Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Lord Laird breached upper tier's rules 'for gain'

Lord Laird will be  formally suspended today
Lord Laird will be formally suspended today

Details of Lord Laird's conversations with undercover journalists were considered by the Commissioner for Standards before he was suspended from the House of Lords for four months.

The UUP stalwart came to attention after he was caught in two media investigations. In one, BBC and Daily Telegraph journalists posed as representatives of the Government of Fiji, an unelected regime established by a military coup. He agreed to set up a Parliamentary lobby group to campaign for its re-admission to the Commonwealth. In another investigation, Sunday Times journalists posed as representatives of a South Korean solar heating company and offered him a six-figure sum to work for it n Parliament.

The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards decided he had breached the upper tier's code of conduct in three different areas.

These included attempted agreements which would have involved Lord Laird helping to create an all-party group or providing Parliamentary services in return for payment or other reward.

The following conversation was considered by the Commissioner before the appeal was turned down:

Lord Laird: "The point is, it's done on a – some of the guys, for instance, in the Lords where I will get them to put down questions for me."

Female reporter: "You get them to put down questions?"

Lord Laird: "Yeah, and then I put down questions for them."

Female reporter: "And what's the reason for getting them to do it and not doing it yourself?"

Lord Laird: "Well, because if I'm employed by you good people and I put down a question which is related to you guys making money, I'd have to put a–I can do it, but I have to put an 'I' beside it because I've got an interest."

Female reporter: "Oh I see, and that draws a lot of attention and..."

Lord Laird: "Well, it's fine, and you get the same answer. It's better not to do it that way,"

A Lords committee concluded the exchanges "show that Lord Laird envisaged a financial relationship with a possible future employer and, knowing that tabling questions on behalf of the employer was against the code, intended to get round this obstacle by asking 'a coterie' of other Members to put his questions for him.

"Moreover, as we have already stated, a clear willingness to breach the code is in itself a breach of the code, even if no actual agreement is achieved.

"We are therefore satisfied that the Commissioner correctly found that Lord Laird attempted to negotiate an agreement with the undercover journalists which would have involved providing Parliamentary services in return for payment or other reward."

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