Northern Ireland

UUP suspends Lord Laird from Westminster team

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Media captionLord Laird has denied breaching parliamentary rules

The Ulster Unionists have suspended Lord Laird from their Westminster team.

The Leader of the Lords, Lord Hill, has said that the Lords Commissioner for Standards, is to investigate three peers who have been accused of agreeing to do parliamentary work for payment.

Lord Laird is one of the peers accused. All deny any wrongdoing

Undercover Sunday Times reporters filmed the three peers, who appear to offer to help a fake solar energy company.

Lord Laird, Lord Cunningham and Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate deny wrongdoing.

BBC Panorama and the Daily Telegraph filmed Lord Laird discussing a retainer for parliamentary questions.

Lord Laird said he was confident he had done nothing wrong but has referred himself to Westminster authorities.

However, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he had watched the video clip and it was "not edifying".

"Having reviewed the video footage on the Daily Telegraph website and other media reporting of Lord Laird's engagement with alleged lobbyists, I telephoned his home this morning (Sunday) and as a result he has relinquished the party whip, pending the outcome of the review of his behaviour that he has already requested of the relevant authorities at Westminster," Mr Nesbitt said.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence: "Any sensible, right-minded person watching that video clip would form an opinion and that is not the opinion I would want for the Ulster Unionist Party.

"Nobody gets privilege from the Ulster Unionist Party, we expect high standards, we really do."

The fresh allegations over political lobbying come after MP Patrick Mercer resigned the Tory whip on Friday amid claims he broke lobbying rules.

The House of Lords code of conduct says peers cannot engage in "paid advocacy" - using their access to Parliament to make a profit.

The Sunday Times suggests the three peers, whom it filmed separately, may have broken those strict rules.

It is understood that Lord Laird, said he could arrange to get other peers involved. He explained that, working together, they could ask parliamentary questions for each other's clients, put down amendments in debates or write to ministers.

"Some of the guys for instance in the Lords ... I will get to put down questions for me ... and then I put down questions for them," he said.

But later, in a statement to the BBC, Lord Laird said he had been "the subject of a scam" by journalists.

"This has led to allegations that I have broken the rules of the House of Lords," he said.

"I wish to make it clear that 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."

He said that, although he had not broken any rules, he had referred himself "to the appropriate authorities" and would be making "no further statement until I have received their ruling".

The Sunday Times said all three had told their undercover reporters at the time that they would declare any payment in the House of Lords register.

Image caption UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the video clip was "not edifying"

In the separate investigation by the Daily Telegraph in conjunction with the BBC's Panorama programme, Lord Laird was approached by a fake lobbying company - claiming to represent business interests in Fiji.

He was secretly filmed being asked if he would be interested in being paid to work for the company.

He said he would arrange for questions to be raised in Parliament for a retainer of £2,000 a month.

The Ulster Unionist Party said Lord Laird contacted them on Friday.

A spokesman for the party said at that stage: "He assured the party that he has done nothing wrong, but in the interest of transparency, he has referred himself to the appropriate authorities at Westminster so that they can take a view on his conduct. The Ulster Unionist Party considers that this is the correct course of action."

Earlier this year Lord Laird was involved in controversy over his support for an American businessman who wanted to take over the Belfast Giants.

A BBC Northern Ireland investigation revealed he had been a paid advisor to Christopher Knight, who was on a sex offenders register in Florida.

Lord Laird described the sexual allegations as a "minor misdemeanour" but later apologised.

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