Former Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black could lose his peerage as part of a major overhaul of parliamentary conduct rules proposed by justice secretary Jack Straw.
Straw confirmed this weekend that tighter regulations – allowing Lords to be kicked out of the upper house for serious misbehaviour – would be included in the forthcoming constitution renewal bill, in an attempt to restore public faith in parliament.
He refused to rule out making the changes retrospective, raising the prospect that they would cover peers embroiled in the recent Sunday Times cash-for-influence investigation – if allegations against them are proved.
Lords with criminal convictions who face ejection under the rules include Jeffrey Archer, who received a four-year prison sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice, and newspaper mogul Conrad Black, who in late 2007 was jailed for six-and-a-half years in the US for fraud.
Straw told Sky News: “In the House of Commons if you break the criminal law, or for example it is found that although you have not broken the criminal law, you have been doing something completely improper, then the House of Commons can in extremis expel you. And that must apply to the House of Lords.”
But Straw suggested that merely changing the rules to allow members of the Upper House to resign might be enough.
“If you had simply provision for peers to resign then I think quite a number of those who were previously convicted would have resigned and that those who face these allegations may, as often is the case in business, for example, have been placed in a position in due course where they had no alternative but honorably to resign,” he said.
Black began his six-and-a-half-year fraud sentence in a low-security north Florida jail in March 2008. He is appealing against the conviction.
In July 2007, a jury in Chicago found that he and other Hollinger International executives swindled shareholders out of £3m of their money.
The case reflected the US government’s efforts to crack down on corporate malpractice in recent years, following the Enron, Natwest Three, Tyco and WorldCom scandals.