What will the political fallout from the peers lobbying scandal be?

An intriguing report in today’s Sunday Times:

Peers who avoid tax or have criminal convictions – such as Lord Archer and Lord Black – are to be expelled from the House of Lords in the wake of the lords for hire scandal.

The reforms are being drawn up by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, in an attempt to restore the Lords’ battered reputation after last weekend’s revelations in The Sunday Times. He plans to enact the legislation necessary to expel them before the general election…

Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire Tory donor, has repeatedly refused to confirm his tax status, while Lord Laidlaw, the Conservatives’ biggest donor, lives in Monaco and is widely reported to be a tax exile.

Lord Paul, the steel magnate and billionaire Labour donor, and Baroness Gardner, the Australian Conservative peer, are both openly non-domiciled. Lord Foster, the architect who is a cross-bencher, lives in Switzerland. His staff refuse to answer questions about his tax status. ..

A private member’s bill on nondoms and nonresidents, drawn up by Matthew Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, and going through the Lords, is likely to be used as a template.

“Nondom and nonresident peers can hide their income in tropical tax havens: they must pay up or pack up. Meanwhile, peers convicted of fraud or perjury can stroll out of the prison gates after breakfast and into the division lobby after lunch. Tax-dodgers, bung-takers, fraudsters and perjurers must be cleared out of parliament now,” Oakeshott said.

Until this scandal, the chances of Matthew Oakeshott’s proposals becoming law looked slim. But if Labour co-opts them, then Labour and Liberal Democrat support would be sufficient to get them through both houses of Parliament.

Questions for David Cameron over Lord Ashcroft

It will leave the Conservatives, and David Cameron in particular, in a tricky situation. Until now Cameron has stayed decidedly quiet on the question of why Laidlaw and Ashcroft – and their money – are both still welcome in the Conservative Party, despite apparently having broken the promises they made when appointed to the House of Lords (on which see here regarding Lord Ashcroft and here regarding Lord Laidlaw, about whom the Lords Appointments Commission said it would not have approved his peerage if it had known that he would not honour his promise).

Cameron has faced little pressure over Laidlaw until now, and has tried to brush off Ashcroft’s tax status as not being a matter him – even though by accepting his money and letting him hold senior office in the Conservative Party, Cameron is in effect saying, ‘I don’t think it matters whether or not he got into the House of Lords on the basis of a promise which he then broke.’

Faced with legislation going through Parliament, he is going to have to come off the fence on the issue. Which way will David Cameron jump?

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