Upper house

Lord Speaker urges tougher scrutiny amid concerns over Evgeny Lebedev | House of Lords

The Speaker of the House of Lords has urged ministers to toughen the system for vetting and appointing new peers after concerns about the suitability of recent candidates such as Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev.

While Speaker Lord McFall has no power to limit peers’ access to parliament, his strong comment came in response to an SNP demand for the Russian-born peer’s parliamentary pass to be revoked .

Ministers defended his nomination by his close friend Boris Johnson in 2020 after the The Sunday Times reported that the security services originally had concerns about Lebedev, whose father was a KGB agent, as early as 2013.

In a letter to McFall, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said reported security service concerns meant Lebedev’s pass would have to be rescinded.

McFall does not have this power. But in a statement responding to the letter, he called on ministers to consider strengthening the powers of the House of Lords Nominations Committee (Holac), which vets candidates. Johnson reportedly pushed forward with the nomination despite Holac’s concerns about Lebedev.

There was, McFall said, “a case for reviewing the appointments process, including a more robust vetting system and potentially stronger powers for Holac, ensuring new appointees are able to make a contribution. valid for the important work of the house.

“I urge the government to look into this, building on the work of those who have already gathered plenty of evidence on this and proposed sensible reforms. I am always open to a dialogue with the government on these issues.

“A review of the appointments system is, however, only one part of what needs to be a broader package of reform of the House of Lords, including reducing the size of the house and increasing the diversity of its membership, which which allows us to reach all parts of the UK.

Since his appointment, Lebedev has spoken only once to the Lords. After a report noted last month, he tabled two parliamentary questions.

Johnson has been accused of brushing off security concerns over Lebedev, with whom he has a close relationship, by attending parties at his Italian chateau, including when he was foreign minister.

In his letter to McFall, Blackford said that given the reported security concerns: “Lord Lebedev is clearly not a fit and proper person to act as a legislator or lobbyist in this democracy. He should therefore not be able to maintain privileged access to the parliamentary domain”.

Asked about Lebedev on Sunday, Michael Gove, the communities secretary, seemed to suggest that reopening the peerage issue would play into Vladimir Putin’s favor.

“I think one of the things that Vladimir Putin would like us to do is to have an approach in the UK that says anyone of Russian ancestry was somehow persona non grata,” he said. -he declares.

Lebedev insisted that he does not represent a security risk and that he condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although the Lord Speaker has limited powers over his peers, those in this role can and do voice concerns about the wider functioning of the upper house.

In 2019, McFall’s predecessor as Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said the Lords should reduce the number of “passengers” who contributed little to his business. He also wanted to reduce the chamber to a planned cap of 600. There are currently about 800 members.