Belfast Telegraph

Lord Laird faces lengthy suspension from House of Lords after Panorama investigation

By Gavin Cordon

Lord Laird is facing the prospect of a lengthy suspension from the House of Lords following investigations by undercover reporters.

The Committee for Privileges and Conduct has recommended that Lord Laird, who was investigated by the Sunday Times and the BBC Panorama programme should face a four-month suspension after he was found to have offered to help undercover reporters to set up an all-party parliamentary group in return for payment.

Another peer, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, should also be suspended for six months following allegations in the Sunday Times that he had sought payment for providing access to Parliament and parliamentary facilities, the committee has recommended.

Two other peers who were investigated by the Sunday Times - former Labour ministers Lord Cunningham of Felling and Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan - were cleared of any breach of the Lords Code of Conduct.

Lord Mackenzie, a Labour peer and a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association - who was recorded by reporters posing as representatives of a fake South Korean solar energy company - was found to have committed four breaches of the code.

The committee found he had used a lunch to try to increase business for a commercial organisation in which he had a financial stake and in doing so had breached the requirement for members of the Lords always to act on their personal honour.

He was also found to have demonstrated a "clear willingness" to negotiate an agreement which would involve providing parliamentary services in return for payment or other reward and to have agreed to set up an all-party group on behalf of a paying client.

Lord Laird, a former Ulster Unionist, was also found to have breached the code by demonstrating a clear willingness to negotiate paid deals to set up an all-party parliamentary group and to provide parliamentary services in return for payment or reward.

In the Sunday Times report, published last June, Lord Mackenzie said he had devised a ruse to get round the ban on members hosting parliamentary events for organisations in which they had a financial interest by getting another peer to do it for him.

Lord Laird was said to have told the paper's reporters that he swapped the task of asking parliamentary questions for paying clients with other peers.

Both men were said to have offered to recruit the number of MPs and peers required to set up an all-party parliamentary group on solar energy as a lobbying vehicle as part of the deal.

Lord Laird was also reported to have told reporters from Panorama involved in a separate investigation that he was prepared to set up an all-party group on Fiji.

The Ulster Unionist Party withdrew the whip from Lord Laird in the wake of the revelations earlier this year.

Responding to the report, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "This is a severe sanction, reflecting a very serious lapse in judgment by Lord Laird.

"When the news first broke in June, the Ulster Unionist Party moved swiftly to remove the party whip. This remains the case.

"The party leadership will take the necessary time to read and reflect on the report from the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, before discussing what happens when the four-month sanction period has elapsed."

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