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UK Politics

Nick Clegg aims to clear Lords of lazy peers and 'crooks'

After three years of delay, the Coalition is promising a statutory register of lobbyists

Dishonest and lazy members of the House of Lords face expulsion from Parliament, Nick Clegg has signalled as allegations of improper lobbying continued to reverberate around Westminster.

The issuing of Commons passes by all-party parliamentary groups was suspended amid fears they were being used as a mechanism for lobbyists to gain access to Westminster.

More than 80 passes already in circulation are also being urgently reviewed to ensure their holders comply with parliamentary rules.

After more than three years of delay, the Coalition is promising to press ahead with moves to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, although divisions have opened between the Tories and Liberal Democrats over proposals to curb the activities of trade unions during general elections as part of the scheme.

The moves come after two peers were suspended the Labour whip and an Ulster Unionist peer resigned his party's whip over allegations they were prepared to lobby in return for payment. The MP Patrick Mercer has quit the Tory whip over similar allegations. All four deny any wrongdoing.

Mr Clegg disclosed he was prepared to consider new legislation to remove “crooks” from the Lords, as well as peers with a poor attendance record.

At the moment there is no power to expel a peer convicted of a crime, no matter how serious his or her offence. The Deputy Prime Minister said he was also willing to consider making it easier for peers to retire voluntarily.

He told MPs he had no plans to introduce a Bill to reform the Lords after he had to concede defeat last year over proposals to turn it into an elected chamber.

But he added: “Where there are minor, technical housekeeping changes which might be deemed necessary in the House of Lords, kicking out crooks or people who don't attend or extending the voluntary retirement scheme, where that needs legislative backing of course we'll look to incorporate that in wider bills that we're going to advance.”

The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, moved to tackle accusations that all-party groups were being used as a route to promote business and special interests.

The Independent disclosed this week that large companies were sponsoring such groups to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mr Bercow put a bar on them issuing parliamentary passes to new staff and announced that 83 passes already in circulation would be reviewed.

He added that MPs who had sponsored passes for such groups had to confirm they have been “properly requested and allocated”.

An analysis by The Independent suggests that more than 50 of those passes had been issued to staff working for public affairs companies, charities and special interest groups.

Mr Mercer is alleged to have agreed to establish an all-party group on Fiji after being contacted by undercover reporters posing as lobbyists seeking to get the Pacific nation's suspension from the Commonwealth lifted.

Mr Bercow said: “I have long felt the operation of all-party parliamentary groups needed to be improved to meet the high expectations of transparency and accountability required in public life. Recent events have heightened my concern and underlined the need for urgent and effective action.”