How permissive are the rules on lobbying for Lords? I reported one to the authorities. They agreed that there was a prima facie case, but eventually judged his behaviour to be within the present rules. This suggests that the rules are unreasonably slack and need reform.
Lord Blencathra has recently been cleared by the Lords commissioner for standards of breaching any conduct rules. This is despite holding the post of director of the Cayman islands UK whilst also being able to vote on legislature that directly affects the territory.
In the past year, Lord Blencathra has:
* Lobbied the Chancellor George Osborne to reduce the burden of air passenger transport taxes on the Caymans.
* Facilitated an all-expenses-paid trip to the Caymans for three senior MPs with an interest in the islands over the Easter recess, including the chairman of the influential Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.
* Followed an Early Day Motion in the Commons calling for the Caymans to be closed down as a tax haven by trying to introduce the MP responsible, the former Treasury Select Committee member John Cryer, to members of a Cayman Islands delegation in London. (The meeting never took place.)
This behaviour would be unacceptable in the Commons where It is considered ‘inconsistent with the dignity of the House’ for an MP to ‘advocate or initiate any cause or matter on behalf of any outside body or individual in consideration of any remuneration, fee, payment, or reward or benefit in kind, direct or indirect’.
However in the House of Lords the rules are far more complex and are open to wide interpretation.
The guide to the code of conduct states that a person who is paid by an organisation can give parliamentary advice to it providing the payment ‘is not substantially due to membership of the House, but is by reason of personal expertise or experience gained substantially outside Parliament; and that the member was, or would have been, appointed to the position without being a Member of the House.’
The commissioner found a prima facie case for a breach of this, before concluding that the peer met the overall criteria and had not acted in breach of the code.
‘On the basis of his own reported explanation, it seems that that Lord Blencathra was appointed on the basis of his expertise and/or experience gained whilst a Member of Parliament,’ he said. ’However, his membership of the House of Lords was not a prerequisite for appointment.’
He added: ‘There is no evidence before me to suggest that Lord Blencathra has provided parliamentary advice in return for payment.’
Though the peer had approached MPs and clearly attempted to lobby the chancellor, these overtures did not breach the code either, the commissioner concluded
Lord Blencathra or David Maclean (as he then was) is the former Tory Chief Whip who led an unsuccessful rearguard action to prevent the Freedom of Information Act from being applied to MPs.
If he had pulled it off, the expenses scandal would never have come to light – which is why his expenses were subjected to special scrutiny. They included £3,300 for a quad bike that he used to get around his large rural constituency, Penrith and The Border.
The Commissioner’s findings bring to light an aspect of the Guide to the Code of Conduct which may need clarifying. Paragraph 21 bans “influencing Parliament” in return for payment or other incentive or reward. It goes on to provide examples of what is prohibited, including “making use of [a member’s] position to arrange meetings with a view to any person lobbying Members of either House, ministers or officials.” It does not say in terms whether or not members may themselves lobby ministers or officials in return for payment or other incentive or reward.