2009 cash for influence scandal

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Cash for Influence (also Cash for Amendments or Cash for Laws) is the name given by some in the media to a political scandal in the United Kingdom in 2009 concerning four Labour Party Life Peers offering to help make amendments to legislation for up to £120,000. The Lords Privileges Committee recommended the two men be suspended from the House for up to six months after an investigation into allegations made against four Labour peers.[1] Lord Taylor of Blackburn was suspended as a Labour Party member pending the investigation while Lord Truscott quit the party. On May 20, the House of Lords considered the report of the Privileges Committee and voted to suspend Lord Taylor and Lord Truscott for six months.[2]

The suspensions are the first since Oliver Cromwell’s era in the 1640s.[3] The last individual to be suspended from the House of Lords is believed to have been Thomas Savile, who was barred in 1642 for siding with King Charles I.[4]

Allegations[edit]

The allegations were made by The Sunday Times Insight team in an article published on Sunday, 25 January 2009. In a series of covert interviews, the four peers stated that they could use their political influence to amend legislation. The individuals concerned are Lord Snape, Lord Moonie, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Truscott. Six other peers either declined to help or did not respond to the undercover reporters' approach.[5]

The newspaper claimed its reporters approached the four peers masquerading as lobbyists acting for an unnamed company. The firm, they said, wanted to set up a chain of shops in the UK and were seeking exemption from current laws on business rates. [6][7]

A recording was later released of Lord Taylor saying firms paid him up to £100,000 a year. Lord Taylor tells an undercover reporter: "Some companies that I work with would pay me £100,000 a year." When the reporter questions it, he adds: "That's cheap for what I do for them. And other companies would pay me £25,000."

On January 30, The Sunday Times released further material via their website containing audio and video purporting to show Lord Truscott describing how the passage of legislation in both the House of Commons and House of Lords could be influenced and what part he could play in successfully facilitating amendments on behalf of paying clients.[8]

Two of the fundamental principles set out in the Code of Conduct for the House of Lords are that members “must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence" and "must not vote on any bill or motion, or ask any question in the House or a committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit (the "no paid advocacy" rule).”[9]

Reaction[edit]

Following publication of The Sunday Times article, the Labour Party immediately promised an urgent investigation. The Leader in the House of Lords, Lady Royall said she had spoken to the four Labour peers concerned and would be "pursuing the matter with utmost vigour". She also said House of Lords members must "abide by its high standards."[10]

In a statement to the House of Lords on 26 January Lady Royall called the claims "deeply shocking". She pointed out that they were only allegations at this stage but said the claims had been "damaging not just to this House but to Parliament and politics". She said the matter had been referred to the Lords Interests sub committee (a sub committee of the Committee for Privileges), which had already met and investigations were underway. She said she believed "tougher sanctions" were needed to deal with peers who broke the rules and she had written to the chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges to ask him to review the matter.[11]

On 26 January, two of the four peers made statements in The House of Lords. Lord Snape told The House "As one of the people involved in this incident may I first of all apologise for bringing this House, if I have done so, into disrepute. But may I say that these are allegations in a Sunday newspaper and may I appeal to noble lords in all parts of the House to allow me the opportunity to refute these allegations before your lordships house and elsewhere."[11]

Lord Taylor stated "If I have done anything that has brought this House into disrepute I most humbly apologise. I feel within my own conscience I followed the rules and the directions that have been given in this House over the 31 years I have been a member."[11]

Lord Truscott told the BBC he did admit to having had "discussions" with a reporter, but said that "to suggest I would offer to put down amendments for money is a lie."[11]

Lord Moonie acknowledged discussing a fee of £30,000 but said he had not done anything "outside the rules".[11]

The Conservative Party leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said the allegations represented a "shocking and depressing moment" for the House of Lords. "This House has been mired in a grim torrent of criticism about a culture of sleaze," he told peers. "If these allegations are true those involved have shamed this House," he said, adding there were no "grey areas in the paid advocacy rules".[11]

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "It's important that we don't pre-judge these investigations but these are serious allegations and we are determined to get to the bottom of these allegations, and whatever action needs to be taken will be taken."[11]

The Liberal Democrats wrote to Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asking for an investigation to take place.[11]

SNP MP Angus MacNeil, whose complaint started the "cash for honours" called for the four peers to be suspended, while an investigation is carried out.[11]

Findings of House of Lords Committees[edit]

The House of Lords Sub-committee on Lords' Interests was asked to report on the matter.[12] It found that:

  • re. Lord Moonie "on the standard of proof that we have set, we do not find that Lord Moonie expressed a clear willingness to breach the Code by promoting amendments on behalf of lobbyists in return for payment."
  • re. Lord Snape "We find that Lord Snape expressed a clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct. The fact that he may have believed that moving a blanket amendment was legitimate does not excuse him because, as we have explained above, moving such an amendment in return for payment would breach the no-paid-advocacy rule."
  • re. Lord Truscott "We conclude that Lord Truscott expressed willingness to breach the Code of Conduct's prohibition on paid advocacy, and failed to act on his personal honour, as required by paragraphs 4(c) and 4(b) of the Code."
  • re. Lord Taylor "We conclude that Lord Taylor's conversations with the journalists display his clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct by engaging in paid advocacy, and by failing to act on his personal honour, as required by paragraphs 4(c) and 4(b) of the Code."

The Lords' Privileges Committee considered the sub-committee's report and heard further evidence from Lord Snape. It published its findings on 14 May 2009[13]
The Privileges Committee:

  • agreed that Lord Moonie had not breached the code;
  • disagreed that Lord Snape had breached the code: "We conclude that he did not express clear willingness to exercise parliamentary influence in return for financial inducement, and so fail to act on his personal honour";
  • agreed that Lord Truscott had breached the code, and recommended that he be suspended;
  • agreed that Lord Taylor had breached the code, and recommended that he be suspended.

Police investigations[edit]

On 29 January 2009 it was confirmed that Police were looking at the allegations following the complaint by the Liberal Democrats.[14] On 11 February 2009 the Metropolitan Police confirmed that no action would be taken, noting that "The application of the criminal law to members of the House of Lords in the circumstances that have arisen here is far from clear," and that "In addition, there are very clear difficulties in gathering and adducing evidence in these circumstances in the context of parliamentary privilege." [15]

Potential sanctions[edit]

If the peers were to be found guilty of having broken the rules, they could be required to apologise on the floor of the Lords. Under existing rules they cannot be expelled from Parliament or stripped of their titles.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ " Two Labour peers face suspension", BBC NEWS, Thursday, 14 May 2009
  2. ^ "Lords vote to suspend two peers". BBC News. 21 May 2009. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  3. ^ "Parliament's darkest day: MPs suspended and Michael Martin at risk", The Times, 15th May 2009 [1]
  4. ^ Two peers facing Lords suspension, The Press Association (via Google News), May 20, 2009.
  5. ^ "Revealed: Labour lords change laws for cash". London: The Sunday Times. 25 January 2009. 
  6. ^ "Whispered over tea and cake: price for a peer to fix the law". London: The Sunday Times. 25 January 2009. 
  7. ^ "Q&A: Peers cash claims". BBC. 27 January 2009. 
  8. ^ Calvert, Jonathan (30 January 2009). "Exclusive: Peers for cash investigation - new undercover footage". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  9. ^ "House of Lords - Code of Conduct". House of Lords. 31 March 2002. 
  10. ^ "'Concern' over peers cash claims". BBC. 25 January 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Peers respond to cash allegations". BBC. 26 January 2009. 
  12. ^ [2] Lords Sub-Committee on Lords Interests Report
  13. ^ The Conduct of Lord Moonie, Lord Snape, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn Lords Privileges Committee Report
  14. ^ "Police look at Peers cash claims". BBC. 29 January 2009. 
  15. ^ "Police decide against peers probe". BBC. 29 January 2009.