A House of Lords watchdog has ordered that two peers be suspended from the upper house for long periods for taking thousands of pounds to promote companies, in breach of parliamentary rules.
In two reports published on Friday, the House of Lords Conduct Committee recommended a suspension of nine months for the Earl of Shrewsbury, a former Conservative, now non-affiliated, hereditary peer, and six months for the Labour-appointed peer Mary Goudie.
In what the committee called a “lucrative relationship”, SpectrumX, a healthcare firm, paid Shrewsbury £57,000 over two years to lobby ministers and officials. His proposed punishment would be the most severe sanction imposed on a peer found to have broken the rules by being paid to lobby.
The committee said his misconduct was “extremely serious” and damaged the reputation of the House of Lords.
The ruling follows reports in the Guardian that revealed the peer tabled parliamentary questions to elicit information from the government on issues connected to SpectrumX, and that he may have misled the watchdog conducting the investigation into him.
Leaked documents show the peer boasted of having “very considerable” potential to open doors for SpectrumX through what he called “my extremely high-level contacts”. He described one of his contacts as being “at the very top of the feed chain”.
In its report the committee outlined how Shrewsbury signed a written agreement in 2020 to promote SpectrumX, which was seeking regulatory approval for Covid-19 products.
The agreement lasted until early this year. During that time he directly approached officials and ministers, including the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, “in an effort to promote the company’s products”.
In his defence, the peer – whose full name is Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot – claimed he never sought to “influence policy” and that it “never occurred” to him that he might be breaking the rules.
“But ignorance is no excuse, and Lord Shrewsbury’s breaches of the code were in some respects more serious than those in any previous case,” ruled the committee.
It approved the conclusions of an investigation conducted by Akbar Khan, one of two House of Lords standards commissioners. Khan said the long suspension was merited because Shrewsbury had been a “senior member of the Lords since 1981 and in fact served as a government whip for at least part of the period of his retainer with SpectrumX. He ought to have been modelling the provisions of the code given the prominent role that he held in the house”. Khan dismissed one allegation – that Shrewsbury had used parliamentary proceedings to specifically promote SpectrumX.
Since October, he has been sitting as a non-affiliated peer. He has a place in the unelected chamber because one of his ancestors was given the title of the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1442.
Khan found the peer’s “recollection of events was not always entirely consistent with the written evidence in the form of emails and letters, but I do not think he attempted to deliberately mislead me in my investigation”.
The committee’s report echoes the Whitehall lobbying watchdog’s finding in September that Shrewsbury carried out unregistered consultant lobbying.
In the committee’s second report published on Friday, Lady Goudie, a life peer appointed by Blair in 1998, was found to have provided advice to the firm ecoLegacy on how to lobby parliamentarians and government officials. The firm, which sought regulatory approval for its “eco-friendly cremation alternative”, paid Goudie €20,000 for 10 months’ consultancy work from June 2016 to April 2017.
An investigation by Martin Jelley, another Lords commissioner for standards, found Goudie produced strategic advice for ecoLegacy on which parliamentarians and government to approach; that she had sought information on cremation and pollution from the House of Lords library; and that she had demonstrated a willingness to facilitate the use of committee rooms to hold meetings with parliamentarians.
Documents seen by the commissioner from ecoLegacy suggest Goudie was offering assistance in drafting correspondence to civil servants in the Cabinet Office or Ministry of Justice. Goudie told the commissioner the letter was never actually sent.
She described the recommended six-month suspension as “manifestly excessive and grossly disproportionate” in her appeal, which the committee dismissed.
A Labour Lords spokesperson said: “The chief whip has informed Baroness Goudie that she is suspended from the Labour whip. Further discussions will take place on her return to the house.”
The House of Lords will vote in the new year on whether to approve the proposed punishments for the pair.