Corruption charges shake House of Lords

In a blow to the credibility of the House of Lords, four Labour peers have been accused of seeking changes to legislation in return for payment.

The legitimacy of the House of Lords relies on it serving its purpose with "unimpeachable integrity", says The Times. "That is why the allegations against four Labour peers, that they willingly sought changes to legislation in return for payment, are so serious." Reporters from The Sunday Times posing as lobbyists acting for a fictitious business claim that Lords Moonie, Snape, Taylor and Truscott were all ready to take cash ranging from £24,000 to £120,000 in exchange for help. Baroness Royall, leader of the House of Lords, immediately opened an investigation.

For now, allegations is all they are, says The Times. But if it turns out they're true, the four are clearly in the wrong. The Code of Conduct of the House of Lords has an "emphatic instruction" that its members "must not vote on any Bill or motion, or ask any question in the house or a committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit".

Whatever the result of any investigation, the House of Lords has suffered a "blow to its credibility", says Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail. For centuries, our second chamber enjoyed a reputation as the "ultimate bastion of public integrity". But in 1999, Blair removed most of the "despised" hereditary peers and appointed an "army of placemen and political stooges" who now comprise 357 of the current 732 members. A small minority were of "genuine merit", but in the main Blair used the Upper Chamber as a convenient way of raising money for his party. Indeed, of the seven men who gave more than £1m to Labour during Blair's decade in power, six were honoured.

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Not so fast, says The Independent. Many peers do good work and the Upper Chamber has proved its worth in recent years. Last year, for example, the House rejected the government's plans to detain domestic terror suspects for 42 days without trial.

Yet the power of the Lords is what makes it so vulnerable to corruption, says The Times. The government has only suffered four defeats since 1997 in the House of Commons. Over the same period it has lost 489 times in the Lords. And it takes an Act of Parliament to suspend or expel a peer.

There was something to be said for an upper chamber made up of toffs, says Ross Clark, also in The Times. Those "old buffoons" were paragons of decency compared with today's "mercenary toadies". "But better still, may this scandal hasten the day when the House of Lords becomes a fully elected chamber." Reform is clearly much-needed, agrees Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. The second chamber still operates on 19th-century lines; peers don't have offices, administrative back-up or even an annual salary and "unless they are paid, legislators will be all too susceptible to bribery".

But surely a daily allowance of up to £335.50 a day is hardly to be sniffed at, says Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph. And the issue here is one of character, not money. A peerage "used to be an honour granted to genuinely distinguished people who would bring expertise and duty to running a revising chamber". Blair changed all that, but the Honours Scrutiny Committee still has the power to stop the wrong people being appointed. If these allegations are true, it has "manifestly failed to use it properly".