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In Regulation We Trust?

LONDON – From next year, on swearing allegiance to the Queen, all members of Britain’s House of Lords – and I am one of them – will be required to sign a written commitment to honesty and integrity. Unexceptionable principles, one might say. But, until recently, it was assumed that persons appointed to advise the sovereign were already of sufficient honesty and integrity to do so. They were assumed to be recruited from groups with internalized codes of honor.

No more. All peers must now publicly promise to be honest. Only one had the guts to stand up and say that he found the new procedure degrading.

The trigger for imposing this code of conduct was a scandal over MPs’ expenses, which rocked Britain’s political class for much of 2009.

It was a scandal with deep historical roots. Until 1910, British legislators were unpaid. Payments were then started, but kept below the professional level, on the ground that members of parliament ought to be willing to make some personal sacrifice in the service of their country.