Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

Police 'should probe Lords case'

Lady Royall: 'I am very concerned about the reputation... of parliament itself'

The Liberal Democrats have called for a police inquiry into allegations that four Labour peers were prepared to accept money to change proposed laws.

Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said if the claims, made in the Sunday Times newspaper, were true a criminal offence would have been committed.

The four are said to have offered to amend laws in return for up to 120,000 - claims that they all deny.

The Leader of the House of Lords has promised a full investigation.

Lady Royall said she had spoken to the men concerned and would be "pursuing the matter with utmost vigour", while a Lords committee is expected to undertake an inquiry soon.

Unlike MPs, members of the House of Lords who breach the rules on acceptable conduct cannot be suspended, although they can be "named and shamed" on the floor of Parliament.

The law must apply to everybody regardless of whether they are in the political system or outside it
Chris Huhne

Mr Huhne said the Lords must "toughen up" its own procedures to make sure allegations such as these did not surface again.

A precedent was set for police to investigate cases of alleged misconduct in Parliament by a ruling in the 1990s, he added.

"The law must apply to everybody regardless of whether they are in the political system or outside it," he told the BBC.

"We need clean politics and we need to be sure politics is seen to be clean."

The BBC has spoken to two of the peers named by the newspaper while a third has also given his reaction to the allegations.

The former energy minister Lord Truscott did admit to having had "discussions" with the reporter, but told the BBC that "to suggest I would offer to put down amendments for money is a lie".

Lord Moonie, a former defence minister, told the BBC that he had been suspicious of the people who had approached him.

There are no grey areas - paid advocacy is banned and should remain so
Lord Strathclyde
Shadow leader of the Lords

He acknowledged discussing a fee of 30,000 with the undercover reporters but said: "I am not aware of having offered to do anything for these people that was outside the rules."

He went on to say that any arrangement would have been based on a written contract and would have involved advising them on how to get amendments to legislation - but he would have been acting strictly as an adviser and consultant.

A third peer, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, told Sky News that he had done nothing wrong.

"I have never, never in my career in the Lords or in local government, done anything that I am ashamed of in any way," he said.

Former Labour whip Lord Snape indicated he could help amend a bill for a fee of up to 24,000 a year, the newspaper said.

The paper said Lord Snape issued a statement "saying that he had made it clear to the reporters that he was unable to 'initiate or amend any legislation on behalf of an individual or a company'.

"However, he said he did think the reporters' proposed exemption might be 'beneficial' and undertook to 'investigate' further," the paper said.

'Grim picture'

A spokesman for the Committee on Lords' Interests said an investigation would be launched if a complaint was received, which is expected on Monday.

It would be the first major inquiry by the committee since it was set up a few months ago.

Lady Royall told BBC News that she would also continue to pursue her own inquiries by speaking to the four peers concerned more fully.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Lady Royall said she did not feel "comfortable" reading about the allegations, and if they were true, it would be a "very grim picture".

Lord Truscott
Lord Truscott has denied offering to put down amendments for cash

"Clearly, it looks very serious but I'm concerned everybody's side of the story should be heard. We don't have trial by media in this country," she said.

Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke said the Commissioner for Standards had to carry out an independent inquiry.

"If the allegations are true, I'm afraid this one is very serious - to take money to try to alter legislation for the benefit of the people paying you a fee... I think some people would call that corruption," he told Andrew Marr.

Lord Strathclyde, the shadow leader of the Lords, said there should be "a swift investigation".

"The rules are clear," he said. "There are no grey areas. Paid advocacy is banned and should remain so."

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said trying to influence Parliamentary legislation was outside the House of Lords code of conduct, but peers not paid a salary can offer general advice to private firms as consultants.

"That may be where there's a bit of a grey area, where people can quite honestly say 'I haven't broken any rules'," he said.

The Sunday Times said its reporters had posed as lobbyists acting for a foreign client.

This firm was said to be setting up a chain of shops in the UK and wanting an exemption from the Business Rates Supplements Bill.

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