Belfast Telegraph

Lord Laird resigns party whip over allegations he broke parliamentary rules

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.

Ex-cabinet minister Lord Cunningham and former senior police officer Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate have now been suspended from the party, after they were recorded by undercover Sunday Times reporters posing as lobbyists.

In a statement, the party said the pair "have been suspended from the Labour Party pending further investigation.

"The Labour Party expects the highest standards of its representatives and believes that they have a duty to be transparent and accountable at all times."

In a statement issued before Lord Laird 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."

In a statement, Lord Cunningham said the report of his meeting with the bogus lobbyists was "misleading" and that he was taking legal advice.

Lord Cunningham, who was an MP for 22 years and served in Tony Blair's cabinet, insisted he had been testing his suspicions that he was being targeted by a scam.

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 ruse" that allowed him to host events for paying clients, by asking colleagues to hold them for him.

Lord Mackenzie told the Murnaghan programme on Sky News that he was "convinced I will be vindicated" by an investigation.

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