Lord Strathclyde: The House of Lords is clean and decent but must act against Labour sleaze
The allegations of Labour peers discussing what fees they might charge for promoting changes in legislation are shocking. The rules of the Lords are explicit. Peers “must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence”. And they “must not vote on any bill or motion, or ask any question…or promote any matter in return for payment or any other material benefit.”
How on earth could experienced former MPs and Ministers, like Lord Taylor and Lord Truscott, boast they had changed the law for fee-paying clients? I find the idea incredible. Would anyone really demand such eye-watering fees to whet their appetite to use behind the scenes influence to ‘bend’ the rules? It is vital we establish the facts.
The House of Lords is proud of its high reputation for integrity. Like any other body over the decades it has had those who have let the House and public down. But day in day out peers, who are unpaid except for expenses and without the army of research assistants and secretaries that throng the corridors of the Commons, work hard to improve draft bills and safeguard the public from bad law.
In the midst of this crisis, and it is a crisis, of confidence, we should not forget that, had it not been for the Lords under Tony Blair, jury trial would have been restricted, habeas corpus suspended for up to 90 days, a holiday abroad made illegal unless you agreed to register with Labour’s electronic ID surveillance system, massive ‘supercasinos’ built to ‘spread wealth’ in poverty-stricken areas and, incredibly, sex made legal in every public lavatory. The Lords stopped each of those things and many other nonsenses – and we should be grateful.
What needs to happen now?
- We should not put the whole House of Lords on trial. This is a scandal about individual behaviour, the worst of it allegedly touching cronies of senior members of the government. Lady Royall, the Leader of the House, was right to take swift action to probe Labour sleaze. Any other party who finds its members (in either House) facing similar allegations must do the same.
- We must accept that the old principles of the Lords that were scrapped by Tony Blair in 1999, such as the idea that every peer must act on his or her honour, are sadly no longer enough. They are still important, as in all walks of life, but we need sanctions to back them. I have called for the voluntary Leave of Absence scheme to be developed to allow enforced suspension and long-term exclusion. That would be the swiftest way to act, but we are ready to look at legal routes, too.
- David Cameron and I have set up a Task Force, led by John MacGregor, to look into ways of strengthening the House’s Code of Conduct and enforcing it; of cracking down on lobbying; of blocking any paid advocacy, direct or indirect; and tightening sanctions.
- People in both House have consultancies and jobs outside Parliament – this brings expertise and knowledge to Parliament, but it must not be used to personal advantage in law-making. We need to preserve that expertise, but the Task Force will look if the rules need clarifying to prevent abuse.
This has been a sad week for the Lords. I am dismayed for the vast majority of good, hard-working peers of all parties who work for the public interest, and the public interest only. They feel disgraced; they should not have to. I am angered for those outside who have looked to the Lords as a beacon of commonsense – and now feel let down.
I say to them that the heart of the House is clean and decent and unselfish. We will now sweep out the practices revealed in these allegations and those who say they see no wrong in them. Then the whole House can return to its proper role of selfless service to the public. To be a peer is the highest honour under the Crown and to hold it imposes the greatest duty. No member of the House must ever forget it.