Former UUP peer Lord Laird says he accepts – but does not agree with – his suspension from the House of Lords for offering to set up an influential all-party parliamentary group for payment.
The Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct has recommended he should be suspended for four months.
The rulings followed a probe by the Sunday Times which recorded the peer discussing the creation of an all-party group on solar energy with reporters posing as consultants acting for a South Korean solar energy firm.
“I accept the verdict but I don’t agree with it,” Lord Laird told the News Letter last night.
“I don’t understand it because I agreed to nothing and I did not accept anything.”
He said he had suffered heart attacks in the past and would use the four months to recuperate.
The Ulster-Scots enthusiast had a series of serious heart attacks two-and-a-half years ago, and said he was “brought back from the dead” five times on one occasion.
“I’ll be campaigning for better understanding of all mental health conditions, especially depression, and ensuring that appropriate facilities exist in the Houses of Parliament for the treatment of people with these conditions.
In his autobiography, he says that he has always suffered from depression.
“I want to thank the very many people who have wished me well and offered to me support through this most difficult of periods.”
The peer said he “totally” stands by a previous press statement in which he said he “agreed to nothing and did nothing”.
He resigned the UUP party whip in May, he said, after news of the meetings with journalists broke.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said yesterday of the four-month suspension: “This is a severe sanction, reflecting a very serious lapse in judgment by Lord Laird.
“When the news first broke in June, the Ulster Unionist Party moved swiftly to remove the party whip. This remains the case.
“The party leadership will take the necessary time to read and reflect on the report from the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, before discussing what happens when the four-month sanction period has elapsed.”
Report details recorded talks
The House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct found that Lord Laird breached the parliamentary Code of Conduct that required members must always act on their “personal honour”.
Its report into Lord Laird’s conduct, dated December 9, found that he had attempted to negotiate an agreement with undercover Sunday Times and Panorama journalists which would have involved him helping create an all-party group in return for payment or reward.
As part of his appeal, Lord Laird said there was no contract for the provision of parliamentary services or any memorandum that could lead to a contract, and that his conversation with the journalists was at times muddled but was exploratory - and that he promised nothing.
But the report said this must be weighed against what Lord Laird “clearly anticipated could follow” from his conversations with the supposed consultants and what he could do in Parliament, as revealed in the following exchange:
Lord Laird: “… The point is, it’s done on a—Some of the guys, for instance, in the Lords where I will get them to put down questions for me.”
Female Reporter: “You get them to put down questions?”
Lord Laird: “Yeah, and then I put down questions for them. And then what you do is sort of er—”
Female Reporter: “And what’s the reason for getting them to do it and not doing it yourself?”
Lord Laird: “Well, because if I’m employed by you good people and I put down a question which is related to you guys making money, I’d have to put a—I can do it, but I have to put an “I” beside it because I’ve got an interest.”
Female Reporter: “Oh I see, and that draws a lot of attention and—”
Lord Laird: “Well, it’s fine, and you get the same answer. It’s better not to do it that way. It’s better to do it through another guy.”
The report concluded that it did not uphold Lord Laird’s appeals against his suspension for four months.
“We recommend that Lord Laird be suspended from the service of the House for four months.”