'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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own