Saturday, 1 June 2013

MP 'offered fake firm Commons pass'

Source BBC News@

Secret filming shows Patrick Mercer signing a contract with the fake lobbying company set up by BBC Panorama

MP Patrick Mercer agreed to offer a Commons security pass to a fake firm that paid him £4,000 to table parliamentary questions, the Daily Telegraph has alleged.

The claim emerged after he resigned the Tory whip over BBC Panorama allegations that he broke Commons lobbying rules.

The Newark MP said he was taking legal advice and had referred himself to Parliament's standards commissioner.

He said he took the money for consultancy work outside Parliament.

On Thursday, Panorama will air allegations from a joint investigation with the Telegraph - but some of the details were made public on Friday.

Panorama said Mr Mercer had been approached by a fake company set up by the programme, in conjunction with the newspaper.

The fake company, Alistair Andrews Communications, had claimed to lobby on behalf of Fijian business interests for Fiji to be readmitted to the Commonwealth.

The country's membership was suspended in 2009 amid criticism of its human rights' record and lack of democracy.

A clip of Mr Mercer being filmed undercover has been released by Panorama. It shows the MP meeting with an undercover reporter, who was posing as a representative of the fake company.

Mr Mercer can be heard saying: "I do not charge a great deal of money for these things. I would normally come out at £500 per half day, so £1,000 a day."

The undercover reporter replies: "OK, fine."

Panorama said it had paid Mr Mercer £4,000 for working two days a month at a rate of £2,000 per month, but that the money had yet to be declared to the parliamentary authorities.

Further allegations were published in the Telegraph on Saturday, including that Mr Mercer agreed to offer a security pass for a "representative" of the fictional Fijian client to provide access to Parliament.

The paper reports that Mr Mercer offered to set up an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) of politicians to consider issues around Fiji.

It goes on to say that, in secretly-recorded conversations, Mr Mercer admitted APPGs could be "utterly useless".

He reportedly said that, "frankly, they can be a way of getting passes for people to get into Parliament".

That was because, when APPGs were set up, "there's one functionary who gets access to an APPG parliamentary pass", he reportedly added.

'Save embarrassment'

In a statement, Panorama said: "Patrick Mercer MP said he agreed to be a consultant for work he said was outside parliament.

"But he submitted five parliamentary questions, which were all answered, as well as an early day motion - all in relation to Fiji."

Patrick Mercer Biography

  • Born in 1956, the son of an Anglican clergyman who went on to become the Bishop of Exeter

  • Studied modern history at Oxford University and attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst

  • Spent 25 years as an army officer, serving in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Uganda and other countries, before working as a journalist

  • Elected as MP for Newark in 2001

  • Served as shadow minister for homeland security under Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and David Cameron, before Mr Cameron fired him in 2007 after a row over alleged racist comments

  • He is married with one son and lives just outside Newark

Under parliamentary rules, politicians are required to declare publicly money that they receive beyond their parliamentary salary, but some paid work should not be undertaken at all.

For example, MPs should not be paid "to ask a parliamentary question, table a motion, introduce a bill, table an amendment to a motion or a bill, or urge colleagues or ministers to do so".

Peter Facey, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, told BBC Breakfast: "The borderline here is - if you've actually gone and then asked a question, or tabled amendments, or set up an all-party group, where does your financial interest stop and your public interest start?

"And here it's very difficult to tell what the difference is between him being a consultant and him being a lobbyist."

In a statement, Mr Mercer said: "Panorama are planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken parliamentary rules.

"I am taking legal advice about these allegations - and I have referred myself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

"In the meantime, to save my party embarrassment, I have resigned the Conservative whip and have so informed [Conservative Chief Whip] Sir George Young.

"I have also decided not to stand at the next general election."

MPs who resign the whip can continue to sit in the Commons as independents but are no longer members of the parliamentary party.

A Conservative spokesman said the prime minister was aware of the allegations and thought Mr Mercer had "done the right thing in referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and resigning the whip".

Parliamentary rules on lobbying

  • All MPs are subject to a Code of Conduct

  • According to the code they have to register their financial interests, including remunerated employment outside parliament

  • They are allowed to work as a consultants or be paid for advice

  • However, MPs are forbidden from acting as a "paid advocate"

  • A paid advocate is defined as someone taking "payment for speaking in the House"

  • It also covers receiving payment for asking a parliamentary question, tabling a motion, introducing a bill or tabling or moving an amendment to a motion or bill or urging colleagues or ministers to do so

"It's important that the due processes take their course," the spokesman said.

Mr Facey said: "If you're being paid to give your advice on how to change the law, it has to be wrong - there's a huge conflict of interest."

Parliamentary records show that in March, Mr Mercer put down an early day motion - used by MPs to draw attention to issues - saying Fiji was making efforts to restore democracy and there was no justification for its continued suspension from the Commonwealth.

He also asked five questions in Parliament about Fiji's human rights record, UK investment in its public transport and the effects of its suspension from, and government policy on, its readmission to the Commonwealth.

All the questions were answered by Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire.

The coalition government is committed to setting up a statutory register of lobbyists - companies that seek to influence government policy, often by paying current and former MPs for advice and guidance.

Panorama will be shown on BBC One at 21:00 BST on Thursday.

Đăng ký: Tieng Anh Vui


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