No pressure was exerted by the Prime Minister or Downing Street when it came to recommending Lord Lebedev for a peerage, according to a Lords watchdog.
Lord Bew, chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac), told MPs the assessment for the media mogul, whose father was a former KGB agent, was a “unique” process that involved security checks.
But he said the committee approved the peerage without interference from Boris Johnson.
Questions have been raised over whether the Prime Minister asked anyone in the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev, who owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, ahead of his appointment in November 2020.
MPs voted last month to approve a Labour motion to force ministers to release documents about Johnson’s involvement in Baron Lebedev of Siberia being appointed to the upper chamber.
Crossbencher Lord Bew told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (Pacac) on Wednesday: “There was no pressure on this issue from No 10 or the Prime Minister.”
Lord Bew, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said there was a back-and-forth with security services and a search for clarification, but stressed there was no warning or delay issued about Lord Lebedev.
“Block, I think, fits under the heading of warning: No,” he said, when asked whether Holac had looked to hold up the peerage.
He added: “You can say that we… eventually received advice (from security agencies) and we required further elucidation and this went on for some weeks, you can definitely say that.
“Does that constitute a pause? I suppose.”
He hinted that the watchdog had notified Johnson that Lord Lebedev’s appointment could stoke controversy.
“We did tell the Prime Minister, as we said in the letter to Sir Keir (Starmer, Labour leader), that we do say about candidates, there are things in this person’s career that will lead to negative public comments – we say that quite frequently,” he told MPs.
Asked if such a comment was made in relation to Lord Lebedev’s case, Lord Bew replied: “The fact that we mentioned this point in the letter to Sir Keir when he had inquired to us about this incident, (that) may be something that a reasonable person might comment on and think about.”
Russian-born businessman Lord Lebedev has insisted he has “nothing to hide” amid the appointment row.
The independent crossbench peer has previously acknowledged his father, oligarch Alexander Lebedev, was a KGB officer “a long time ago”, but denied being “a security risk to this country”.
Labour has called on Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay to release all relevant information provided to Holac by the Cabinet Office or the Prime Minister’s office by no later than April 28.
Lord Bew, during almost two hours of evidence, told MPs that Holac does not know what documents are likely to have to be released but added that while he feared for the loss of confidentiality in any publication, he was confident the committee’s process had been above reproach.