I am not going to comment on the allegations against the four Members named in the press as they have yet to state their defence but already immense damage has been done to the reputation of the House. So while we wait for further reform of the Lords (which in my view ought to be incremental) we must act to clarify the rules on lobbying.
The key for me is transparency. If everybody knows what you are doing for an organisation, how much you are being paid and what the organisation/s are then people including colleagues in the House will make their own judgements on the value of your comments and actions. I also advise those thinking of acting for an organisation to only do so if they have relevant knowledge and experience or a clear agreement or passion for what the organisation stands for or an interest in the subject area. For example I would be unlikely to take a lobbying position for the fashion industry not because it does anything wrong but because I have no great interest in it as my family will confirm!
I have asked the library of the House to prepare a short paper on what rules apply in other Parliaments. In my view it would be a mistake to have no lobbying at all. Good lobbying can be very helpful in achieving good legislation but the transparency rule is important.
Lobbying is hard to define in a precise way. Is a practising lawyer a lobbyist when they speak on the need to change legislation?The House of Lords would be a very odd place if we said that all the lawyers,doctors, businessmen etc had to give up their paid jobs because they were members of the House.
Lawyers have a particularly odd position in this respect. They are very adept in both the Lords and Commons at amending legislation which they then use in the courts. Would our legislation be better if that wasn’t allowed? I don’t think so but they don’t always state their interest as clearly as they should largely because they take it for granted. Should people who work for the NHS not amend NHS legislation? Again, I think that would be a mistake.
I hope the result of this sad affair will be an expectation of transparency and significant punishments including exclusion from the House where the rules are breached. In the meantime we need to think hard about what other rules we need.
Two final general points. Some comments on these posts query whether governments should be able to appoint ministers who are not members of the Commons and not currently members of the Lords. I think they should. All the significant government posts in the US are by appointment. Our system is different because the executive is drawn from the legislature but I don’t think that should mean you can’t have people brought in from outside. Variety is the spice of life!
I like the point made by my colleague Baroness Murphy in response to Lady Tizzy about slavery but even this has a complex side. The anti slavery group in Parliament supported the illegal activity of the Royal Navy in entering the harbours of other nations and burning the slave boats and intercepting slavers on the high seas – actions that were declared unlawful by a number of courts including the House of Lords. The RN got round this difficulty with an interesting example of spin (Yes, spin has been with us since Cleopatra set her lovers against each other!) they simply redefined slavers as pirates and carried on breaking the law – Alaistair Campbell eat your heart out!