Revealed: top peers hiding paid interests

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The Independent Online
DOZENS OF prominent peers hold directorships which they choose not to declare, the Independent has learned. The revelation has prompted new calls for tighter regulation of peers' interests. Some of the interests, though not all, are paid.

However, the peers could soon be forced to declare their business interests in the same way as MPs do under a review which will start in the autumn.

Several frontbenchers represent their parties on industries with which they have links, and some have made speeches or asked questions without mentioning them. Among them are Lord Brabazon of Tara, a Conservative transport spokesman who holds a number of positions with transport groups, and Lord Ezra, a Liberal Democrat energy spokesman who has links with the power industry.

Not one of these peers has broken the rules, though. Under a voluntary system of registration set up in 1995, decisions on what to declare are left largely up to them. Although they must declare Parliamentary consultancies and posts with lobbyists, the committee set up to deal with breaches did not receive a single formal complaint in its first two years.

Now a House of Lords committee is preparing to overhaul the Register of Members' interests, and Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life is to consider holding its own parallel inquiry.

The procedure committee will face calls for the House of Lords to be regulated in the same way as the Commons. MPs are required to register all their business interests and can be suspended from the House of Commons if they fail to do so.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and a member of the committee, proposed an identical system for the lords when the current rules were written three years ago but it was rejected. At the weekend he said that with wider reforms of the House of Lords on the agenda it was time to make the change.

"We should be required to register our interests whatever they might be. I see no difference between our legislative role and the influence we bring to bear and that of the Commons," he said.

A spokesman for the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life said the issue had been on the "back-burner" since 1995. However, the Lords' register of interests would be on its list of topics for possible future investigation when its current inquiry on political funding was completed this Autumn, he said.

"Clearly there are issues if people are speaking on something in which they have a clear interest," he said.

Lord Brabazon of Tara, a former Conservative transport minister, lists links with the Vehicle Security Installation Board, the British International Freight Association, the Natural Gas Vehicles Association and the Institute of the Motor Industry in the register but does not always mention them in speeches.

Lord Ezra, a former chairman of the National Coal Board who is the Liberal Democrats' energy spokesman, lists a number of power company directorships in the register but failed to mention them explicitly in one recent debate.

Others stepped outside their portfolios to comment on areas where they had financial links. Lord Moynihan, the former Conservative sport minister, now speaks on foreign affairs. He recently called for new rules to allow the setting up of offshore wind farms without mentioning his directorship of a firm which might bid to run such farms in the future.

One peer who chooses not to register any interests in the House of Lords register is Lord Parkinson, the Conservative Party Chairman. Companies House records show that he is a director of Odyssey Corporation, which sells mobile phones, and Planet Online Ltd, which provides Internet services. Most of the frontbench peers who have undeclared directorships are Conservatives or Liberal Democrats because ministers are covered by much stricter rules. Their code of conduct demands they resign all financial interests or place them in trust when taking their posts.

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