Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Sunday, 1 February 2009

More peers face sleaze probe call

House of Lords in session
Peers' business dealings are under the microscope

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a police probe into sleaze allegations against four more members of the Lords.

Newspaper reports on Lord O'Neill, Lord Berkeley, Baroness Valentine and Baroness Coussins suggest they may have broken laws, the party claims.

All four deny any wrongdoing and say they declared their interests properly.

It comes as Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he was considering fast-tracking laws to expel peers who commit serious misdemeanours.

Currently the heaviest punishment peers who break the law, or the rules of the House, face is being ordered to apologise.

Mr Straw said he wanted to push through tougher sanctions before the next general election.

The move follows the row over claims in the Sunday Times four Labour peers were prepared to accept money to change legislation. They all deny any wrongdoing.

'Conflict of interest'

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said he was writing to the police to ask them to investigate the activities of four further peers named in the Sunday Times.

The way in which the House of Lords has been brought into disrepute by allegations of cash for amendments makes an elected chamber urgent
Chris Huhne, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman

Labour peer Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan, the paid president of the Specialist Engineering Contractors' Group, tabled amendments to a bill on the construction industry. He later withdrew them to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest.

Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who reportedly earns about 40,000 a year as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, tried to amend bills on Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in the interest of the freight industry. He insists he was acting independently and correctly declared his interests.

Crossbencher Baroness Valentine, chief executive of business group London First, reportedly tabled amendments to a planning bill, trying to make changes for which her own organisation had campaigned.

She has stressed she was acting in the best interests of London and had declared her interest.

Baroness Coussins, another crossbencher, who advises the food and drink industry on corporate responsibility, is said to have tried reduce the impact of a bill on alcohol health warnings. She said she had declared her interests.

Mr Huhne said: "These extra four peers appear to be in the same category where, if press allegations are correct, they respectively tabled amendments serving the interests of organisations paying them such as the Specialist Engineering Contractors' Group, Rail Freight Group, London First and a US drinks company."

He also called for the House of Lords to be fully elected from the next general election - which will take place in May 2010 at the latest.

"The way in which the House of Lords has been brought into disrepute by allegations of cash for amendments makes an elected chamber urgent. Voters must be able to hold lawmakers to account," Mr Huhne said.

"With a light parliamentary agenda this year, we should legislate now and elect the Lords for the first time at the general election."

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