Labour Lords: Bribery peers get six-month suspension
Friday 15 May 2009
Two Labour peers who were willing to be bribed to help rewrite the law for the benefit of a wealthy client are to have their membership of the House of Lords withdrawn for six months.
The decision, which has to be ratified by the House of Lords on 20 May, will be the first time that a peer has been suspended since Oliver Cromwell threw out supporters of King Charles I in 1643. But the suspension, which means that Lord Taylor and Lord Truscott will lose their attendance allowances – worth up to £336 a day – will last only until the next parliamentary session begins in November.
The Lords Privileges Committee was advised by a former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, that this was the most severe penalty it could impose. Some lawyers, including the Attorney General Baroness Scotland, question whether they even have that power.
Both men were caught in a "sting" operation, in which two Sunday Times journalists posed as representatives of a fictitious lobbying firm. They told the peers that they had a wealthy client in Hong Kong who wanted to move into the clothes retail business in the UK, and wanted a change in the law that would reduce his start-up costs. They offered to pay the peers for their help. The police investigated the allegations but decided not to prosecute.
Thomas Taylor, 80 next month, was awarded a life peerage in 1978 for his work as leader of Blackburn Council. He refused to meet members of the Lords Privileges Committee who were considering his case, but sent them a long self-justifying letter.
"I am a loquacious old man with an advanced degree of self-satisfaction," he wrote, "but one who is easily confused, and who rambles on, not always to the point. But I have done the state some service and have done nothing to justify a wealthy newspaper playing a monstrous trick upon me."
The Privileges Committee seemed to agree with Lord Taylor's description of himself, but did not accept it as an excuse. In a taped conversation, the peer had boasted about his contacts, including a clutch of ministers, and a civil servant called Gary – "a little chappie ... who does all the recommendations to the various ministers".
The committee's report said: "His conversations with journalists were so exaggerated and his conduct so irrational that it may well be thought that no genuine lobbyist would have taken much time with Lord Taylor. But as an active member of the House of Lords he must be judged on his behaviour and on the meaning of his words and on his intentions."
Labour announced yesterday it had suspended Lord Taylor's membership, 55 years after he joined the party.
Peter Truscott, a former party official and Labour MEP, who married a Russian and has written several books on that country, felt that he was the target of political persecution. He resigned from the Labour Party a few days ago.
Having answered questions from a sub-committee, he refused to meet the full Privileges Committee, but sent them a furious letter: "I felt like a Guantanamo inmate. I was continually interrupted, with one member in particular being aggressive and descending at times into sarcasm. I at once felt that my 'guilt' had been prejudged.
"My wife, whose uncle spent time in the Gulag, can't escape a feeling of déja-vu. 1930s Russia. Stalin is in power. Political committees decide an individual's fate on the basis of ill-founded allegations."
But the Privileges Committee concluded that "the evidence against Lord Truscott is 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".
Two other peers approached by the journalists, were cleared of wrong doing but have been told to apologise to their fellow peers for their 'inappropriate attitude'. Peter Snape, a former railwayman who was Labour MP for West Bromwich for 27 years, appeared to be willing to work for the fake lobbyists.
He claimed he was intending to take advice from the Registrar of Lord's Interest first, but did not have the opportunity. The committee accepted this but said he spoke "carelessly and inappropriately
Lewis Moonie, a pharmacologist who was MP for Kirkcaldy for 18 years, met the journalists. He told them that "rules are being made as they go along", and that if peers broke the rules, "there's virtually nothing they can do".
Lord Moonie was cleared of the charge that he was prepared to accept money improperly, but has been told to apologise.
Crime & Punishment
Both Lord Taylor and Lord Truscott found guilty of misconduct after making it clear they would take money for helping to alter legislation. Neither actually received any money.
Suspended from the Lords until the end of the parliamentary session. They will not face criminal charges as the police have already dropped their investigation. Lord Taylor is currently suspended from the Labour Party, while Lord Truscott quit the party earlier this week.
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