Michael Onslow: We need old lags in the Lords

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The Independent Online

I'm a Conservative. I like anything that looks like an ox cart but pulls like a Ferrari, and I think the House of Lords is a perfect example. It is an institution with immense virtues. The majority of people there are there on their honour, and they behave honourably. That is why everybody is so upset about the allegations. It really hurts.

The Lords used to have no authority because it was full of too many people like me, who were there only by virtue of what their forebears did. I now sit in the Lords by virtue of the 1999 Act, which removed the automatic rights of hereditary peers. That gave the Lords a great deal more authority, and it has used this authority with restraint. The Government has accepted at least half of its amendments, so it has not gone against the elected chamber, it has gone against some of the details of what the elected chamber wanted to do.

There is no doubt the rules of the House will have to be changed. I don't want a rule that prevents people who have committed a criminal offence, like Jeffrey Archer, from returning to the Lords. The late Lord Kagan used to contribute very usefully to debates on prisons after he served time for theft. There is some argument for having a chamber where people stay in, even though, under more sensible rules, they would lose their job.

I don't want a compulsory retirement age either. Lord Renton, who died in 2007 when he was 98, was still making sensible contributions to the end. That gave a depth to it, and it does no harm. It would be different if the Lords were salaried but we are given a very generous allowance instead. But I'm afraid there is no argument now against having some rule under which we suspend people for breaking the rules of the House. You have to have a rule that you don't say to somebody "in return for money I'll bend the rules". That is having no moral compass whatsoever.

When we cannot trust people not to go back to the 18th-century way of behaving, when there was general corruption, we have to change our rules. But one has to be very careful indeed, to use a cliché, not to throw the baby out with the bath water. That is why I would like the privileges committee to deal with this matter by itself, without an Act of Parliament, and bring in the power to suspend somebody for so many days or so many months, but not to remove them permanently.

Michael Onslow, the 7th Earl of Onslow, is a hereditary Conservative peer

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