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Lords a-lobbying

It’s good to see that, in these difficult times, one industry in Britain is still thriving: political sleaze. Firms may be cutting back on hospitality and executive jets, but there’s no shortage of funds to buy members of the House of Lords. We’ve had cash for honours, now it is cash for laws.

The going rate for an amendment to a bill is around £120,000 according to a Sunday Times investigation. Lord Taylor of Blackburn says that £100,000 is “cheap” for his services in promoting business interests in the Upper House. No recession mentality there.

And isn’t it inspiring to learn that 13 Scottish Labour Peers are in the vanguard of this thriving industry. Like Lord Moonie of Bennochy, the former defence minister, who sells advice and expertise to the arms industry. Lord Moonie has also launched his own fiscal stimulus by claiming £170,839 in expenses since he became a Lord in 2005 – £500 a day, when he’s there. Forget the Obama plan – stand by for a consumer boom in Scotland as Lord Moonie and his chums spend their way out of recession.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, the veteran former minister, is being paid £36,000 for opening parliamentary doors for Eversheds, a legal firm which specialises in securing big construction deals. This on top of some £64,000 in Lords expenses. The former Development Secretary gets a £1,000 a day from Eversheds for making “introductions” in parliament And who could possibly object to that? Well, the Scottish Parliament perhaps which does not allow consultancy and where Lord Foulkes is an MSP. But in the House of Lords anything goes – just as long as it called ‘advice’. Rent-a-Peers have been giving out passes to lobbyists from energy companies, banks, advertising firms and basically anyone who can put up the money.

It’s time for the moaning minnies and the doom mongers to pipe down and stand up for the great British institution of parliamentary payola. No one does it better than us. We have an entire parliamentary institution dedicated to peddling influence: the House of Lords. A fine body of unelected men and women whose sole function appears to be to auction their services to the highest bidder. No parliament in the world has anything like it. A legislature with rules so light of touch that when Lords are found with their fingers in the till, there is nothing whatever that anyone can do about it. They can’t be expelled or suspended. They can’t even be voted out by the electorate. Perfect. Britain has built post-modern irony into its very system of government.

We should celebrate this noble institution of “Lords for Hire” by setting up a metering system – an ermined cab-rank outside the Houses of Parliament where commercial interests can hire noble Lords by the hour. Then no one would be in any doubt about what the real business of the Upper House is.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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