Jay to back code of conduct for peers

Peers should be forced to declare their outside earnings in the same way as MPs do, the Leader of the House of Lords will say this week. Baroness Jay of Paddington will back the proposed change as a storm deepens over an inquiry into the subject by Lord Neill of Bladen's Committee on Standards in Public Life.

She will confirm that ministers want to see reform of the present system, under which peers are not forced to register interests but are told to act on their personal honour. MPs, meanwhile, have a strict code of conduct and can be disciplined if they keep secret their financial interests.

Lady Jay will be giving her public backing to Lord Neill, her spokeswoman said. Lord Neill has come under fire from some of his fellow peers even for looking into the issue. They say only the House of Lords can debate its own rules. Some of them also believe the present system is working well and should not be changed.

A cross-party alliance of peers will force a vote next week on the issue which, if they win, could make it difficult for Lord Neill to continue with his inquiry. Technically, he could ignore them and continue but such a strong signal would be hard to brush aside.

Lady Jay will make her statement in answer to a question in the House of Lords from Lord St John of Fawsley, who will ask what action she has taken in connection with Lord Neill's inquiry.

Lady Jay fully supported moves to make peers more accountable, her spokeswoman said. Although there were differences between the two Houses of Parliament, both peers and MPs should be treated in similar ways.

"If this is the second chamber, peers are parliamentarians in the same was that MPs are," her spokeswoman said. "The people who oppose this think the House of Lords is some kind of club where people can go and speak but not be really accountable to the outside world."

Her statement comes as Lord Neill's officials begin their inquiries into the registration of interests in the House of Lords. They are certain to find that many peers choose not to register financial interests under the existing, voluntary system.

While peers are more likely to have outside jobs than MPs, who are paid a salary, far fewer peers register such interests.

In the House of Commons, where payments must be declared, just 12 per cent of MPs say they have no relevant outside interests. In the House of Lords, 41 per cent list none.

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