Peerage reform “cannot wait”

MPs have called for the prime minister to be stripped of his power to make appointments to the House of Lords.

A report published today by the Commons’ public administration select committee says the change “cannot wait” for forthcoming constitutional changes to the upper chamber.

It says the cash-for-honours scandal, which saw former prime minister Tony Blair questioned by police officers over the peerage of Lord Levy, has damaged public trust in the appointment process despite the fact no charges were laid.

“We want to rule out even the possibility that individuals could buy a seat in our parliament,” committee chairman Tony Wright said.

“We need to be sure that the people who sit in the House of Lords sit there on merit. The fact is that people do not trust parties to appoint their own members to the Lords on merit, and do not believe there is no connection between donations that are made and peerages that are received.

“The final judgment of whether someone is suitable must be made by a body that is clearly independent of the government and of political parties.”

The report is especially critical of the way in which political parties have used a loophole in party funding legislation to limit transparency.

It says the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 was mistaken to allow ‘commercial’ loans to remain secret without specifically defining what ‘commercial’ terms are and blames parties for stretching this loophole “as far as it would go”.

“Having designed the loophole, parties did not have to dive through it so assiduously,” the report says.

MPs are now demanding a new law on corruption in public life, a reform of party funding arrangements, “immediate changes” to Lords appointments and a strengthening of the Electoral Commission.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson David Heath said the report made clear the need for action both on Lords and party funding reform.

“The ball is very much in [justice secretary] Jack Straw’s court to quickly produce clear proposals,” he said.