A Tory Party spokesman confirmed last night that Lord Cranborne would oppose any attempt to end the present arrangement under which the House of Lords are allowed to sign their register of members' interests voluntarily. "Any Lord who speaks has to give notice of any interest they have. We see no cause for any change," said the spokesman.
The demands to make signing the register of members' interests compulsory for peers - like MPs - were stepped up yesterday after the disclosure in The Independent that several senior peers including Lord Parkinson have not declared all their interests in the voluntary register. The register was established in 1995 in the midst of a row over the way that peers are allowed to change legislation without declaring their private interests.
The heavy lobbying in the Lords surrounding a Tory Government bill to impose new charges on waste disposal firms was exposed in a documentary by the Channel Four programme, Dispatches, as an example of alleged abuses.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth declared an interest but still tabled 56 amendments to the Environment Bill aimed at reducing the controls on waste disposal. Although he broke no rules in the Lords, Lord Lucas did not disclose that he was paid an annual retainer of pounds 5,000 by the Association of Waste Disposal Contractors. As an MP, he would have been barred from tabling amendments to initiate debates in the Commons.
Lord Wade of Chorlton, a Tory peer, failed to declare his interest as chairman of Politics International, a lobbying company which has the Energy from Waste Association as a client. Lord Wade was paid pounds 17,000 by Politics International, although he resigned the position that year.
Lord Mcintosh, a past member of the Griffiths committee, which oversees the members' interest register in the Lords, and Labour's former deputy leader in the Lords, said at the time that widespread payments were eating away at the credibility of the Upper House.
"The rules at present are so vague that unless you almost hand over an envelope with used pound notes you are not actually doing anything wrong,'' he said.
Baroness Jay, the new Leader of the Lords, was abroad and unavailable for comment last night, but it is expected that the Government will want to see the Lords cleared from suspicion of sleaze as part of the reforms it is planning in the next session.
The opposition by the Tories could intensify the row over the role of the Lords, and the clash between the two sides over the Government's plans for scrapping the right of hereditary peers to speak and vote in the Upper House.
Those who favour keeping the voluntary register say many peers with special interests would be restrained from using their expertise, under the same rules as the Commons.