'Lobbygate' Lords escape police charges

Law is unclear over peers in cash-for-amendments scandal, Scotland Yard says
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The Independent Online

Four Labour peers accused of being prepared to change laws in return for money are to escape prosecution after the Metropolitan Police dropped their investigation into the affair.

However, the four peers could still face suspension from the House of Lords, which is conducting its own sleaze inquiry into the "cash for amendments" scandal. Scotland Yard said it had taken into account that the Lords was launching a "robust" investigation into the peers' conduct.

The decision was taken by Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who led a long inquiry into the "cash for honours" allegations that Labour offered peerages to party donors. That ended without anyone being prosecuted.

His statement said the police had looked at whether it could mount a criminal investigation into the possible offences of bribery and misconduct in public office. Its decision not to proceed was taken after considering the prospects for obtaining evidence and whether an inquiry constituted the best use of police resources.

"The application of the criminal law to members of the House of Lords in the circumstances that have arisen here is far from clear," said the police statement. "In addition, there are difficulties in gathering and adducing evidence in these circumstances in the context of parliamentary privilege."

A full-scale police probe had always been regarded as unlikely. Scotland Yard conducted its initial investigation after the Liberal Democrats referred to it the allegations about the peers made in The Sunday Times last month. The newspaper reported that Lord Truscott, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, Lord Moonie and Lord Snape had discussed being paid for amending laws in Parliament in a series of meetings with reporters posing as businessmen.

The four denied the allegations, which would have been a clear breach of parliamentary rules which state peers should not seek to influence legislation in return for money.

The police, who discussed yesterday's decision with the Crown Prosecution Service, looked most closely at allegations against Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, and Lord Taylor. The newspaper has released details of talks the two peers had with their reporters in which they discussed what help they might give them.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said the police's decision was disappointing. "It is simply false to say that internal procedures will be able to deal with these cases, given that there is not even a mechanism for expelling miscreants," he said. "Members of Parliament, including members of the Lords, should not be above the law. It should apply equally to all of us."

Yesterday Gordon Brown said the Government would consider calls by MPs for a register of lobbying companies to force them to disclose all their contacts with MPs and peers.

He told Labour MP Gordon Prentice in the Commons: "I agree we have got to take very seriously the problem of lobbyists and what they are doing in the House of Lords and the House of Commons and we will have to look at all measures that can make the system work better, so I am happy to look at your proposal and see what we can do."

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