Belfast Telegraph

Lobbying probe peer resigns whip

Lord Laird has resigned the Ulster Unionist whip pending an inquiry into allegations he broke parliamentary rules.

The peer is alleged to have offered to carry out parliamentary work for cash after being caught in two separate stings by undercover journalists posing as lobbyists.

He denies any wrongdoing and has referred the case to a sleaze watchdog.

In a statement, party leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Having reviewed the video footage on the Daily Telegraph website, and other media reporting of Lord Laird's engagement with alleged lobbyists, I telephoned his home this morning and as a result he has relinquished the Party Whip, pending the outcome of the review of his behaviour that he has already requested of the relevant authorities at Westminster."

Lord Laird is alleged to have told reporters posing as lobbyists as part of a joint investigation by the Telegraph and BBC's Panorama that he could "bribe" colleagues to ask questions and arrange debates in return for a fee of £2,000 per month. It was part of the same investigation that led MP Patrick Mercer to quit the Tory whip on Friday and refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as the controversy over paid lobbying returned to haunt Westminster.

The peer was also one of three members of the upper house - two Labour - alleged to have told Sunday Times reporters posing as representatives of a fake energy firm that they could carry out parliamentary work in return for cash.

In a statement issued before he resigned the whip he said: "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. I have not broken any rules. However, I have referred the situation to the appropriate authorities and I will be making no further statement until I have received their ruling."

Another of those accused, Labour's Lord Mackenzie, the former president of the Police Superintendents Association, also denied any wrongdoing. The Sunday Times reported that he explained he had "devised a rouse" that allowed him to host events for paying clients, by asking colleagues to hold them for him.

The paper also alleged that he was happy to ask questions and approach ministers in the Lords to "bend their ear".

But speaking on Radio Five Live Lord Mackenzie said he thought he was being asked to be a consultant for the sham company and had followed the Parliamentary Code of Conduct. When asked if he had done anything wrong, he said: "Not at all, I'm very clear on the rules".

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