Three caught in sting apparently agreed to work for cash

Labour suspends peers over lobbying allegations

AFP-JIJI, AP

Three British peers on Sunday denied allegations that they had agreed to carry out parliamentary work for payment.

Journalists from The Sunday Times approached Ulster Unionist Lord John Laird and Labour Lords Brian Mackenzie and Jack Cunningham pretending to be working for a solar energy company.

The reporters used a hidden camera to film the men apparently offering to help the fake company in Parliament in return for money.

Labour suspended their two peers, and Laird resigned the party whip — a measure that distances him from the party while a probe is undertaken.

The British Broadcasting Corp.’s “Panorama” program, in partnership with The Daily Telegraph, conducted another undercover investigation in which Laird was also filmed offering to ask parliamentary questions in return for payment.

Laird is alleged to have told reporters posing as representatives promoting businesses in Fiji that he would be prepared to accept a retainer of £2,000 ($3,000) a month.

“I’ll deny having said this, but it’s a bribe,” he was recorded as saying.

The code of conduct for the upper chamber stipulates that members “must not seek to profit from membership of the House (of Lords) by accepting or agreeing to accept payment for providing parliamentary advice or services.”

Laird later told the BBC he had been the victim of a journalistic “scam.”

“I did not agree to act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the House, nor did I accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services,” Laird said.

Cunningham, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair, was recorded saying he would be prepared to accept £12,000 ($18,000) a month for writing to Prime Minister David Cameron to push the fake company’s agenda and to ask parliamentary questions.

He denied claims of wrongdoing, saying he made the offer in an attempt to confirm his suspicions the lobbyists were in fact journalists.

“I deny any agreement to operate in breach of the House of Lords code of conduct and, in fact, recall that I made it clear that I would only operate within the rules,” he added.

Mackenzie, a former police chief, was filmed offering to arrange parties within Parliament grounds for paying clients.

Mackenzie insisted on Sunday that he had “not broken any of the rules” and said he would not have followed through with his offer.

“In the event, when I went back to my office I checked the codes of conduct and I decided that it was getting a bit near the mark and I decided to decline the offer,” he explained.

The allegations surfaced the day after “Panorama” released footage of Conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer appearing to offer a House of Commons security pass to fake lobbyists.

He had resigned as the Tory whip the day before the revelations were aired.

Mercer says he quit the Conservatives “to save my party embarrassment.” He has said that he was taking legal advice about the allegations.

While an investigation is carried out, Mercer will be an independent member of Parliament — but not a party member.