The allegations against Lord Sewel have generated significant media interest in the House of Lords. This has encompassed exploring the role and functions of the House. Much of the coverage reveals notable ignorance about the House and, in the case of Lord Sewel, the position he held. (I don’t think I have come across any media coverage that has clearly understood the role of the Chairman of Committees.) Greater knowledge is a good thing, but is overshadowed by the fact that it has brought out the usual brigade, not least on Twitter, who generalise from an N of 1 (‘tip of an iceberg’ and the like) and has led to various media making a link between the allegations and debate about reform of the House. But what link? The allegations relate to private conduct. As far as I am aware, there was no attempt to induce him to take a particular stance of some issue of public policy. He was not being offered financial inducements to pursue a particular cause. The allegations as to conduct (drugs, prostitutes) are remarkably similar to those levelled against junior minister and MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, Anthony Lambton, in 1973. No one on that occasion, as I recall, made any link between his conduct and calls for reform of the House of Commons.
There have been various calls for the House to take action. It now has powers it previously lacked. Thanks to the work of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, we have on the statute book the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 (enabling peers to resign) and House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 (giving the House the power to expel members and extending its power to suspend members). Whether the powers under the latter Act are utilised depends on whether there has been a breach of the code of conduct. The code is concerned primarily with actions taken as a parliamentarian, not as a private person, but behaviour as a private person engages the code if it involves breaking the law and results in a conviction and sentence.