Ministers in Lords told to declare all interests

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS in the House of Lords are to be told this week to declare all their outside interests for the first time as part of a government attempt to prove its commitment to transparency.

Baroness Jay, the Leader of the Lords, has decided to tighten the "anti- sleaze" rules for ministers in the Upper Chamber and will instruct them to publish details of all gifts, hospitality or other financial benefits they have received.

The new guidelines, which will be set out when the latest Register of Peers' Interests is published, follow a series of high-profile controversies over the outside interests of Lords ministers.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the science minister who owns a genetic modification patent, and Lord Simon of Highbury, a DTI minister and the former head of British Petroleum, have both faced calls for their resignation over their financial activities outside Parliament.

These ministers, both multi-millionaires, have failed to head off criticism, despite putting all their shares into blind trusts.

Lady Jay believes that the best way to tackle controversy over the appointment of the so-called "Tony's cronies" as ministers is for all members of the Government in the Lords to be as open as possible about their financial connections.

"Her view is that ministers should declare anything and everything that could be seen to affect their judgement," a Cabinet Office source said. "The Government has got to be seen to be transparent."

The Lords leader has written to the Clerk of the Parliaments asking him to amend the preface to the Register of Peers' Interests to make it clear that peers may file additional information.

They will be able to write to the Registrar declaring extra details and the letters will be held and made available to members of the public on request.

Although ministers have been specifically instructed to declare as much as possible, Labour backbenchers will also be encouraged to be more open when the new advice comes into effect.

The move follows concern that the Lords has failed to keep up with the Commons in tackling the perception that Parliament is dominated by sleaze.

The rules in the House of Lords are more relaxed than in the Commons and peers are required to register only paid consultancies and lobbying jobs which could affect speeches they make or questions they ask in Parliament.

There is a third voluntary category in which peers may declare other outside interests if they wish but at the moment this does not apply to ministers. Few Lords register anything other than the required minimum although, as they are not paid politicians, almost all of them have a wide range of outside interests.

Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life has raised questions about the discrepancy between the two chambers and expressed its intention to draw up new rules for peers when it has time.