Lords meet to debate cash for amendments

By Blaine Williams

The House of Lords met today to debate the cash for amendments affair with Lady Royall answering questions.

She confirmed that a thorough investigation into the allegations is being undertaken by the Lords committee for privileges.

Lady Royall said: “I take these allegations seriously and have asked the Lords committee for privileges to investigate the allegations. I will also personally meet with the four peers.

“The committee has met and a rigorous and swift inquiry is underway. The committee for privileges will asses the rules of the house and look into possible sanctions.”

She did reiterate the peers involved should not be publicly tried as no concrete evidence has yet surfaced, “these allegations are shocking but they are only allegations.

“They are damaging to parliament and politics as a whole and we have to uphold the high standards of this House to maintain trust.

She also agreed that tougher sanctions for peers are needed for now and future breeches of corruption laws. She added: “Tougher sanctions are necessary; I have written the committee to review these matters.”

Two of the accused made comments to the House.

Lord Snape stood up to tell peers: “As one of the people involved in this incident may I first of all apologise for bringing this House, if I have done so, into disrepute.

“But may I say that these are allegations in a Sunday newspaper and may I appeal to noble lords in all parts of the House to allow me the opportunity to refute these allegations before your lordships house and elsewhere.”

Lord Taylor protested his innocence but apologised for any harm he caused the House.

He said: “If I have done anything to bring this house into disrepute I humbly apologise. There is a committee looking into this and I will give evidence.

“I feel within my own conscience I followed the rules and the directions that have been given in this House over the 31 years I have been a member.”

Lady Royall said that a complete review of the code of conduct regarding the Lords was not part of the investigation but she would write to the committee telling them that this should be done.

She said: “I have not asked the committee to review code of conduct in its entirety but I think it will be taken up as it is what the House wishes to see.”

Tony Wright, chair of the Public Administration Committee (PAC), said: “What this shows once again is the need for an agreed framework for doing lobbying business with government and with legislators.

“This framework needs to be established in a considered way rather than just as a response to scandal or crisis.”

The four Lords at the centre of the affair cannot be expelled under the current laws, governing the House of Lords, even if they were sent to prison.

Peter Facey, director of Unlock Democracy, has called for the laws to be reformed, saying: “It is clearly unacceptable for members of the House of Lords caught breaking the laws to be able to retain their life peerage and not be subject to any kind of democratic oversight.

“The government’s recent white paper on Lords reform called for some kind of system of recall in mostly or fully elected second chamber, but also suggested that reform be delayed until after the general election. It is time for the government to stop dawdling about on this issue and introduce a clear timetable for reform.”

This sentiment has been echoed by opposition MPs.

Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, said: “If it turns out that something serious has taken place in the House of Lords, I’ve no doubt the Lords themselves will want to revisit their rules.”

Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said: “There are colleagues who still think that part of our charm and perhaps even part of our effectiveness is keeping us as this rather quaint institution with funny rules and funny dress. But we are the second chamber of the 21st century legislature and we really do need both the rules and regulations and the membership to do that.”

Norman Baker of the Liberal Democrats will approach Black Rod and the chairwoman of the Committee on Lords’ Interests, Baroness Prashar, to ask for a parliamentary inquiry.

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, described the allegations as “very grim” and said she would carry out her own investigation.

“Once we have seen clearly what the issues are, then we will see whether or not action is necessary,” she said.

“If it is true, it is a very grim picture, but we do have to look into the details very carefully…Clearly it looks very serious, but I am concerned that everybody’s side of the story should be heard.”

The police will be called on to investigate the Lords embroiled in the cash for amendments investigation in a letter from Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

Mr Huhne, who will send the letter later today, said: “The police should interview those peers who have been named and investigate whether they have used any parliamentary procedures – including questions or the tabling of amendments – to further the interests of their clients.”

The peers – Lord Truscott of St James, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, Lord Snape and Lord Moonie – were approached by undercover reporters from The Sunday Times posing as lobbyists, to make amendments to a Lords bill in return for money.

Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, the actions of the four involved would amount to corruption if the accusations against them are found to be true.

Angus MacNeil, SNP MP, has called for the suspension of the peers involved.

He said: “The sleaze allegations levelled at these Labour Lords are as serious as they can be.

“Until there has been a full independent investigation these peers should be suspended from the House of Lords with immediate effect.

“There should be no place in parliament for peers in the know and on the make.

“The House of Lords is unelected, unaccountable and now, with these revelations, it looks completely unsustainable.”

The Lords involved, if found guilty of the accusations made against them, will have to offer a public apology in the House of Lords.