Editorial: Lobbying scandals must spur reform of the Lords

Reports of questions asked and introductions promised are wearyingly familiar

Share

It has been a difficult few days for those who still cling to a belief in the probity of Parliament.

Even before the full details of Patrick Mercer’s allegedly inappropriate lobbying activities in the House of Commons emerged, a second, separate newspaper sting operation revealed no fewer than three different Lords – Laird, Mackenzie and Cunningham – also apparently willing to hawk their influence for cash.

All those accused deny any wrongdoing. But the reports of parliamentary questions asked, of high-level introductions promised, and of large sums of money changing hands are wearyingly familiar, nonetheless. And they only add to the sense that the venality exposed by the Cash for Questions affair, the expenses scandal, and any number of newspaper exposés since remains rampant.

The need for sweeping changes in the rules on lobbying is clear. But the implications of the latest round of disclosures do not end there. They also put reform of the bloated and debased House of Lords firmly back on the agenda.

First, lobbying. There is ample justification for interested parties, commercial or political, to seek the ear of the powerful. Their perspectives may refine and improve government policy. What is wholly unacceptable, however, is that such lobbying should take place in secret, and – worse – it should be bought and sold.

In opposition, David Cameron warned righteously of the “far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”. In power, though, he has dragged his feet. There can be no more excuses. Only an outright ban on paid advocacy, a mandatory register of lobbyists, a statutory code of conduct, and a legal requirement for all meetings with lobbyists to be registered can excise the canker.

But even toughening up the rules and – finally – ensuring that they are enforced will not get to the root of the problems in the House of Lords. After all, the very composition of the chamber – with 90 hereditary members and the majority of the rest government appointees – is founded on the notion of patronage and cronyism. Taken together with the absence of any official salary and the impossibility of dismissal (of which Lord Archer is, perhaps, the stellar example), is it any wonder that the blandishments of lobbyists prove so attractive?

Nor is the Upper House a mere rubber stamp, a contributor to the national debate but little more. As the Labour peer Lord Alli makes clear in an interview in this newspaper today, were his counterparts to vote down the Government’s gay marriage legislation tomorrow – a very real possibility – it would leave the Prime Minister few options to revive the Bill despite its provisions being supported by both a majority of the public and of elected MPs. A “constitutional crisis”, indeed.

Such anomalies must be remedied, and fast. That even a sliver of power rests in the hands of the unelected is stain enough on our supposed democracy. That it is further sullied by the rot of peddled influence and contacts-for-hire only adds insult to the injury. Liberal Democrat-proposed reforms were wrecked by Tory opposition last year. It is now clearer than ever that we cannot wait another generation for them to be revived.

The latest revelations are, in the aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry, a welcome reminder of the value of an unfettered media. They should also be a stark lesson to the political class of how much ground must be made up if the anti-politics, protest votes being scooped up by Ukip are to be persuaded back to the mainstream. If public confidence in Parliament is to be restored, it is time for radical reform.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Lead

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading providers of w...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No wonder 1,000 women a year are getting abortions because of extreme morning sickness. When I was suffering, my doctor said it would 'cure' me

Jo Crosby
 

Election catch-up: It looks more and more as if we should get used to Prime Minister Miliband

John Rentoul
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
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