Peers to disclose legal fees paid by foreign governments following security concerns

·3 min read
House of Lords - REX
House of Lords - REX

Peers have been told to disclose legal fees paid by foreign governments after security concerns were raised, putting pressure on MPs to do the same.

The reforms – which also cover if their clients are companies controlled by foreign powers – go further than the disclosure requirements on MPs in the House of Commons.

Last December the rules were changed to force peers to disclose how much they are paid and the source of the payment if it comes from "a foreign state” or an organisation which is controlled by another country.

However, critics at the time pointed out that this rule excluded lawyers who sit in the Lords and might have clients with links to foreign powers.

Now in fresh tightening of the rules, the House of Lords Conduct Committee has decided that there should be no exemptions to the rule after all.

A statement said: “The Committee has concluded that the public interest in transparency in this area, which has been raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament among other bodies, trumps any duty of confidentiality.

“It is therefore proposed that no exemptions to the transparency requirements should be permitted.

"In contrast the rules in the Commons state that MPs who have second jobs as lawyers are required to disclose the names of their clients “unless this would be contrary to any legal or established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality”.

In practice this means that confidentiality trumps any requirement to disclose the names of MPs’ clients.

The House of Lords moved to act after the Intelligence and Security Committee said in its Russia report that it was "notable that a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state.

“These relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them."

The Committee added that it recognised the sensitivity of some legal proceedings and so recommended that lawyers should be required to disclose the identity of clients only once the relationship has entered the public domain or they have been paid (wholly or in part) for the work, whichever comes first.

The change is expected to be debated by peers after the Easter recess. Peers will be able to vote down the changes if they want.

Last year The Telegraph disclosed how one peer – Lord Barker of Battle – was able to earn £6million from a company linked to an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin without declaring the sum to the Lords' authorities.

Lord Barker declared his position as "independent non-executive director of EN+ Group" in his entry in the House of Lords register of members' interests until February 2019 when he took a leave of absence.

The peer said that "only a very small proportion" of the £6million he was paid by EN+, which has links to Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, that year related to the first two months of 2019 when he was an active peer.

He also said that "none of my remuneration relates in any way to membership of the House of Lords".

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