Time for change! House of Lords faces pressure to reform over peer business interests

Lord Leigh calls for expansion to House of Lords chamber

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Under UK Parliamentary policy, members of the upper Westminster chamber are supposed to declare details of private companies they run. Rules say that if a lord is a company director, they should “give a broad indication of the company’s business, where this is not self-evident from its name”.

A complaint has been made to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards by former Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, now director of Unlock Democracy, claiming the peers are flouting transparency rules by not declaring their business interests.

It comes after an investigation by OpenDemocracy last month found dozens of Lords may have flouted the rules by not declaring details of the private companies they run.

In his letter to the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Mr Brake, who served as Carshalton and Wallington MP from 1997 until 2019, said: “Our democracy will benefit when a clearer explanation of peers’ business interests is provided.

“This should already have been done.

“The Commissioner must promptly enforce the Code of Conduct to ensure everyone knows what type of business peers are engaged in and how this might influence their activities in Parliament.”

The 40 peers could face an investigation if the House of Lords Standards Commissioner upholds the Lib Dem politicians complaint.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said the findings made our Parliament “the laughing stock of the democratic world.”

Putting the case for reform of House of Lords, chief executive Darren Hughes said: “We’ve long known about the lack of accountability and transparency that plagues the House of Lords, and the fact that so many peers have failed to meet even the most lax of reporting rules raises serious questions about the extent and influence of outside interests in our second chamber.

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“We must call time on this publicly funded private members’ club and replace them with a fairly elected second chamber.

“A chamber where the public, not politicians, decide on who makes our laws.”

Mr Hughes concluded by saying the current peer system was now “indefensible”.

Other critics claim the upper house which has around 800 members has become bloated and expensive to fund with a daily allowance for members sitting at £323 per day, although this has been temporarily halved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed 52 new peers in 2020 which included former MEP Daniel Hannan, and Chair of Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign Jennifer Chapman.

A House of Lords spokesman said the Chamber was a “highly effective and busy Chamber, performing a vital role of improving legislation and holding the Government to account”.

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