`Cash-for-questions row`: 2 UK peers suspended, 1 resigns
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Last Updated: Sunday, June 02, 2013, 23:43
  
London: Britain's cash-for-questions row on Sunday got murkier as it claimed the scalp of three peers who have been accused of agreeing to carry out Parliamentary work for money offered by undercover reporters.

Labour party suspended Lord Jack Cunningham, the former Cabinet minister, and Lord Brian Mackenzie of Framwellgate, the former police chief.

Lord John Laird resigned the Ulster Unionist whip and has also referred himself to the House of Lords sleaze watchdog.

Undercover 'Sunday Times' reporters, posing as a South Korean solar energy company, secretly filmed Lord Cunningham, Lord Mackenzie and Lord Laird as they revealed their readiness to wield their influence in the halls of power to paying clients, escalating what is being referred to as a cash-for-questions row.

However, Ulster Unionist Lord Laird, Labour's Lord Mackenzie and Lord Cunningham all deny wrongdoing.

Lord Laird was also filmed by BBC discussing a regular payment to ask parliamentary questions.

He has since resigned from the Ulster Unionist party, pending a review into the allegations.

The fresh claims over political lobbying came after MP Patrick Mercer resigned as a Conservative party whip on Friday after claims by the BBC's Panorama programme that he broke Parliament's lobbying rules.

Mercer is alleged to have taken money from a fake firm professing to work for the government of Fiji. In Parliament, he subsequently asked questions about Fiji.

The House of Lords code of conduct says peers cannot engage in "paid advocacy", using their access to Parliament to make a profit.

The 'Sunday Times' report suggests the three peers, who it filmed separately, may have broken those rules.

Lord Cunningham, a privy counsellor who led the joint committee on Lords reform under Tony Blair, offered to write to Prime Minister David Cameron to push the solar energy company's supposed agenda.

He asked for a fee totalling 144,000 pounds a year to provide a personal lobbying service. He also offered to ask parliamentary questions.

"Are you suggesting 10,000 pounds a month?" he asked.

"Make that....12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that," Lord Cunningham was quoted by the paper as saying.

But in a statement sent to the newspaper, Lord Cunningham said: "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 that his reference to "a fanciful 12,000 pounds a month payment" was made to test his suspicion that he had been talking to journalists.

Cunningham told the reporters, posing as representatives of the fake South Korean solar energy company, that he would advise them on parliamentary affairs and become their advocate at Westminster.

Lord Mackenzie, Blair's former law and order adviser who was once a chief superintendent in Durham police, said he could arrange parties for paying clients, including on the terrace of the House of Lords, after being asked if this was possible.

When asked if he had done anything wrong, he told BBC: "Not at all". "There is nothing in the rules to prevent a peer hosting a function, as long as he has no financial interest. I was being interviewed in connection, I thought, with a position as a consultant for this energy company... Not as a lobbyist," he said.

The third peer, Lord Laird, said he could arrange to get other peers involved. He explained that, working together, they could ask parliamentary questions for each other's clients, put down amendments in debates or write to ministers.

But later, in a statement to the BBC, Lord Laird said he had been "the subject of a scam" by journalists.

"I wish to make it clear that 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," he said.

The scandal is set to intensify even further as the BBC prepares to air the allegations from a joint investigation with the 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper on Thursday.

PTI


First Published: Sunday, June 02, 2013, 18:49


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