Boris Johnson defends putting multi-million pound Tory donors into House of Lords

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Watch: Boris Johnson defends putting multi-million pound Tory donors into House of Lords

Boris Johnson has defended the practice of major Conservative donors being given seats in the House of Lords, saying as long as trade unions funded other parties, the system would have to continue.

In an exchange while giving evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee — the group of select committee chairs — on Wednesday, the prime minister said those who had been given peers had done "acts of great public service".

The comments come amid the so-called 'cash for honours' row, which has most recently seen SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart write to the Met Police to lodge a complaint over accusations the Tory party handed out peerages to donors who gave more than £3m to the party.

He asked the force to launch an investigation into Johnson as well as previous Tory prime ministers and Conservative party officials.

The Met has since said it does not have sufficient grounds to launch a probe.

Asked by SNP MP Angus MacNeil whether such practices should end, Johnson was unrepentant about the current set-up, and compared the practice to trade unions providing substantial financial backing for the Labour Party.

The exchange went as follows:

MacNeil: It’s seen as a very corrupt practice. Should the practice end?

Johnson: The answer to that is these are, by and large… they contribute a huge amount to public life..

MacNeil [interrupting]: £3m!

Johnson: Until you get rid of the system by which the trades union barons fund other parties, we have to… we have to go ahead.

Or until you have a completely taxpayer-funded system in politics, we need to continue with a system by which public-spirited people give donations

McNeil: … and find themselves in the House of Lords. This is selling peerages.

Johnson: The people you are talking about have done, I think, acts of great public service for a long time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving evidence to the Liaison Committee at the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday November 17, 2021. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson made his comments while giving evidence to the Liaison Committee. (Getty)

Wishart's complaint to the Met Police came after a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Open Democracy revealed peers had been appointed after offering more than £3 million to the Tory party.

In a letter to Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, he said he wished to highlight "potential criminal misconduct regarding the procurement of honours and membership of the House of Lords".

He wrote: "In total, 22 of the Conservative Party’s biggest financial contributors have been made members of the House of Lords in the past 11 years.

"Together they have donated some £54 million to the Tories. I believe that it is only right to investigate whether these donations were, in fact, rewarded with honours."

Speaking in the Commons, he said the accusations represented "cash for honours 2.0" and said the "price to get into the House of Lords has gone up from £1m from New Labour to £3m from the Conservatives".

But the force said it will not pursue an investigation, saying officers had concluded there were "not sufficient grounds" to launch one, after being urged to do so by senior SNP MPs.

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