Lords reform is only option

GORDON Brown's assertion that there is a "strong case" for MPs not having second jobs missed the point as the Parliamentary lobbying scandal intensified.

Outside business interests were not to blame for the expenses scandal which has so eroded the public's trust in politicians per se. It was the financial greed of those MPs who abused their privileged position, and then tried to suppress the sums involved. Likewise, the former Labour ministers secretly filmed offering their Government connections and expertise for cash, including Sheffield's Richard Caborn, could be viewed as being little different to those successful business people who work as consultants at the end of their careers.

The central issue – which Mr Brown, predictably, chose to ignore – is whether former ministers should be awarded peerages so they can sit in the unelected House of Lords, claim a generous attendance allowance and exert their influence on behalf of outside organisations.

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However, two points need to be made. First, ex-Ministers should not have an automatic right – or expectation – of a seat in the Lords. In many instances, a life peerage has been allowed to become the ultimate reward for political failure.

Second, the Government would not find itself on the receiving end of such embarrassing allegations if it had abided by its 1997 manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords.

If peers were elected by the public, it would not only give the Upper House an air of democratic legitimacy, but it would also make it easier for its members to abide by certain covenants governing their conduct and outside interests. And, if Mr Brown contends that MPs should not have second jobs, in order to ensure transparency and probity, should not this principle equally apply to the Lords which, at present, retains the power to block government legislation if it so chooses?

In short, the lobbying scandal – just like last year's expenses crisis – is the consequence of the political elite looking after their own for too long, rather than accepting the need for change. The only way forward is for a moratorium on the awarding of peerages until the Lords has been belatedly reformed.