I’ve already made my views known about the tactics employed by The Sunday Times in pursuing their House of Lords story. They did deceive: they purported to be from a fictitious public affairs company with a fictitious website and they said they were acting for a fictitious client. They did try to entrap by coaxing those they saw to offer to do things that clearly should not be done.
But is the story itself in the public interest? Well the answer has to be “Yes”. It should not be possible for commercial (or any other) interests covertly to purchase changes to legislation. As Leader of the House, Jan Royall, said this morning:
“the standards, probity and conduct of members of the House of Lords must be of the highest level”.
She has pledged that the investigations into the actions of individuals must be searching and fair. This is right – all those named must have a full opportunity to defend themselves against the accusations against them. It would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of those investigations.
She has also initiated a full review by the Privileges Committee (not a Labour-dominated body incidentally – it has sixteen members: four Labour, five Conservative, two LibDems and five Cross-benchers) of the House’s rules governing external interests. Again she made clear her position this morning:
“In the review of the rules of the House in this area – including the place of consultancy work, and whether we should have much more forceful sanctions against peers found to be in breach of the rules – I believe we do need to make changes. The House is a more modern and professional place in a very different world: we need to make sure our rules and structures reflect that.”
The outcome of this review will, I hope, be much clearer rules and guidelines as to what members of the House can and cannot do (with appropriate – and significant – sanctions available against anyone who goes outside those rules).
If that is the consequence of The Sunday Times story, then that result is in the public interest.
If it also helps bring about a proper debate about the role of the Second Chamber and the purpose people want it to fulfil in our system of government within our unwritten constitution, then that too is unequivocally something to be welcomed.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like the journalistic tactics to which I personally was subjected …….