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The House of Lords

No Representation Without Donation

Apologists for the House of Lords suffered a further setback in 2010 as a result of revelations that some legislators-for-life had been keen to accept payments in return for influencing legislation. This has undermined the apologists’ claim that the undemocratic chamber is justified by the high-minded independence of the unelected legislators.

The scandal caused the Financial Times to reiterate its call for what it called "the truly revolutionary route: an elected chamber, where alleged misconduct can be tackled by voters". This was the serious conclusion to a mocking editorial comment headed "Doffed cap and trade", proposing that seats in the feudal chamber be openly sold to the highest bidder. The newspaper described this as "no representation without donation".

The scandal developed after a sting by the Sunday Times in which 4 legislators-for-life told an undercover journalist that they could use their privileged place in the legislature to have laws changed to suit business interests. The four Labour Party supporters, Thomas Taylor, Peter Snape, Lewis Moonie and Peter Truscott were said to have asked for as much as £120,000 for their services. The parliamentary code of conducts forbids this.

Of 743 legislators-for-life, 140 act as consultants to outside interests. Conservative Peta Buscombe, who is chief executive of the Advertising Association, used her seat in the legislature to mount what a fellow legislator described as "vociferous" opposition to a law to regulate TV advertising of unhealthy food for children. Her association admits that her job is "to influence government and regulators at the most senior levels." According to MP Nigel Griffiths, the promoter of the law, Ms. Buscombe "effectively sabotaged (the) legislation".

Another legislator, Jean Coussins, was able to use her seat in the House of Lords, according to the Financial Times, "to water down proposed laws on making alcohol carry health warnings". Ms. Coussins advises food and drink companies on corporate responsibility. She worked previously for a drinks industry organisation that promotes responsible drinking and spoke in favour of more flexible opening hours for pubs.

According to the Financial Times two-thirds of the conservative party front bench legislators in the House of Lords have paid jobs "some of which present a potential conflict of interest with their parliamentary roles". Shadow business minister David Hunt chairs Beachcroft Regulatory Consulting which offers "expert support for clients seeking . . . to influence the development of regulation". According to the conservative leader in the House of Lords, Thomas Galbraith, his colleagues "are wise enough and able enough" to deal with such conflicts of interest without outside interference.

It has also been reported that legislators have give more than 40 passes to the legislative chamber to employees of lobbying, public relations and trade organisations. This is not in breach of any rules.

Even if any of the four legislators who started the row are found to have acted corruptly they will keep their seats in the legislature indefinitely. Some politicians have called for the law to be changed to allow corrupt legislators to be suspended or removed from office. The Metropolitan Police is considering whether to investigate the allegations.

Legislators-for-life are not required to represent anyone but themselves or the party they chose to support. Last year they blocked a law that would have removed their privileges by requiring that legislators be elected by the people.

The Financial Times noted that the House of Lords "plays an important role in the creation of legislation. It is potentially vulnerable to more horse-trading than the Commons because there is no overall majority. In the past 10 years there been more than 400 Labour defeats in the Lords, compared with a handful in the Commons".

pointerThe story so far

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