Neill report to target financial interests of peers

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Peers should be subject to tough new rules forcing them to register all their financial interests, the Government's standards watchdog will announce this week.

Peers should be subject to tough new rules forcing them to register all their financial interests, the Government's standards watchdog will announce this week.

But Lord Neill of Bladen's Committee on Standards in Public Life is expected to stop short of calling for new penalties for peers who offend. Instead, they will be named in the House under existing rules that have rarely been used.

A full-time investigator similar to the Commons standards commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin, should not be needed in the Upper House, sources close to Lord Neill suggested last night.

Instead, an existing standards committee - including three law lords - would be expected to investigate any complaints.

Lord Neill's report, to be published on Thursday, will steer a careful course in trying to avoid further controversy over the issue.

Some peers have argued that his committee did not even have the right to discuss standards in the House of Lords. Others were vehemently opposed to suggestions that the Lords should become more like the Commons, with strict rules on conduct.

But while Lord Neill has apparently dismissed calls for a system exactly mirroring that of the Commons, he is expected to insist on tighter rules for peers. The Lords' voluntary register of interests should be replaced with one similar to the MPs' version, his report is expected to say.

The register should require detailed information on directorships, shareholdings and other sources of income.

In addition, a new code of conduct will spell out how peers ought to behave, the committee is expected to recommend.

Instead of the existing code, which says merely that members should "act always on their personal honour", they should be told that accepting payment to influence legislation is bribery and breaks the law of Parliament.

Lord Neill's committee is believed to have argued strongly that the House of Lords should not be treated any differently from any other public body.

Many members of the House of Lords sit on quangos which are all bound by codes of conduct and compulsory registers of interest.

Strict Upper House protocol demands that peers make any decision on the rules themselves rather than having it imposed on them.

However, Lord Neill's report will be highly influential and the Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay of Paddington, has made clear that she is sympathetic to the idea of a compulsory register and code of conduct.

Baroness Jay is likely to set up a special committee to look into the issue and make further proposals before they are putto the vote as a resolution ofthe house.

Lord Neill's inquiry into the House of Lords has been long delayed. His predecessor, Lord Nolan, intended to include the Upper House in his first inquiry in 1994, but it was left out because a peers' committee was in the process of setting up a voluntary register of interests.

The report will be Lord Neill's last, as he retires at the end of this year. His successor has not yet been appointed.

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