Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 18:11 UK

Two Labour peers face suspension

Baroness Royall says the allegations are damaging to politics

Two Labour peers face suspension from Parliament for six months after being found guilty of misconduct.

Ex-trade minister Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn were accused by the Sunday Times of being willing to change laws in exchange for cash.

The two men denied the allegations but they now face sanctions following a probe by a House of Lords Committee.

Lord Taylor has been suspended as a Labour member pending an investigation while Lord Truscott has quit the party.

Lord Truscott told the BBC he had done nothing wrong and had been made a "scapegoat".

But Lord Hunt, deputy leader of the House of Lords, described the allegations against the two men as "terrible".

Parliamentary vote

The Conservatives said the development represented a "bleak day" for the House of Lords.

The Lords Privileges Committee has recommended the two men be suspended from the House for up to six months after an investigation into allegations made against four Labour peers.

The two peers fell short of what both this House and the country are entitled to expect
Lord Strathclyde, Conservative leader in the House of Lords

The final decision on their fate will rest with the House of Lords itself, which will vote on whether to exclude them next week.

If it is approved, the suspension could take effect immediately and last until November - when this year's parliamentary session ends.

Two other Labour peers - the former minister Lord Moonie and Lord Snape - were cleared of wrongdoing, but invited to make apologies to the Lords for showing an "inappropriate attitude" to parliamentary rules banning paid advocacy.

The BBC's political correspondent Gillian Hargreaves said it was exceptionally rare for members of the Upper House to be suspended, the last case of its kind being in the 17th Century.

The Sunday Times alleged the two peers were prepared to change proposed legislation while it was passing through the Lords in return for money - which would have been in clear breach of parliamentary rules.

These rules state that peers should not seek to influence legislation in return for money.

'Falling short'

The Sunday Times released details of secretly recorded conversations Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor had with its reporters.

The reporters were posing as lobbyists for a foreign retail firm which, they claimed, wanted to set up stores in the UK and get an exemption from business rates.

The peers discussed what help they might give them and how parliamentary procedure worked.

FROM THE PM PROGRAMME

The two men maintained they had never discussed taking money in return for seeking to alter legislation.

Neither men actually accepted any money but the Lords committee found they had broken rules governing the behaviour of its members in relation to paid advocacy.

In a statement to Parliament, Labour leader Baroness Royall said the allegations against the two men were "very serious" and the House faced having to take "very serious" decisions about potential penalties.

But she stressed the Lords also had an obligation to be fair to the peers concerned in terms of how they were treated.

Lord Hunt, Labour's deputy leader in the Lords, said the allegations against the two men were a "terrible thing" and that paid advocacy of any kind was "absolutely unacceptable".

He told the BBC he was satisfied that the internal probe had been "thorough and professional" and it was now up to peers to decide what the appropriate degree of punishment should be.

"Those who transgress the rules will be dealt with severely," he stressed.

For the Conservatives, shadow Lords leader Lord Strathclyde said the two men had "fallen short of what both the House and the country is entitled to expect" from its public representatives.

While a sanction of six months' suspension would be "severe", he said he believed it was "fully deserved" in this case.

'Implausible'

A Labour spokesman said Lord Taylor had been suspended from the party pending a "full disciplinary investigation" and disclosed that Lord Truscott had resigned from the party in recent days.

The allegations against the four men were initially investigated by the Lords sub-committee on members' interests.

It concluded Lord Truscott had broken rules on exercising parliamentary influence in return for money by agreeing to "smooth the way" for lobbyists, make introductions to other peers and ministers and to lobby officials.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn
Lord Taylor has been a Labour peer for more than 30 years

The committee found the evidence against Lord Truscott "so clear and so plentiful that we have little doubt that Lord Truscott was advertising his power and willingness to influence Parliament in return for a substantial financial inducement".

Lord Truscott contested this verdict as "outrageous" but it was upheld by the privileges committee in its final report.

He said he had followed the rules as they were at the time, adding: "At no stage were my arguments listened to or those of my lawyers. It was a pre-determined outcome like the Soviet system. It was decided on day one that I would be made a scapegoat.

"I was found guilty by a political committee that was dominated by political appointees.

"If there is an apology then I apologise for being entrapped and for using loose language, but I do not feel that I broke any rules or did anything wrong in terms of what I was offering to do at the time."

Lord Taylor's explanation that he was aware the lobbyists were in fact journalists and he had continued to meet them in order to discover the truth was dismissed as "inherently implausible".

The police decided not to mount a criminal investigation into the case earlier this year, citing the difficulty of obtaining evidence among other factors.

The "cash for amendments" row is the latest in a series of recent scandals to have damaged the integrity of Parliament.



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