Lib Dems use Tory peer's AmEx dinners to push Lords reform

Lord Fink's offer of dinner in the House of Lords for American Express clients shows why change is needed, say Lib Dems

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:36 ON Tue 19 Jun 2012

THE REVELATIONS in today's Independent that Lord Fink, David Cameron's chief party fundraiser, nearly broke the House of Lords rules on lobbying may be regarded as small beer at the BBC (see below), but they have been seized on by senior Lib Dems as further evidence that the sleaze-bags in the Upper House need a stiff dose of Nick Clegg's reforming elixir - democracy.
 
Fink agreed to host a private dinner in the House of Lords for American Express cardholders, who were invited to pay $10,000 per head for a 'Wimbledon Championships' package.

The Indy reports it was advertised on the AmEx website as a "one-of-a kind opportunity to advance your lifestyle", the $9,391 (£6,000) package offered two full days of tennis, accommodation in the Dorchester, a drinks reception with John McEnroe – and the House of Lords dinner.

It could have added the bonus possibilty of an a capella performance by Cliff Richard in the event of rain on Centre Court.

Regardless of the fact that this is a ludicrous waste of cash by Am-Ex customers, it was in clear breach of the House of Lords rules banning the use of its banqueting facilities for commercial promotions by third parties or anyone else.

Lord Fink, a hedge fund multi-millionaire, said he had cancelled the booking after being made aware that it could break the rules. He said he had no financial interest in American Express and had received no benefit from the booking.
 
The BBC's chief political correspondent Ben Wright popped up on the BBC Today programme this morning to pronounce it was very low in the list of scandals at Westminster because Fink never actually booked the event.

Ben is usually pretty sharp and plugged in. He is the son of former Labour MP Tony Wright, who was a sleaze buster as chairman of the Commons select committee on Public Administration. His long-term girlfriend is Poppy Mitchell-Rose, special adviser to Chancellor George Osborne.
 
But on this one, the Mole fears Ben has missed the wider picture that is underlined by the Indy's diggers, in collaboration with the self-styled Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The Indy pointed out that Lord Fink is one of a number of senior peers who - when they are earning their £300-a-day allowance just for turning up (they don't have to speak) - have used their membership of the House of Lords to arrange events for private companies.
 
The Tories - as the Mole reported yesterday - are ready to man the barricades to stop the Lib Dems' reform bill to turn the upper chamber into an elected House of Lords. The Mole predicts as this fight gets more bitter, the way peers use their privilege as members of the Lords to support outside business interests will rise to the top of the political agenda for the Lib Dems.
 
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, was quoted in the Indy saying: "This is further evidence of the urgent need for radical reform of the House of Lords.

"It has become as much a House of Lobbyists as a House of Lords. Our upper chamber has become packed with unelected political appointees who get £300 a day just for turning up.

"In the light of yet more scandal in our discredited political system, it is high time we introduced a smidgen of democracy and accountability into the upper house."

Perhaps the Beeb might now sit up and take more notice of what is going on in the Lords under their noses. It's a smell that needs attention. ·