Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cash for Laws

Accepting money from a private individual or company, not for advice, but to exercise any official responsibility is unacceptable whoever does it, and anyone proven to have acted in this way must be severely disciplined.

That applies whether it is asking questions or seeking to table changes to proposed laws, or breaking the rules against paid advocacy. Whether the people concerned are MPs, Peers, or any other member of a parliament or elected official, whether they are Labour, Conservative, Liberal or nationalist, it is just not on.

I am not easily shocked, but I was shocked and astonished by yesterday's Sunday Times article here which alleged that four Labour peers indicated their willingness to help change proposed legislation in return for large amounts of money.

All four have denied the allegations.

The Sunday Times claims that their reporters, posing as lobbyists acting for a foreign client who was setting up a chain of shops in the UK and wanted to secure an exemption from the Business Rates Supplements Bill, contacted ten peers who had declared outside consultancies - five Labour, three tories, one Lib/Dem and one Ulster Unionist.

The three Conservatives did not even meet the reporters, the Liberal and Ulster Unionist met them but refused to play along - the latter is quoted in the article as saying

“If your direct proposal is as stark as for me . . . to help to put down an amendment, that’s a non-runner. A, it’s not right and b, my personal integrity wouldn’t let me do it.”

But the Sunday Times alleges that four of the five Labour peers they contacted were willing to discuss ways to promote changes to the legislation.

As the Guardian points out here, these allegations, if true, are even worse than the "cash for questions" scandal.

We must not pre-judge the truth of anything until the statements made by the paper have been fully and impartially investigated. But such an investigation must take place as a matter of urgency.

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