UK politicians caught in lobbying scandal

LONDON (AP) — Three members of Britain’s House of Lords were suspended by their parties Sunday after apparently being caught in newspaper stings agreeing to lobby Parliament in return for cash.

Labour peers Brian Mackenzie and Jack Cunningham and Ulster Unionist member John Laird were recorded by a Sunday Times reporter pretending to represent a solar energy firm.

They appeared to agree to push the firm’s cause in Parliament. Cunningham was recorded saying he could help with “knocking on doors, introductions and getting to see people, including if necessary the ministers,” as well as asking questions in the Lords — for a fee of up to 12,000 pounds ($18,000) a month.

British parliamentarians are barred from engaging in “paid advocacy” for outside groups, and must declare any income they receive beyond their salaries. But critics say the rules are too loose.

The peers denied breaking parliamentary rules. Mackenzie told Sky News that “I will be vindicated” by an investigation, and Laird insisted that “I did not agree to act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the House nor did I accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services.”

The Labour Party said Sunday that Cunningham and Mackenzie had both been suspended pending an investigation. The Ulster Unionist Party said Laird had quit its group in Parliament “pending the outcome of a review of his behavior.”

On Friday another politician, lawmaker Patrick Mercer left the Conservative parliamentary caucus “to save my party embarrassment” ahead of allegations of lobbying irregularities due to be aired in a BBC documentary.

Mercer is alleged to have taken money from a fake firm professing to work for the government of Fiji. He subsequently asked questions about Fiji in Parliament.

British politics has already been tarnished by scandals over influence-peddling and expenses.

In 2009, scores of lawmakers were revealed to have wrongly billed the public for items including pornographic movies and an ornamental duck house. Six legislators were jailed.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Douglas Alexander said the latest allegations showed that rules about lobbying needed to be reformed.

“I am angry as a citizen of the United Kingdom that this seems to be happening in parliament and I am angry as a politician that the good name of the endeavor of politics — trying to find shared solutions to shared problems — is once again being smeared by what appears to be conduct that literally cannot be defended,” he told the BBC.

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