Lord Sewel requests 'leave of absence' from the House of Lords as police launch drugs probe

He said he will take the leave of absence 'as soon as it can be arranged'

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Lord Sewel, the peer facing allegations he snorted cocaine with two prostitutes, has announced he is taking  a “leave of absence” from the House of Lords.

The news emerged as Scotland Yard announced it would be launching a criminal investigation into the allegations of drugs offences. No arrests have been made at this stage and police enquiries are ongoing.

Police officers from the Homicide and Major Crime Command today searched an address in central London, likely to be the peer's Dolphin Square flat.

On top of the police investigation, it emerged that his conduct is to be examined by the anti-sleaze watchdog in the Lords.

His decision means he cannot claim a daily allowance of up to £300 for attending the Upper Chamber and will only be able to return if he gives three months’ notice to the Lords authorities. However, his move stops short of resignation and leaves the door open to a possible return.

He told the Clerk of the Parliaments, David Beamish, in a message: “I wish to take leave of absence from the House as soon as it can be arranged.

“I also wish to make clear that in doing so I have no intention of returning to the House in any way until the current investigations have been completed, when in the light of their outcome I will review my long term position. I believe this is compatible with due process.”

The peer was caught on camera by The Sun, snorting what appeared to be cocaine and cavorting with prostitutes in an apartment in the exclusive Dolphin Square.

One image from the video, which was printed on The Sun's front page, shows Sewel smoking a cigarette whilst wearing one of the prostitutes' leather jacket and bra.

In the video, he was also recorded saying that Asian women "look innocent but, you know, they're whores", and added that at times his fellow peers can be "right thieves, rogues and b*******".

Since the release of the video on Sunday, he has been suspended from the Labour party. He had already stepped down as Lords deputy speaker and as chairman of its privileges and conduct committee.

Prime Minister David Cameron said "further questions" will need to be asked about the "very serious allegations", but stopped short of calling for Sewel's resignation.

The former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd said the peer should be "totally embarrassed and ashamed” and had brought the Lords into “some disrepute”. She also said she supported introducing a retirement age for peers.

The Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza said in a statement yesterday that she found Lord Sewel’s behaviour “shocking and unacceptable” and would refer the matter to Scotland Yard.

The police said they were aware of the article and would investigate any allegations made against him.

Lords of misrule: Peers who have strayed

It is only this month that the power to expel peers from the House of Lords permanently  came into force. As a result, its 783 members include several who have brought the institution into disrepute:

Lord Hanningfield, former Tory leader of Essex council, was jailed for nine months for false accounting and was temporarily banned from the Lords. He was banned again after going in to claim his attendance allowance and leaving 20 minutes later. That ban ended at the election.

Baroness Uddin, formerly a Labour peer, was suspended from the Lords for 18 months in 2010 and ordered to repay more than £125,000 in expenses after claiming she lived in Kent when her actual home was in east London.

The former Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick was jailed for a year for falsely claiming more than £11,200 after listing his nephew’s home in Oxford as his main residence when he really lived in London.  He was suspended from the Lords for 12 months.

The wealthy businessman Lord Paul repaid £38,000 after admitting he had never spent a night at the one-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage he listed as his main home. He was suspended from the Lords for four months after the privileges committee concluded he had not acted dishonestly or in bad faith.

Although never seen in the Upper House, the millionaire novelist Lord Archer is still formally a member. He was jailed for four years in 2001 after being found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice by lying on oath in a libel case 14 years earlier.