Mercer cash scandal was worst Commons breach says sleaze watchdog

Patrick Mercer
Patrick Mercer
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Shamed former Tory Patrick Mercer inflicted significant reputational damage on the House of Commons by evading strict lobbying rules, smearing MPs and using racial slurs, according to a sleaze watchdog.

The cash-for-questions scandal that led to him quitting Parliament was the worst breach of transparency regulations by a sitting MP the Standards Committee has dealt with, it said in a report today.

Mr Mercer, a former shadow minister, referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, when allegations that he had tabled Commons questions and offered a Westminster security pass after signing a deal that paid him £4,000 emerged last year.

The investigation found he had readily signed an agreement to provide consultancy services but failed to register it or declare his interest when tabling relevant parliamentary questions and had been “willing to use his parliamentary position for his own gain”.

Mr Mercer was also criticised for using “racially offensive language” in relation to footage that showed him talking about a visit to Israel, where he told an 18-year-old woman “you look like a bloody Jew”.

When he was asked about the incident during the inquiry into his conduct, the ex-Newark MP said he had been “very tired at the time” and admitted it was a “stupid thing to say”, the report said.

Mr Mercer added: “I am married to a woman of Jewish extraction. I have lots of friends in the Jewish community, and, yes, I can prostrate myself no further, it’s just a stupid thing to say, and I didn’t even... I accept I said it, and I am conscious that my speech isn’t always as balanced as it should be.”

The former Army colonel was caught in a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s Panorama programme, with undercover reporters posing as lobbyists representing businesses seeking to end Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth offering him a contract.

It was alleged that after being paid £4,000, he tabled five parliamentary questions related to the country that had been drafted by the bogus lobbyists and was setting up an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Fiji at their request.

During the undercover operation, he was captured describing some of the MPs who agreed to join the APPG as “right bad boys” and described one as “a crook of the first order”.

The committee said Mr Mercer “deliberately evaded” transparency rules and came to the conclusion that his dealings with the fake public affairs consultants “were motivated by the desire for commercial gain”.

Its report adds: “We agree with the commissioner’s conclusion that, in allowing payment to influence his actions in parliamentary proceedings, in failing to declare his interests on appropriate occasions, in failing to recognise that his actions were not in accordance with his expressed views on acceptable behaviour, in repeatedly denigrating fellow members both individually and collectively, and in using racially offensive language, Mr Mercer inflicted significant reputational damage on the House and its members.”

Mr Mercer quit his Nottinghamshire seat in disgrace ahead of the publication of today’s report, which would have banned him from the House of Commons for six months.

The suspension the Standards Committee planned to impose would have been the longest it has meted out to an MP since 1947, with the exception of former Labour MP Denis MacShane, who was convicted of criminal offences.

Its report states: “We are not aware of a case relating to a sitting MP which has involved such a sustained and pervasive breach of the House’s rules on registration, declaration and paid advocacy.”

The Newark by-election sparked by his decision to quit will be held on June 5.