'Rent-a-peer' claims put Lords reform back on the agenda

As extent of Lords sleaze is revealed, the pressure mounts for constitutional change. By Brian Brady reports

A Labour peer has been paid more than £600,000 from a firm owned by a Russian oligarch, it was claimed last night.

Former policeman Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate was paid £616,000 by Inter TV between 2001 and 2006, according to a report in the News of the World.

The owner of the British-based company, Vladimir Gusinsky, fled Russia after falling out with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and being charged with fraud. He has denied the allegations, insisting they were politically motivated.

In the Register of Lords Interests, Lord Mackenzie states he is a consultant to the firm, but the company's accounts confirm that he is actually a director of Inter TV.

Under anti-sleaze rules, peers are obliged to declare any paid directorships.

The claims come amid continuing fallout from the "peers for hire" affair, sparked last week when a Sunday newspaper claimed four Labour peers told undercover reporters they were prepared to change legislation in return for money.

The Sunday Times reported last week that four Labour peers – Lord Moonie, Lord Truscott, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Snape – had discussed amending legislation in return for a fee, which would be in breach of parliamentary standards. Despite his recorded boasts to the contrary, few admitted to knowing the former Paul Truscott until they read the piece – and later saw the secretly filmed footage of him apparently explaining to a pair of undercover journalists how legislation could be influenced .

The story was a re-run of a Westminster sleaze story which has appalled and entertained the nation for almost two decades. Only this time there were twists: first, it was exclusively Labour politicians accused of having their snouts in the trough and, significantly, their alleged misbehaviour was connected to the august surroundings of the Lords. Perhaps this was why Britain's political leaders – even the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown – felt able to use such fearsome terms while laying into the apparent lapses in standards. While Mr Brown spoke of emergency sanctions, David Cameron described as "pretty chilling" a recording in which Lord Taylor of Blackburn is heard boasting to an undercover reporter that he can earn up to £100,000 from a company for his work as a fixer.

The Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Royall, swiftly announced the dual inquiries, conceding that the allegations have damaged Parliament and that its members must abide by the highest standards. The two Lords inquiries investigating an affair, dubbed "the vermin in ermine", are expected to push for strict new rules which would see colleagues thrown out of the Lords if they abuse their privileges. It is currently impossible even to suspend a peer from the Lords.

Alongside the Lords' own attempts at reform, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, is planning to use the affair to drive through changes in "key issues", including accountability and sanctions. A constitutional reform bill, to be unveiled before the summer, is seen as the most likely vehicle for the changes, senior Whitehall sources said last night. Mr Straw plans to discuss the changes with colleagues, including the Prime Minister, over the next few weeks, before embarking on more wide-ranging reforms after the next election.

Shock over the revelations was not confined to the force of the allegations themselves, but the realisation that, while MPs have been forced to clean up their act, the Lords has largely been left to its own devices. Not only is there a clear deficiency in the sanctions available to punish misbehaving peers, but there has also been a disturbing failure to monitor their business dealings. In the aftermath of the weekend's claims, it emerged that one in five peers is now undertaking consultancy work for outside clients. Although taking such positions is not outside the rules, the sheer number of contracts – and the amount of cash involved – raises the potential for abuse in a chamber that is becoming more important due to the sheer amount of legislation and the shortage of time to process it. Along with rumours of peers attempting to amend legislation for cash, there are now stories of Lords using parliamentary facilities to entertain business contacts.

Tory grandee Lord Strathclyde described the allegations as "deeply shocking", adding: "This House has been mired in a grim torrent of criticism about a culture of sleaze.... There are no grey areas in the paid advocacy rule. It could not be clearer."

What is not clear, however, is who his colleagues blamed for the affair. For the moment, many peers have chosen to close ranks around their colleagues while waiting for the next accusation – despite particularly embarrassing tapes of Lords Truscott and Taylor in conversation with undercover reporters. Lord Harris of Haringey, one of those targeted by the "sting" but who refused to respond to the questions, chose to rail against the "entrapment" and "deception" of the journalists involved.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests