Tories try to stop peers' register of outside interests

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Plans to introduce a compulsory register of interests and code of conduct for the House of Lords will be opposed by senior Conservative peers, Tories warned last night.

Plans to introduce a compulsory register of interests and code of conduct for the House of Lords will be opposed by senior Conservative peers, Tories warned last night.

As the Government's standards watchdog called for new transparency in the upper house, the Tories' most senior peer cautioned against creating a "second house of full-time paid politicians".

Lord Neill of Bladen's Committee on Standards in Public Life called for peers' interests to be registered and declared in debates but said new penalties for offenders would not be needed. An existing committee could deal with complaints, Lord Neill said, and the strongest sanction should be the "naming and shaming" of those who broke the rules. MPs can be suspended from the House of Commons if they fail to register a financial interest.

It was hoped the cautious approach of the committee's report would help to win over sceptical Tories, some of whom even disputed Lord Neill's right to examine the issue. But the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said: "We have always argued strongly that peers must declare all relevant interests in debate and that there should be mandatory registration of those who are professionally paid for parliamentary work or lobbying.

"Lord Neill makes clear that his inquiry was not prompted by a scandal and that there has been no investigation into the behaviour of any member."

In Lord Strathclyde's view the existing system, in which consultancies and lobbying posts must be registered but not other interests, is working well.

Lord Neill shared that view, but argued that members of smaller public bodies such as quangos had to make their interests public and said peers should do the same. "We think the House of Lords is an extremely important part of the legislature and we would expect to see standards similar to those in the House of Commons," he said. But he added there was no cause to fear "an outbreak of sleaze" in the upper house.

Lord Neill's proposals would require peers to register directorships, shareholdings and significant property holdings. This would allow the public to check, for example, whether a peer who opposed the right to roam was, in fact, a landowner.

Although many peers already choose to list their interests in a voluntary register, around 200 do not. Some of those who do register their interests still fail to mention them as required when they speak on a relevant topic. Instead of having a code of conduct, peers are simply required to act "on their personal honour".

Baroness Jay, Leader of the Lords, said: "I think this is a significant move. Obviously it is a report to the House, not to the Government, but I am quite pleased to see... that many of the suggestions I put forward have been proposed by Lord Neill."

It seemed likely a committee of the House of Lords would be asked to look at the report. Alternatively, peers could just be asked to debate the proposals and vote on them.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the Liberal Democrats' leader in the Lords, said yesterday's proposals would ensure greater transparency. "Although the fine detail remains to be debated, I am confident that Lord Neill's recommendations will be implemented," he said.

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