Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Lord Laird: Northern Ireland peer barred from House of Lords over 'cash for access' operations tells of battle with depression

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

Lord Laird claims he is suffering from clinical depression and has had to receive medical counselling since being caught up in two covert stings by journalists.

Today he will attend the House of Lords for the last time before it formally votes to ratify his suspension, after he agreed to set up a Parliamentary lobby group, allegedly for financial reward.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as he begins a four-month suspension from the Lords, the peer continued to insist he was trying to help make the House of Lords more accessible.

However, an investigation into conversations he had with undercover journalists concluded he had breached the code of conduct and should be suspended.

Lord Laird said: "Since the investigations I have been on a course of counselling for depression.

"I have lost my sharpness of mind, but they say I can get most of that back through treatment. I am 69 and I have had a heart attack, so that is a factor," he said.

"One of these counsellors said 'the problem is that you are badly hurt that people should actually do this to you'."

In one investigation, BBC and Daily Telegraph journalists posed as representatives of the Government of Fiji, an unelected regime established by a military coup. Lord Laird agreed to set up a Parliamentary lobby group to campaign for its re-admission to the Commonwealth.

In another, Sunday Times journalists posed as representatives of a South Korean solar heating company and offered him a six-figure sum to work for it in Parliament, but he said he refused, and reported the approach to Black Rod, a Parliamentary official.

The Commissioner for Standards found that Lord Laird breached the code of conduct in three areas, including attempting to make deals which would have involved helping to create an all-party group or provide Parliamentary services "in return for payment or other reward". Speaking about his suspension, Lord Laird said he intends recuperating for four months, but quipped "it won't be in Fiji or Korea". He said he would return to the Lords after his suspension.

When he saw secretly recorded film of the investigations, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt spoke to Lord Laird, who resigned the party whip at Mr Nesbitt's suggestion. The whip will stay removed during the four-month suspension. It will then be up to Lord Laird to apply to have it restored.

"I have given no thought to that... from their viewpoint, the UUP have treated me fairly but, whether I am a member of the UUP, will have no effect on my work in the Lords," he said.

If he does not re-apply the UUP will have only two representatives left in Westminster, both in the House of Lords. They are Lord Rogan and Lord Empey.

The peer said he now intends campaigning for more recognition and help for others who suffer from stress-related depression.

A number of years ago Lord Laird revealed that he suffered from dyslexia, and since then he has campaigned on that issue.

He added: "Three people in the Commons have said recently that they suffered from depression."

BACKGROUND

Lord Laird, a UUP peer, was caught in two media investigations where, it was alleged, he offered to carry out Parliamentary work for reward. After seeing video of one conversation – in which Daily Telegraph journalists posed as representatives of the unelected Government of Fiji – Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, asked Lord Laird to resign the whip. Yesterday the House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee found that Lord Laird had breached the code of conduct and recommended that he be suspended from the House for four months.

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