A Labour peer and former North East police chief has been suspended from the House of Lords after an inquiry found he had offered to back a business in Parliament – in return for payments of up to £10,000 a month.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate said he was “disappointed” by the findings and added: “I apologise for any unwitting breach of the rules of the house.”
The peer, a former Chief Superintendent in the Durham Constabulary, is currently suspended from the Labour Party, which last night said it was considering “further action” against him.
But a second North East peer, Lord Cunningham of Felling, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the official watchdog.
Both had been targeted by newspaper journalists posing as consultants representing a South Korean firm planning to market solar energy technology in the United Kingdom.
The reporters said their client wanted to meet someone to promote its interests in Parliament and in dealings with the government.
A transcript of the conversation shows that Lord Mackenzie discussed the possibility of raising questions in the House of Lords or writing to Government ministers and civil servants.
The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, Paul Kernaghan, stated in a report: “Lord Mackenzie agreed to suggestions that he could ask questions on their behalf; he agreed that he could write to ministers on their behalf; he suggested he could use his privileged access in other ways; and he indicated that he could get another member to ask questions on the client’s behalf.”
He continued: “I find that, taking the conversation as a whole, Lord Mackenzie demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would involve him providing Parliamentary services in return for payment.”
The peer also agreed to set up an All-Party group on solar energy which he would chair – saying it “would be a useful forum for the client making political connections” and that it “could be an advocate for the product”, the Commissioner found.
And the report states: “Later in the discussion the conversation turned to remuneration. The female reporter mentioned a retainer of between £8,000 and £10,000 a month and asked if it was in the right ballpark. Lord Mackenzie replied, ‘Yes I think so’.”
The Commissioner also found that Lord Mackenzie told the journalists that he’d actually broken House of Lords rules in the past – by getting a fellow peer to sponsor a lunch for a consultancy called Ivy Link Partnership Ltd, of which he is the non-executive chairman.
The peer was president of the Police Superintendents’ Association for three years and became Baron Mackenzie of Framwellgate of Durham in the County of Durham in 1998.
He said: “Naturally I am disappointed with the findings of the Commissioner for Standards and I would remind people that it was me that referred the matter to the Lords Standards Commissioner in the first place following the publication of the interview after entrapment by the bogus consultants.
“There was no financial gain by me and all of this resulted from a 45 minute conversation which was not instigated by me.”
The journalists also held talks with Lord Cunningham, who lives in Stocksfield, Northumberland. The Commissioner said: “I find that Lord Cunningham of Felling did not breach the Code of Conduct.”