THE Labour peer and former North East police chief caught up in sleaze allegations has admitted he may have had a “lapse in judgement” – but insisted he never offered to take part in any lobbying activity in return for payment.
Lord Mackenzie, the former Chief Superintendent in the Durham Constabulary, has been suspended from the Labour Party while an investigation is held into claims that he offered to help a fake energy company.
But speaking to The Journal last night, he said he was confident of being cleared of any suggestion that he used his influence as a member of the Lords in return for payment.
Lord Mackenzie said he was asked to work as a consultant for an energy company, but turned the offer down.
There was no mention of any role working as a lobbyist or asking questions in the House of Lords, he said – but he may have been “a bit naughty” in talking about asking a colleague to host a reception in Parliament, even though he later rejected the job proposal.
It follows newspaper reports that Lord Mackenzie, along with former Cabinet Minister Lord Cunningham, who lives in Stocksfield, Northumberland, and Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird were caught in a “sting” operation by journalists posing as lobbyists who offered them payment in return for helping a fake solar energy business.
Lord Mackenzie said a meeting had taken place but only to discuss working as a consultant outside the House of Lords.
He said: “I thought I was being interviewed in connection with a consultancy with this solar energy company. Nothing to do with lobbying Parliament.
“I made it clear right throughout the discussions that under the new regime, because of the previous problems, you had to be transparent in everything you did, obviously any interests had to be registered, and of course if you mention the subject you were registered for, such as the solar energy bit, then you had to mention it during your speech or question.”
He had a longstanding history in energy issues and climate change, he said.
“I got an email pretending to be a consultancy company based in Switzerland and they were doing some work on behalf of this South Korean solar panel guy who had invented a unique product. It sounded quite interesting. And I’m involved with solar energy or energy saving, and I’m interested in climate change issues.
“They never said anything about lobbying. They simply said that this firm existed, they were coming over here and they were looking for potential consultants because the company intended to market this product in the near future. So I responded to that and we met in a hotel. “
But he admitted that during the conversation he had discussed the possibility of asking a colleague to host an event in the House of Lords – and of chairing an All-Party Parliamentary Group.
“They said, ‘Would you be able to host receptions?’ I said ‘I can’t do that because if you’ve got an interest then you’re not allowed to host a reception,’” he explained.
“And of course foolishly I said, ‘But there is a way round that because all you do is get somebody else to host it.’”
He added: “There’s nothing in the rules about that … obviously that was a misjudgment on my part, it was a lapse in judgment.”
He also suggested he might chair an all party group on solar energy, he said. “I said yeah, if we ever set one up I would be quite happy to chair it.”
But Lord Mackenzie added: “In the event I went back to my office and checked the codes of conduct and I declined the offer anyway. I sent them an email after the interview and told them I wasn’t interested.”
He was confident of that an inquiry by the House of Lords standards commissioner would find him not guilty of any serious wrongdoing, he said.
“I feel as though I have certainly broken no rules. I have perhaps been a bit naughty in sidestepping one of the rules by getting a colleague to host something that wasn’t allowed by me.
“But there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t do that.
“There could be some criticism, they could say that maybe I’ve maybe misjudged that and I would accept that if that were the case, but it’s not a hanging offence I don’t think.”
The Government will bring forward a bill to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists before the summer recess, Downing Street has announced.
The Bill will also include measures to end self-certification of trade union membership and reform third-party funding of election campaigns.
They simply said that this firm were looking for potential consultants