4 June 2013
From a Westminster perspective trouble will be seen to be coming in threes.
The exposure by the BBC and the Telegraph last week of improper lobbying by an MP was immediately followed by the Daily Mail uncovering two Labour peers and an Ulster Unionist peer accepting offers of money in exchange for parliamentary services from undercover journalists posing as lobbyists. The peers were filmed separately and the sound recordings suggest breaches of lobbying rules. It seems too early in the year to be thinking of gifts, carols and “lords a leaping”. All deny acting improperly.
The peers have resigned their party whips to avoid embarrassing their respective parties. But the implications for the members of the House of Lords are much less than for members in the Commons. An MP may avoid an immediate by election but of course can only stay beyond the next election if reelected. By contrast, peers have a “job for life”. As illustrated by Lord Archer, a peer remains entitled to sit in the Lords regardless of police charges, court proceedings, criminal convictions, and a sentence of imprisonment.
Proposals from time to time to modernize entitlements for peers have never had sufficient traction and cross party support to be enacted.
The Deputy Prime Minister wrote in the Telegraph yesterday that “… the allegations of sleaze were … indicative of a wider problem. .. Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. Our political system has long been crying out for head-to-toe reform…”
The Liberal-Democrat Party is wanting legislation empowering electorates to recall misbehaving MPs as well as a statutory register of lobbyists. If MPs were to be recalled the party could decide whether to withdraw endorsement, forcing them to fight a by election without party support, if they wish to retain their seat.
Nick Clegg as the party’s parliamentary leader fears that the power of recall could lead to “kangaroo courts” which would be “corrosive for our democracy”. It is unlikely that the majority of MPs would agree anyhow to the proposed change anyhow.