PRIME Minister David Cameron has been urged to address his government’s “failure to act” over lobbying in the wake of allegations that a senior Conservative MP tabled parliamentary questions and motions after being paid thousands of pounds.
Patrick Mercer MP agreed to offer a House of Commons security pass to a fake lobbying firm set up by the BBC’s Panorama programme and the Daily Telegraph newspaper, it is claimed.
The former shadow minister, who will leave the Commons at the next general election, referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after being told that he was to be exposed. He quit the Tory whip stating that he wished to “save my party embarrassment” and is taking legal advice over the allegations.
It is claimed Mercer tabled five questions to government ministers and put down a parliamentary motion after being paid £4,000 as part of a contract with the firm, which purported to be lobbying for businesses with interests in Fiji.
The country was suspended from the Commonwealth four years ago amid human rights concerns and a lack of democracy, and it is understood the fake firm, Alistair Andrews Communications, informed Mercer it was seeking to end Fiji’s suspension.
The newspaper said he was recorded after receiving the first payment saying he would “put a handful” of questions. He had failed to register his interest, it claims, and also says Mercer established an all-party group on Fiji and agreed to provide a parliamentary pass for a “representative” of the fictional Fijian client.
Parliamentary records show that in March Mercer put down an Early Day Motion stating that there was “no justification for Fiji’s continued suspension from the Commonwealth.”
The five questions he tabled were all answered by Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire.
Panorama has released a clip which appears to show Mercer telling an undercover reporter posing as a lobbyist: “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 scandal has brought pressure upon the prime minister to stamp out lobbying among the political class and introduce a long-mooted register of lobbyists. In 2010 he stated that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.
“It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money,” he said at the time.
A proposed statutory register has so far failed to make it into the government’s legislative programme.
Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “David Cameron must now address his failure to act by working with Labour to establish a statutory register of lobbyists.”
He added: “At a time when faith in politics and politicians is at an all-time low, we must all be working hard to reinstate confidence in elected representatives and the governmental system. Examples such as the allegations heard in the last 24 hours are not good for British politics.”
A spokeswoman for the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson said she had not yet received Mercer’s self-referral and would consider the case for an investigation once she had had the chance to consider it.
“Paid advocacy is prohibited in the MPs’ code of conduct. The rules state it is wholly incompatible with the rule that any member should take payment for speaking in the House.
“Nor may a member, for payment, vote, ask a parliamentary question, table a motion, introduce a bill or table or move an amendment to a motion or bill or urge colleagues or ministers to do so.”
Mercer, a former army colonel, served as shadow homeland security minister until 2007, stepping down after suggesting that racism was “part and parcel” of life in the forces.
Downing Street will hope to avoid a by-election in Newark, where Nigel Farage’s Ukip could pose a threat.
• The Panorama special will air on Thursday at 9pm.