Revealed: 139 peers act as paid consultants

Brown steps into row over peers accused of accepting cash to change legislation
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Peers are being paid to advise more than 200 companies, public bodies and pressure groups, research by The Independent has discovered.

The disclosure of the massive number of consultancy arrangements will intensify pressure for tighter controls on the House of Lords in the wake of the "cash-for-amendments" storm.

An investigation was launched yesterday into accusations four Labour peers offered to alter legislation in return for fees of up to £120,000 a year.

Gordon Brown said the charges – which the men deny – were "very serious". Labour's leader in the Lords said the allegations were deeply damaging to "Parliament and politics itself".

The peers – Lord Taylor of Blackburn, Lord Truscott of St James, Lord Moonie and Lord Snape – told undercover reporters from The Sunday Times that they would consider helping to secure amendments to a government Bill on behalf of a business client.

Peers must record all business links in the Register of Members' Interests, including "non-parliamentary consultancies". Lord Taylor lists Experian, the credit check company, as one of his consultancies. According to The Sunday Times, he claimed to have changed legislation to benefit the firm.

Last night, it also emerged that Lord Moonie had faced questioning over his links to Robin Ashby, a high-profile lobbyist for the defence industry. Lord Moonie gave Mr Ashby a parliamentary pass giving him access to MPs and ministers, which neither of the men declared. The Independent has discovered that 139 peers have accumulated 252 consultancy deals, most of which pay a salary. Peers are not required to register their value.

The former Tory cabinet minister Lord Howell of Guildford has six consultancies, including to the Central Japan Railway Company, to Mitsubishi Electric Europe and to the Kuwait Investment Authority. Lord Browne of Madingley, a crossbencher, also has six consultancies, including advising the Deutsche Bank Advisory Board for Climate Change and Sustainable Forest Management.

Lord Powell of Bayswater, the former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher, lists three consultancies, to the defence giant BAE Systems, the private equity company Bowmark and to Eastern Star Publications. There is no suggestion these peers are guilty of any wrongdoing or undue influence.

The lobbying group Transparency International last night demanded a shake-up of the Lords Register of Interests. Its chairman, John Drysdale, said: "There needs to be a robust system of checks and audits."

Last night, The Sunday Times released a recording of a conversation between reporters and Lord Taylor. He can be heard telling them: "You've got to whet my appetite to get me on board." Lord Taylor says some companies he works for pay him £100,000 a year, describing the sum as "cheap for what I do for them".

In an emergency debate in the Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said an investigation had begun and promised it would be "swift and vigorous". She also announced an inquiry into whether peers who break the rules should face tougher penalties. At the moment they can only be "named and shamed" in the chamber.

Lady Royall said: "The allegations are indeed shocking but they are at this moment allegations. This is damaging, not just to the House but to Parliament and to politics as well." The Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said the accusations were "deeply shocking and depressing". He said: "This House has been mired in a grim torrent of criticism about a culture of sleaze."

Lord Taylor and Lord Snape said they did not accept the accusations but wanted to apologise if they had brought the Lords into disrepute. Lord Taylor said: "I feel, within my own conscience, I have followed the rules... given in this House over the 31 years I have been a Member."

Lord Snape appealed for the "opportunity to refute those allegations before [the Lords] and elsewhere".

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