As reform of the House of Lords is debated, more evidence of conflict of interests comes to light.
Last month the Health and Social Care Bill passed through the House of Lords to become enshrined in law, but only after a tortuous passage through parliament. One of the major criticisms of the Bill was how it opened up the NHS to the private sector. Many critics will be concerned to learn that new research reveals that 142 of the Lords that voted on the Bill have financial interests in companies involved in private healthcare.
Spurred by an investigation by the Daily Mirror last October, Social Investigations undertook a careful analysis of the Lords’ Register of Interests. With 789 active peers in the House of Lords the research revealed that almost a fifth of those voting on the Health Bill had a potential conflict of interest. The research was published on Ceasefire magazine’s website,
Peers from every party were found to have private healthcare connections. According to Social Investigations’ research, one in four Conservative peers had links, compared to one in six Labour and one in 10 Liberal Democrats.
The nature of the connections vary. For some peers the link is clear, they have shares in healthcare companies set to benefit from the Bill. Others are less obvious, such as peers with connections to investment groups funding the private companies, such as private equity groups that may benefit from NHS reforms.
Lord Popat, a Conservative peer and party donor, for example, founded TLC Group, a company which provides services for the elderly.
Another company that could benefit from the Bill is healthcare communications agency ScopeMedical, headed by Lord Chadlington, a Tory peer. On acquiring the agency through his PR company Huntsworth plc, Chadlington is reported to have announced, ‘Healthcare is a major growth area and we are now very well positioned to take advantage of that growth.’
Conflict of interest
The Lords’ Register of Interests is updated regularly and exists to chart any potential conflict of interests. The Lords’ code of conduct also states that peers must ‘declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers or public servants, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion.’
However, there is no procedure to stop Lords with conflicted interests from voting on bills. And there is no suggestion that any of the Lords who voted for the Bill did anything wrong.
Social Investigations contacted the 142 peers by email to challenge them on their apparent conflict of interests in voting on a bill from which they could personally benefit. Only one peer replied, but failed to address the issue.
The Bill has only recently passed into law and only time will tell if the companies and organisations linked to the peers do benefit from reforms to the NHS. Of course, by that point the horse will have bolted the stable a long time ago.
Questioning the system
While Social Investigations’ research starts as a critique of conflicts on the Health and Social Bill, it soon becomes apparent that this is indicative of a wider issue: questioning the very set-up of the House of Lords voting system.
Andrew Robertson, author of the piece, displays a certain incredulity at the current set-up. ‘Why do so many companies ask Lords to sit on their boards, become chairman and advisers if it isn’t to access the highest levels of government and acquire an exclusive benefit?’ he writes.
This is unabashed campaign journalism, the article finishes with a link to a petition calling for reform, but, no matter the writer’s opinion the facts can speak for themselves.
This investigation is a prime example of how important it is that journalists take the time, and painstaking work, to hold governmental systems up to the light, and expose potential weak points in their structure. While it is too late for the Health Bill, perhaps Social Investigations’ work will inform debates on the House of Lords reforms.
Read the Social Investigations’ article here.
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