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The Education Forum

Corruption in the House of Lords

John Simkin

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Yesterday it was revealed that a Sunday Times journalist posed as a lobbyist acting for Lou Li Jiang, a businessman in Hong Kong, who wanted to secure an exemption from the Business Rates Supplements Bill. They contacted ten members of the House of Lords. The three Conservative peers did not return his calls.

A Liberal Democrat and an Ulster Unionist both declined to help after meeting the undercover reporter. Lord Rogan replied that “it’s not right and my personal integrity would not let me do it.”

Four of the five Labour peers approached agreed to help the businessman in exchange for cash. Baron Truscott of St James (Peter Truscott was MEP for Hertfordshire between 1994 and 1999) told the reporter that his rates vary between £1,000 and £5,000 a day. He complained about the £330 a day he receives for attending House of Lords sessions. He therefore made extra money by helping clients to get legislation changed. He had been asked by a one client to intervene on the Energy Bill, a piece of legislation he had been responsible for as a minister only months earlier. He received £72,000 for that piece of work. However, he had to pay someone else to table the amendment so it could not be traced back to him. This is because the rules state that they “must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence.” Truscott boasted that members of the House of Lords find it far easier to amend legislation than in the House of Commons. Even if they get caught, unlike MPs, they cannot be sacked as they were appointed rather than elected. Truscott offered to talk to John Healey, the minister in charge of the legislation, in return for a consultancy fee.

The second Labour peer to agree to help the businessman in Hong Kong was Lord Taylor (Thomas Taylor served on Blackburn Council between 1954 and 1976 before being made a life peer in 1978). Taylor is a close friend of Jack Straw, the justice minister. Although a long-term member of the Labour Party, according to the Sunday Times, he worked as former education adviser to Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s and 1980s.

In October 2008, Lord Taylor had to make a public apology after he asked a question in the House of Lords without declaring its relevance to a paid client. Taylor is a paid consultant to seven businesses and has another four non-executive directorships. He said that some companies paid him £100,000 a year. He told the undercover reporter: “that’s cheap for what I do for them.” This included changing legislation on behalf of Experian, the credit-check company. He told the reporter he would charge £120,000 to get the Business Rates Supplements Bill amended. This would involve him arranging this with his friends, Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, and Yvette Cooper, the chief secretary to the Treasury.

Lord Moonie (Lewis Moonie was MP for Kirkcaldy for 18 years between 1987 and 2005), a former defence minister, also offered to help Lou Li Jiang for an annual fee of £30,000. In return he would contact John Healey and offered to identify people who could put down an amendment.

The fourth peer was Lord Snape. (Peter Snape was MP for West Bromwich East for 27 years between 1974 and 2001 ). He agreed to help and said the fee would be £24,000.

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