LABOUR last night warned two of its peers face disciplinary action after the pair were suspended from the party over claims they were prepared to carry out parliamentary work in return for cash.
Lord Cunningham, who was a MP for 22 years and served in Tony Blair’s Cabinet, and Lord Mackenzie, the former president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, have been suspended from the party pending inquiries into claims they told reporters posing as lobbyists for a bogus solar energy company they could help push its agenda despite a ban on paid advocacy under Commons and Lords codes of conduct.
Lord Laird resigned the Ulster Unionist whip after he was targeted by the same inquiry.
In a statement, a Labour Party spokesman said it expected the “highest standards” of its representatives.
“Where there is genuine evidence of wrongdoing, including non-compliance with the Code of Conduct, the Labour Party will consider appropriate disciplinary action as and when necessary,” he added.
Lord Cunningham said the report of his meeting with the lobbyists was “misleading”.
He is alleged to have offered to ask parliamentary questions for the firm and take concerns directly to the Prime Minister.
Recordings appear to show him asking for £12,000 a month rather than the offered £10,000 and telling the bogus lobbyists that he offered “value for money” because of his access to senior figures.
Lord Cunningham insisted he had been testing his suspicions that he was being targeted by a scam.
“The Sunday Times story contains a highly sensationalist and misleading account of one meeting with journalists posing as business people,” he said in a statement.
“I quickly became suspicious of them and the money they were offering and sought to test my suspicions during the meeting.
“What the article does not make at all clear is that I told the undercover journalists that I always stick to the rules and declare any interests.”
The Sunday Times said the peers had made it clear to the undercover reporters that they would have to declare any money they were paid.
Lord Laird said he had “not broken any rules”. “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,” he said.
Lord Mackenzie 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.
He conceded that “morally it may well look as though it’s not right” but defended his comments about switching event hosts.
“It’s a very complex area, but I made sure I knew the rules before I went into any of this and it’s an important thing to do obviously because what we don’t want is parliamentarians breaking the rules,” he said.
Former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Sir Alistair Graham said the latest cases illustrated the “vulnerability of our democratic system to people who want to use money to gain access to influence our parliamentary processes”.
The upper chamber was “ripe for reform”, he said.
“Why have we got such a second chamber of such a size which is clearly so vulnerable to the sort of lobbying influence that we’ve been hearing about?” he said.
“People have to call for reform and people have to follow it through.”