A hereditary peer who allegedly lobbied the health secretary on behalf of a company marketing Covid-19 sanitiser products, whilst being paid a £3,000 monthly retainer by the firm, should be suspended from the House of Lords, a watchdog has said.
The Lords Conduct Committee has recommended that the Earl of Shrewsbury be handed a nine-month suspension for his actions and – separately – that Labour’s Baroness Goudie be suspended for six months for allegedly breaching conduct rules by using her position as a peer to help a firm paying her thousands of euros.
The Earl of Shrewsbury, who was affiliated with the Conservatives until October, was found to have approached ministers – including then-health secretary Matt Hancock – and other officials on behalf of healthcare firm SpectrumX.
He worked as a consultant for the firm for 19 months between 2020 and 2022, during which period he was paid around £57,000 in total and also worked as a government whip, the report said.
At the time, the firm was seeking regulatory approval for numerous products, including hand sanitisers, and a walk-in disinfectant tunnel known as the SpectriPOD which the Earl sought to promote, according to the watchdog.
The earl had argued that his work for the firm was “openly commercial dealing” and claimed that he viewed his approaches to ministers in the same light as approaching “potential customers” with “substantial stakes in reopening” premises post-lockdown, according to the report.
He declared his interest as an adviser to SpectrumX and never sought to “influence policy”, argued the earl, who entered the House of Lords in 1980. The peer claimed that it “never occurred” to him that his activities might be in breach of the Lords’ code of conduct.
But standards commissioner Akbar Khan accused him of an “egregious” breach of the code despite the committee suggesting that the earl “did not act with deliberate dishonesty”.
Mr Khan and the conduct committee both recommended a nine-month suspension which, if voted for by peers next month, would be the most severe lobbying punishment ever imposed upon a member of the chamber.
In his investigation, the commissioner found that the peer had broken the code “by providing parliamentary advice and services in return for payment”, and warned that such breaches “understandably cause great reputational harm by eroding public trust in politicians and in democratic institutions”.
The earl, whose full name is Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot, referred himself to the standards commissioners after allegations about his conduct were reported by the Sunday Times in June.
Separately on Friday, the committee reported that Baroness Goudie had breached rules prohibiting peers from seeking profit from their peerage in return for providing parliamentary advice or services – a charge she refutes.
Standards commissioner Martin Jelley found she advised the eco-friendly cremation firm ecoLegacy on which parliamentarians to approach, and registered her interests too late.
She also broke the rules by offering to reserve a committee room for ecoLegacy to engage with politicians, and by commissioning research by the Lords Library into cremation and air pollution, the commissioner found.
The committee said that Lady Goudie was paid a total of €20,000 over 10 months after entering into a consultancy agreement with the company in 2016.
The peer argued that the investigation had been unfair, in part because it came six years after the event and because the judgement was based partly on old emails she argued had been largely sent to her rather than by her.
But the conduct committee echoed the commissioner’s recommendation that she be suspended from the Lords for six months – rejecting her appeal that the proposed sanction was “manifestly excessive and grossly disproportionate”.
Baroness Goudie, who was made a life peer in 1998, said: “Six-and-a-half years after the alleged events, I was accused by a former colleague of ‘paid advocacy’ and a late declaration of my interests.
“I totally refute the first allegation on which the commissioner made no finding and sincerely apologise for my late declaration in 2016, before which time I had used the Lords Library on one occasion to check facts relevant to my interests.”
A Labour Lords spokesperson told The Guardian: “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.”