Monday, 7 April 2008

Lisbon, the Lords and their interests

As debate over the renamed EU Constitution Treaty and whether there should be a referendum moves on to the House of Lords, Helen Szamuely - writing on the excellent EUreferendum blog - draws on her own experience as a House of Lords researcher to highlight a concerning exception in the rules governing the registration of Lords' interests.

According to House of Lords rules, the test of a 'relevant interest' that should be registered is defined as: "whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties".

The test of relevance is further clarified as "not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case".

As well as formally registering their interests, Lords can also mention them in the chamber before intervening in a relevant debate.

As Helen writes, Lord Pearson of Rannoch has to mention that one of his children is disabled and his consequent involvement with charities and organizations that help disabled children every time he speaks in a debate that is somehow related to the subject.

And that whenever the
Countess of Mar stands up to speak on matters to do with agriculture and animal welfare she declares interests relating to the small farm she and her husband run.

However, there exists one bizarre exception to the declaration rules. Namely, recipients of extremely handsome pensions from the EU.

There are now a number of former EU Commissioners and MEPs sitting in the House of Lords who do not have to declare their financial interests when speaking in praise of the activities of the EU institutions that provide their pension income.

When the EU has the right to withdraw that pension, should any recipient make a statement that could be deemed to be against the interests of that organization, then it's quite within the boundaries of 'reasonable thought' that their behaviour could be influenced by such a situation.

So given this interest clearly passes the relevance test, will these Lords be required to declare these interests before they stand up to praise the EU and vote to block the referendum we were promised by all parties at the last general election?

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