The House of Lords has defended a new crackdown on outside earnings which campaigners claim is open to abuse, saying that that they “match those in place in the House of Commons”.
The House of Lords signed off on the crackdown earlier this month to force peers to disclose how much they are paid and the source of the payment if it comes from a “a foreign state, an organisation that might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to be foreign state owned or controlled [or] an individual with official status in a foreign state and acting in that capacity”.
The reforms were brought in after MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee said in a report on Russia that it was “notable that a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state. These relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.”
However critics pointed out that the rules excluded lawyers who sit in the Lords and might have clients with links to foreign powers as well as offering opportunities for peers to challenge whether some payments need to be disclosed.
But in a robust defence, a spokesman for the House of Lords Conduct Committee said: “The new rules match those in place in the House of Commons in allowing some exemptions from naming the client where there is ‘a legal or established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality’.
“It would not be right to require Members providing medical or confidential legal advice, for example, to break the ethical standards of their professions.
“Members, including lawyers, will only be exempted from disclosure in such cases and to such extent as is strictly necessary to satisfy the requirements of professional confidentiality.”
The committee spokesman added: “The recent reforms respond to the fundamental issue raised in the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee report – that active Members could previously be employed by foreign governments and connected organisations and individuals without disclosing how much they are paid. That will no longer be the case. It is a major step forward in increasing transparency.”
A committee source added: “In the small number of instances where professional duty of confidentiality means Members do not have to declare the name of a client they will still have to declare type of client, nature of the employment and amount earned.”
Earlier this year The Sunday Telegraph disclosed how one peer – Lord Barker of Battle – was able to earn £6million from a company linked to an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin without fully declaring the sum to the Lords’ authorities.
Lord Barker declared his position as “independent non-executive director of EN+ Group” in his entry in the House of Lords register of members’ interests until Feb 2019 when he took a leave of absence.
The peer told The Sunday Telegraph in September that “only a very small proportion” of the £6million he was paid by EN+, which has links to Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, that year related to the first two months of 2019 when he was an active peer.
He also said that “none of my remuneration relates in any way to membership of the House of Lords”.