Two peers face House of Lords suspension following Sunday Times / BBC investigations into cash for access

Two members of the House of Lords are facing lengthy suspensions after being exposed by undercover reporters from The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama.

Labour peer Lord MacKenzie of Framwellgate is facing a six-month suspension while former Ulster Unionist Lord Laird has been recommended for a four-month ban.

MacKenzie was recorded by reporters from the Sunday Times offering to establish an all-party parliamentary group in return for cash.

The peer believed he was talking to representatives of a South Korean solar energy company when in fact it was a team of undercover reporters.

The Committee for Privileges and Conduct launched the investigation following allegations of misconduct made in The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama.

The committee accepted that MacKenzie had used a lunch to increase business for a company with whom he had a financial interest in. The committee found that MacKenzie had committed four separate breaches of parliamentary codes.

The committee has recommended that Lord Laird, who was also bnvestigated 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.

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.

MacKenzie 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.

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, 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.

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.

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 judgement 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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