Lobbying claims rock Britain's parliament

LONDON (AFP) - Three British peers on Sunday denied allegations that they had agreed to carry out parliamentary work for payment.

Journalists from the Sunday Times approached Ulster Unionist lord John Laird and Labour lords Brian Mackenzie and Jack Cunningham pretending to be working for a solar energy company.

The reporters used a hidden camera to film the men apparently offering to help the fake company in return for money.

Labour suspended their two peers and Laird resigned the party whip - a measure that distances him from the party while a probe is undertaken.

The BBC's Panorama programme, in partnership with the Daily Telegraph, conducted another undercover investigation in which Laird was also filmed offering to ask parliamentary questions in return for payment.

He is alleged to have told reporters posing as representatives promoting businesses in Fiji that he would be prepared to accept a retainer of £2,000 a month (S$3,834).

"I'll deny having said this, but it's a bribe," he was recorded as saying.

"The sort of thing I can say to these guys. 'Look, you put that question down now. I thought you were interested in Fiji. Would you like to come down to it, y'know? I believe it's quite nice.' But that's why I can say that."

The code of conduct for the upper chamber stipulates that members "must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment for providing parliamentary advice or services".

Laird later told the BBC he had been the victim of a journalistic "scam" and stressed "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."

Former Tony Blair minister Cunningham was recorded saying he would be prepared to accept £12,000 a month for writing to Prime Minister David Cameron to push the fake company's agenda and to ask parliamentary questions.

He denied claims of wrongdoing, saying he made the offer in an attempt to confirm his suspicions the lobbyists were in fact journalists.

"I deny any agreement to operate in breach of the House of Lords code of conduct and, in fact, recall that I made it clear that I would only operate within the rules," he added.

Former police chief Mackenzie was filmed offering to arrange parties within parliament grounds for paying clients.

He insisted on Sunday that "I have not broken any of the rules" and that he would not have followed through with his offer.

"In the event, when I went back to my office I checked the codes of conduct and I decided that it was getting a bit near the mark and I decided to decline the offer," he explained.

The allegations surfaced the day after Panorama released footage of Conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer appearing to offer a Commons security pass to fake lobbyists.

He had resigned the Tory whip the day before the revelations were aired.