For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Blair's law and order adviser faces suspension from the Lords
12:00am Tuesday 17th December 2013 in News
A DISGRACED former North-East police chief and law and order adviser to Tony Blair faces suspension from the House of Lords after being found guilty of breaching rules in a "cash-for-access" scandal.
Peers will vote early in the New Year on a recommendation to bar Darlington-born Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate from the upper chamber for six months.
The looming punishment follows a damning inquiry report by the Lords Commissioner for Standards into an undercover sting by the Sunday Times newspaper.
The former president of the Police Superintendents Association was recorded offering to carry out parliamentary work in return for cash - triggering his suspension by the Labour party.
Now the Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct has found Lord Mackenzie breached its code of conduct in four ways, by:
* hosting a function for direct or indirect financial gain;
* arranging for another peer to host the function to get round a rule on the hosting of functions;
* stating a “clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would involve him providing parliamentary services in return for payment”;
* agreeing to “accept payment or other reward” to help create an all-party parliamentary group (APPG), to lobby for a fake company.
The conduct committee concluded: “We recommend that Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate be suspended from the service of the House for six months.”
A Lords source said he was not aware of any case where peers failed to approve such a recommendation for a suspension.
Peers are banned from being paid to act as advocates, trying to influence Parliament or hosting functions in the Lords.
But the sting saw Lord Mackenzie explain to the reporters how he had devised a ruse to get around that rule barring him from hosting Parliamentary events for paying clients.
He told them: “There is a rule that you shouldn't host a reception in parliament where you have a pecuniary interest. I thought that's bloody nonsense.
“I just say to a colleague who has nothing to do with it, ‘would you host a function for me?' Of course, I do the business anyway - but that gets round it.”
The peer – who was once Tony Blair’s law and order adviser – also agreed to set up and lead an parliamentary group on solar energy, which could be controlled by a company in South Korea.
And, asked if, as chairman, he could write to ministers and host receptions on the group's behalf, he replied: “Absolutely, yes. That happens all the time.”
Only last week, Lord Mackenzie told The Northern Echo he had not intentionally broken any Parliamentary rules, adding: “That goes without saying.”
But today’s report reveals the former chief superintendent in Durham police did not challenge the first two findings, reached by the Standards Commissioner.
He did challenge the second two, on the grounds that his conversation with the journalists was merely “exploratory”.
However, the committee said that was irrelevant and that the key issue was that Lord Mackenzie had “expressed a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement”.
A second peer caught up in the sting, the former Ulster Unionist Lord Laird, was also found guilty and faces being banned for four months.
But County Durham-born Lord Cunningham, who served in Tony Blair's Cabinet, was cleared, after being investigated over the same claims.
Speaking to The Northern Echo, Lord Mackenzie said he was "naturally disappointed" with the verdict - but continued to defend his actions, condemning "entrapment" by The Sunday Times.
He insisted he he had merely been exploring whether to advise the company outside Parliament and that his breaches of the rules had been "unwitting".
Describing his likely suspension as a "bit of gardening leave", the peer said: "I look forward to continuing my political work in Parliament, when I resume my seat next year.
"The conversation ended with me advising them to write to me outlining what was discussed which is not, I suggest, a request that would be made by someone intending to break the rules."
Asked if he believed he deserved to retain his place in the Lords, Lord Mackenzie replied: "We are all fallible and we all make mistakes - and I stand by the mistakes I have made."
Meanwhile, a Labour Party spokesman said: "Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate has been found to have breached the rules and remains suspended from the Labour Party. Further action will be taken, following the privileges Committee’s recommendations."