House of Lords drawn into lobbying scandal

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MINISTERS are facing renewed pressure for controls on lobbying as Labour suspended two peers yesterday over claims they offered to carry out parliamentary work in return for cash.

Ex-cabinet minister Lord Cunningham and former senior police officer Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate were recorded by undercover Sunday Times reporters posing as lobbyists. Ulster Unionist Lord Laird resigned the party whip after being targeted by the same investigation.

All three deny breaching the rules and have referred themselves to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards. They are alleged to have told reporters posing as lobbyists representing a fake solar energy firm they could help push its agenda – in apparent breach of a ban on paid advocacy.

It comes after MP Patrick Mercer quit the Tory whip, referred himself to the Commons sleaze watchdog and said he would not stand again in 2015 over similar claims.

The latest controversy has reignited calls for the coalition to act on a pledge for a statutory register of lobbyists and “recall” powers against wrongdoing by MPs.

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy yesterday said the claims were “a new low for British politics” and voters would be “sickened”. But Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude expressed confidence lobbying reform would proceed before the election.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has previously blamed his Tory partners for delays in measures promised in the coalition agreement.