers Bill (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Volume 50: debated on Monday 12 December 1983

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3.45 pm

I have a statement to make about the House Buyers Bill, which is to be debated on Friday.

I have been asked to rule on whether a Member who is a solictor or otherwise engaged in the business of conveyancing, with a pecuniary interest in the House Buyers Bill, ought to vote on the Bill when it comes up for its Second Reading on Friday, in addition to declaring any interest, as is our rule, in the course of debate.

As long ago as 1811, my predecessor Mr. Speaker Abbot defined the practice governing the pecuniary interest of Members as follow:
"This interest must be a direct pecuniary interest … and separately belonging to the persons whose votes were questioned, and not in common with the rest of Her Majesty's subjects, or on a matter or state policy.
A public Bill, whether introduced by the Government or by a private Member, is by definition a matter of state policy. So it is for this reason that, since Mr. Speaker Abbot gave his ruling in 1811, there has not been a single instance of a vote being disallowed by the House on a public Bill. Thus, for example, a farmer may vote on a Bill increasing agricultural subsidies and a company director or shareholder may vote on a Bill regulating the industry in which he has a financial interest. On the same principle, Members of the House may vote for a Bill to alter the incidence of taxation which has the effect of diminishing their personal tax liabilities. In each of these instances, although the financial interest is personal, the matter being voted on is one of public policy.

This question was also raised in relation to the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill 1974. On that occasion Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd ruled that a motion to disallow a Member's vote would be out of order.

I have been asked how this ruling is affected by the Lloyd's Bill in the last Parliament, when Members of the House who were members of Lloyd's were advised by the Chair to refrain from voting. The answer is that the Lloyd's Bill was not a public but a private Bill—that is to say, a Bill promoted by a corporation to regulate its own private interests.

The House Buyers Bill is introduced by a private Member. It is, nevertheless, a public Bill and as such a matter of public policy. I have no hesitation in saying that any Member of the House may vote for or against it, regardless of his financial interest. It is, of course, incumbent upon all Members to declare any financial interest in the usual way.