Archer will lose right to sit in the Lords

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The Independent Online

The Government has said it will change the law to prevent Jeffrey Archer from taking his seat in the House of Lords after he is released from prison.

Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons, suggested yesterday that a ban on peers sitting in the Lords after being convicted of a serious offence would be included in the second stage of the Government's House of Lords reform.

However, Mr Cook ruled out an immediate special Bill to bring the Lords into line with the Commons. "If you ask me, am I going to bring 'Lord Archer – The Bill' to the House of Commons, the answer is 'no'," he told BBC Television's Breakfast with Frost programme. "The only person who would be flattered by that would be Lord Archer's great ego."

He added: "But we will, some time while he is in prison, be bringing forward reform of the House of Lords and part of that reform should make sure that people disqualified from the Commons are also disqualified from the Lords."

Mr Cook's comments stop short of an unequivocal pledge to stop Archer returning to Parliament. Although a Bill on Lords reform was promised in the Queen's Speech in June, ministers intend to introduce it during the later stages of the current parliamentary session. A protracted battle is expected over the make-up of the second chamber and so the measure may not become law for two years.

If he loses his appeal, Archer is expected to serve two years of his four-year sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice. However, ministers believe he would not try to return to his Lords seat if the Government had already published plans to bar peers convicted of serious offences, even if the measure was still going through Parliament.

Yesterday the two contenders for the Tory leadership backed the growing demands by MPs from all parties for Archer to be stripped of his right to sit in Parliament.

Iain Duncan Smith said there was "an anomaly" between the rules for peers and MPs. "I think it is important that if you are convicted of a criminal offence you shouldn't be a legislator," he said.

Kenneth Clarke said: "If this conviction stands, he has now got, quite rightly, to serve his time in prison and ought to leave the House of Lords."

Meanwhile John Major's involvement in Archer's controversial fund-raising for Kurds in northern Iraq is coming under scrutiny. Mr Major, who was prime minister at the time, gave £10m of government money to the appeal despite, it is claimed, warnings from senior civil servants.

Archer declared at a press conference that he had raised £57m through the Simple Truth appeal, named after a song written for the fund-raising project by Chris de Burgh. Mr Major recommended Archer for his peerage on the strength of his work in the appeal.

Massive amounts of the charity money never reached the Kurds. The figures for the missing money ranging from £12m upwards. Ministers are now demanding to know why Mr Major paid such a large sum of public money to the Archer-run appeal.

Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, said: "I have made inquiries and this story looks very murky. It was at a political level that the decision was made that the Government should contribute and there is no clear record of where the money was spent.'' Whitehall sources have stated that they were against aid to the Kurds being sent through Archer's unofficial channels.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, a former Conservative vice-chairman and now a Liberal Democrat MEP, has said she is prepared to make a formal complaint to Scotland Yard's fraud squad about Archer's role in the affair.

Lady Nicholson, long involved in fund-raising for Iraqi Kurds, said she will also be writing to the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee to demand an inquiry. Kurds had told her that as little as £250,000 reached them in Iraq. But when she tried to raise the matter with Tory ministers she claims she was blocked. "Archer was the protégé of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major,'' she said. "Clare Short saying there is no clear record of how the money was spent is very significant.''

Mary Archer, who gave evidence for her husband at the Old Bailey and also, more successfully, at his victorious 1987 libel trial, is said to be touting her story for sale at £250,000. Aides acting for the Archer family have approached newspapers with a deal which would have included photos from inside the church of the memorial service on Saturday for Archer's mother, Lola.

It has also been alleged, by Archer's unauthorised biographer, Michael Crick, that Lady Archer is being paid £1m a year in book royalties by her husband for standing by him during his trials.