The conduct of Lord Laird - Privileges and Conduct Committee Contents


ANNEX 3: APPEAL BY LORD LAIRD ON THE FINDINGS OF THE REPORT ("THE REPORT") BY THE HOUSE OF LORDS COMMISSIONER FOR STANDARDS ISSUED ON 19 NOVEMBER 2013


The Report deals with a number of issues. The findings against me all relate to an alleged breach by me in three instances of paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords. For ease of reference, this is:-

    "Members of the House …

(b)   should act always on their personal honour."

Paragraph 7 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct make it clear that there is no fixed definition of the term "personal honour" Personal honour is "…a matter for individual Members subject to the sense and culture of the House as a whole."

Background

At paragraph 25 of the Report, reference is made to certain remarks attributed to me. I note that it is readily conceded that "those remarks did not and could not constitute a breach of the Code". There is a finding "…it would be remiss of me if I did not highlight that these remarks reflect no credit on Lord Laird." Such a statement is irrelevant to the issues and unfairly prejudicial of me and amount to the perception of bias against me.

The substantive findings in the Report are based on a value judgment. That judgment must, of necessity, be coloured by what is found at paragraph 25 and taints the substantive findings in the Report.

Allegation about creating an ad-hoc group consequent upon the Sunday Times interview

This states:—

"I believe there is sufficient strong evidence for me to find that Lord Laird demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would involve him helping to create an all-party group in return for payment by C & G."

The evidence that has been adduced in the report shows quite clearly my total opposition to the creation of an all-party group. In those circumstances, the evidence points to the conclusion that I would not have negotiated an agreement.

However, the thrust of the finding is that I demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement. That statement flies in the face of the evidence. The evidence simply sets out in general terms what is involved in an APG. It does not show any willingness to negotiate.

The paragraph then contains the additional words "which would involve him helping to create an all-party group for payment by C & G."

However, paragraph 39 makes it clear that there was no agreement to accept payment in return for providing the parliamentary service of helping create an all-party group.

Paragraphs 38 and 39 read together are inconsistent. Payment was not mentioned.

Paragraph 30 states:—

"However, I believe that the creation of an APG at the behest of a commercial organisation in return for payment or with reward is at variance with the concept of personal honour." It is of some significance that paragraph 38 does not contain any reference to "reward".

Taken as a whole, the gravamen of the allegation is the acceptance by me of payment or other reward. Nowhere in the evidence is there any mention of payment or other reward being made to me for helping to set up an APG.

At paragraph 33, it is recorded:-

"There is a lot of money involved … because you've got to pay for a lot of these guys (my emphasis) to go out there…"

This is a reference to the payment of the necessary expenses of members of the group. In no way could just a statement be construed as a payment or reward to me for helping to provide the parliamentary service of setting up an APG.

Allegation about the creating of an all-party group consequent upon the Panorama Report

Paragraphs 66 to 79 deal with the allegation of creating an APG consequent upon the Panorama broadcast. The conclusion drawn by the Commission is in terms identical to those findings made in connection with the Sunday Times article.

There is absolutely no evidence to show that I expressed a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement for payment or reward. The only reference to payment is the reference to the cost of setting up an APG. This is not a reference to a payment or reward for me.

Allegation about the provision of parliamentary services consequent upon the Parliamentary Report

The substance of this allegation is found at paragraph 72. This is in terms:—

    "The comments above taken as a whole create a distinct picture that if he were retained by the consultant, Lord Laird would be willing to provide parliamentary services to them or their clients. This seems to me sufficiently strong evidence to find that Lord Laird demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement that would involve the provisions of parliamentary services in return for payment or other reward."

The relevant extracts from the Sunday Times interview are set out at paragraphs 41 to 48 inclusive. These extracts do nothing more than set out what is the "description of a role of a peer" but subject to further scrutiny of the relevant rules.

I would refer to pages 172 and 173 of the Report. These deal with the only times that payment or reward is mentioned. My response is quite clear: I would not countenance any such payment.

There is no evidence whatsoever to support the contention that I "demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement that would involve the provision of parliamentary services for payment or other reward". In respect of all three allegations, I would draw attention to paragraph 4 on page 174 where I state:—

    "In short in neither case was there a contract; nor was there a memorandum to lead to a contract. Nor was there a verbal agreement as to what such memorandum, or contract should contain. There was simply an exploratory and at times rather muddled conversation as to what such a contract, if it ever did materialise, might properly (my emphasis) contain. Such a conversation must be permissible under the rules how otherwise could one establish legitimate parameters as is encouraged by paragraph 20 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct".

    In short, the finding that I demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would involve me helping to create an all-party group in return for payment or other reward has not been made out.

    Sanction

    In the event that the Committee does not uphold my appeal in respect of the findings, I also appeal against the sanction.

    While there are expressed to be three separate findings, they are, to all intents and purposes, the one finding. To penalise me on three counts is disproportionate and unfair.

    No person benefitted in any way from the two "scams" investigated.

    The imposition of the sanction does not take into account in any way my medical conditions and how they contribute to the manner in which I express myself. It does not take into account my impeccable record of service to the House.

    I have assisted the Commissioner comprehensively in his inquiry.

    For the above reasons, the sanction, in my respectful submission, should be a reprimand.

    Lord Laird

    1 December 2013

    Transcript of evidence taken before The Select Committee for Privileges and Conduct 9 December 2013

    Members present

    Lord Sewel (Chairman)

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns

    Lord Bassam of Brighton

    Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

    Lord Eames

    Lord Hill of Oareford

    Lord Laming

    Lord Mackay of Clashfern

    Lord Newby

    Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal

    Lord Scott of Foscote

    Lord Wallace of Tankerness

    Also present: Colin Gowdy, Lord Laird's solicitor

    Examination of Witness

    Lord Laird

    Q1. The Chairman: Good morning, Lord Laird, thank you for attending. This is a meeting of the Privileges and Conduct Committee to hear your appeal against both the substance of the Commissioner's findings and the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct's recommendation as to sanction.

    Let me explain to you the format of the meeting. First, I will ask you whether you wish to make a general opening statement covering the main matters. There will then be an opportunity for Members of the Committee to ask you questions, which will be on the substance of the Commissioner's findings. You will then have the opportunity to make any comment on that part of the proceedings. I will then proceed to give you an opportunity to make a statement on the sanction that the Sub-Committee has recommended and you will have a final opportunity to make any comments that you would wish to make that you may not have had the opportunity to make during the course of the meeting.

    I appreciate that you have brought with you your solicitor, who is entitled to attend, as you know. However, let me read out part of paragraph 117 of the Guide to the code, which states: "If they choose"—"they" are Peers who are subject to investigation—"to bring a colleague, friend or adviser, they are free to consult him or her off the record, but will be expected to answer for themselves (and not through the friend or adviser) any question put to them". We will proceed on that basis. Lord Laird, do you wish to make an opening statement?

    Lord Laird: My Lord Chairman, I thank you for this opportunity to say a few words. I am very pleased and proud to be a Member of the House of Lords. I have been here for 14 and a half years. When I came here, I felt that I could contribute to working on behalf of the community I come from and of the country, using whatever skills I had. I wanted to be a day-to-day Member of this House, a very regular attender, taking an interest in things. I am disappointed that I am causing the inconvenience that I am causing to everybody who is here today. I appreciate that you are all giving up time. I am just sorry that this has been necessary. I would like to make a few points about the Commissioner's remarks. I want to put that in the context of my state of health, which is not great and was recognised by the House as such, because the House affords me a taxi to drive to and from my apartment, which is not that far from here, and to go back at lunchtime or anytime in the afternoon to take a rest, or whenever the problems happen to be.

    There are issues I want to draw to your attention which I think have a bearing on these proceedings. As you will note in the medical documents, by reason of the fact that I was born after 28 weeks, I am heavily dyslexic to the extent that I had a somewhat unusual childhood, where I was, believe it or not, the smallest of the class at junior school, was heavily bullied and ended up having very low self-esteem, a negative personality and being depressed. Three years ago I wrote about this in a book A Struggle to be Heard, and discussed both my dyslexia and my depression. My depression really took off big time in 1970. At the age of 25 I became a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament for an inner-city constituency in Belfast. To put it quite curtly, I was succeeding my father who perhaps had more ambition. That was at the start of the Troubles in Belfast. I felt totally responsible for the area I represented. I could not understand what was going on. You got no guidance or help. You just had to take the job yourself. It came to a head in a place called Hope Street in Belfast. The IRA let off a bomb that destroyed, in some way, 250 houses in my constituency. My black mood really took off. It took me years to get over that period of feeling totally impotent, totally down and not able to offer support and help to people who, through no fault other than that they were living in the wrong place, were being mucked about by the civil disorder. At that stage, the depression needed medical attention, which it got. But I have had it all the days of my life. One of the things I do, which is a wee bit unfortunate, is to try and lessen stress—the big fear in my life is stress—by trying to create a situation around me not only for the people who help me, but to try and create an atmosphere around me which may be amusing; that may be my opinion, and I may be wrong in this. Sorry, I am losing my place.

    Sorry, I am lost for words.

    I discovered, particularly at that junior school, that you can defuse a bullying situation by trying to be funny. Unfortunately, this has probably run away a bit with me. I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that I amuse people and leave them with an impression of who I am. I am very interested in communication. It was, for a vast part of my life, the largest profession that I was in. I have always, let us say, taken the advice of Enoch Powell who said that anybody who wants to be a politician has to be an actor. You have to leave people in a situation where they will never forget that you called at the door or you met them in the street. That is kind of a thing that I have done. This leads me to being very stressed out and to have trouble with stress. I had a heart attack in 2007, which was pretty severe. To be honest with you, I did not know that I had had a heart attack; I went about my normal business for nearly 24 hours before I reported to the local hospital. I had quite a number of disappointing and difficult episodes there, but stress is the one thing that brings on—Sorry, I am slightly under it now. I have forgotten the word. Stress brings on heavy depression, so I have to avoid it at all costs. On occasions I have been taken from this building to St Thomas's Hospital, suffering from stress, to have my heart checked. I have gone through a number of episodes, including one when I collapsed in the car park out there and lay in the gutter for a while, while people climbed over me to get to a meeting in the Cholmondeley Room.

    That is by the by. The point is that I suffer heavily from stress, which has got infinitely worse since my heart attack, and probably due to my age as well. I do not speak in the House any more. I may never speak in the House again. I do other tasks which are easier. I took part in a debate in the Moses Room last year and I lost it completely. As anybody here who was there will know, I lost it completely: I lost who I was and everything about it. I do not want that the happen in the Chamber.

    I am currently on a course to try and rectify or improve the situation. I think that might put me back a wee bit on that course again. But for one who used to speak regularly and take on an awful lot of stuff, I do not speak now. I have not spoken during this calendar year in the Chamber, and I have no plans to speak.

    I have forgotten where I am. Could I have a few minutes?

    The Chairman: Five minutes.

    [Pause]

    Will you identify your solicitor, please?

    Colin Gowdy: My name is Colin Gowdy.

    Lord Laird: I am sorry about being long-winded, but the point is that my medical condition is explained in detail in two reports that you should have copies of, from Professor Jennifer Adgey and Dr Harbinson. They give a fairly good explanation. I have never been in the situation before, while a Member of this House, that I was in during these interviews that turned out to be scams.

    I was invited along, as I thought, to discuss public relations. I think that my medical condition had an effect on those interviews. In the Commissioner for Standards' finding—

    I think that is me finished with my opening statement.

    The Chairman: I want to give you every opportunity to say what you want to say, Lord Laird, and we have your written appeal before us. Am I correct in concluding that that is the essence of the case you wish to make and you do not think it necessary to add to it?

    Lord Laird: Yes.

    The Chairman: Fine. Thank you. The next stage is for Members to put questions.

    Q2. Lord Laming: Lord Laird, you have dealt extensively with your medical condition, but you will understand that the Committee wants to move on to the complaints against you and the Commissioner's findings. I shall take you first to paragraph 25 of the Commissioner's report, which starts on page 11. It may be easier if I read out the paragraph. "In addition to alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct, The Sunday Times reported certain other comments made by Lord Laird. In particular, having said that the female reporter starts off 'with the MPs a couple of steps ahead of everyone else, because you're an attractive female', Lord Laird said, 'the trouble is in the Lords, they tend to be homosexuals.' He then told a joke about the debates in the House of Lords which ended with: 'Homosexuals and foxes are the only thing that fill the bloody place.' These remarks did not and could not constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct and I therefore did not question Lord Laird about them. However, it would be remiss of me if I did not simply highlight that these remarks reflect no credit on Lord Laird". In your appeal, Lord Laird—this is what I want you to clarify—you refer to paragraph 25. You rightly repeat that the remarks did not constitute a breach of the code, but you go on to say, "Such a statement is irrelevant to the issues and unfairly prejudicial of me and amounts to the perception of bias against me". Will you say something about that?

    Lord Laird: In the context of the purpose of this Committee meeting and the findings of the Commissioner about breaches of the code, the comments are irrelevant. They are unfortunate, but they are irrelevant.

    Lord Laming: They are unfortunate, but they are irrelevant?

    Lord Laird: They are unfortunate in the way they are reported here.

    Lord Laming: Lord Laird, to press you a little further on that, you state that they demonstrate prejudice and bias against you. Do you believe that the Commissioner's report is biased against you?

    Lord Laird: It should not have said that.

    Lord Laming: Let me ask you the question. Do you believe that the Commissioner's report was biased against you?

    Lord Laird: From a reading of this, I do think it was.

    Lord Laming: Are you referring only to those words or to the whole report?

    Lord Laird: I think that, in a sense, this sets the tone. I think it is an unfortunate remark he made.

    Lord Laming: The Committee could reasonably conclude from that that you believe that the Commissioner's report was biased against you?

    Lord Laird: I think there is a level of bias in there. Depending, of course, on how it is interpreted.

    Lord Laming: Say the last bit again—I did not catch it.

    Lord Laird: It depends on how the evidence is interpreted.

    Lord Laming: The significant thing I am trying to ask is: do you believe that the Commissioner was biased in his investigation?

    Lord Laird: When you come down to the other sections, my view is that he has taken conclusions for which there is no evidence.

    Lord Laming: That is quite a serious statement, Lord Laird. Do you stand by it?

    Lord Laird: Yes.

    Q3. Lord Hill of Oareford: Lord Laird, talking about the evidence, we need to ask you a few questions about the allegation that you were prepared to work to set up an all-party group. Obviously I have read your appeal and read the exchanges between you and the Commissioner very carefully where you I think rightly point out that throughout the transcript with the undercover reporters you make it clear that you do not think setting up an all-party group is a good idea; you rely on that in your appeal in terms of saying that you were very clear throughout the interview that you did not think setting up an all-party group was a good idea. I think that is clear from the transcript. It struck me though, on reading it, that that was a tactical argument. You did not think it would be a sensible thing to set up an all-party group for the conduct of the campaign and did not formulate a principled argument that you would not be involved in setting up an all-party group. Would you like to comment on that distinction? Do you accept the difference between a tactical argument, which you are very clear about—"You shouldn't do this"—and a principled argument, "You shouldn't do this and I shouldn't have anything to do with setting up an all-party group"?

    Lord Laird: I actually think it is a principled thing. I do not think that APPGs are successful. I take a totally different view on trying to do things. I talk about the creation of a climate of opinion. It is a topic that I used to lecture heavily on at the University of Ulster. It is what I believe a whole public relations campaign is. What you are trying to do is create outside in the community, whatever the subject happens to be, a situation where a topic is well accepted and well known, working on the basis that, let us say, people like MPs—and to a certain extent Peers, but particularly MPs—are very susceptible to what is being said to them in their own surgeries or just walking down the street. If a topic becomes current, there is likely to be some activity or some action taken in this Parliament building, rather than the concept, which I totally disagree with, of talking to some Minister or civil servant and trying to use the old school tie or something. I do not think it is successful. I do not think it is good. It is not what this place should be all about. This place should react to what people outside require. What you do is go outside and try to create the climate of opinion,

    Lord Hill of Oareford: What about the fact that it is not within our rules to set up an all-party group in exchange for commercial advantage? That is the point I think you do not make clear. I understand the point that you do not think it is a good idea tactically, but the whole point is that this is not something that we are supposed to do. I did not see anywhere you saying, "That is not something that I could do. It is against our rules and it is not something I would be involved with".

    Lord Laird: You did not see in this document here anything that talks about reward or payment for doing that. You have to remember that this was a very preliminary discussion—a discussion about a discussion, even. We were not into detailed discussion. In both transcripts, you will find that I continually made the point, including in the paragraphs concerned here, that the one thing I would not do is cross the line. I would not break the rules.

    Lord Hill of Oareford: Forgive me, Lord Laird. I acknowledge very clearly your general remarks that you are not a fan of all-party groups, but you also said, "Everybody else is the bloody chairman of an APPG, why can't I be a chairman of an APPG? It is better to have one than not have one". When you were asked whether you might be able to help them set up a parliamentary group, you said, and I quote, "Oh, I would have thought so". How does that fit in?

    Lord Laird: First, there is no reference to reward there. If you note, in all cases nothing was ever agreed and nothing was ever done. At least on a number of occasions I say, "Look, I want to go away and among the things I want to do is read the rules again".

    Lord Hill of Oareford: So you feel you did not know the rules on all-party groups.

    Lord Laird: The point is that at the time the rules were issued, I read them along with everybody else and signed the document. I am dyslexic. I cannot be expected to know every jot and tittle that is in the rules. What I would do, were I back in the public relations business, is to take all the material away and work out a scheme—I have outlined how I would do this in the document—which has probably been recognised as a fair summary of how you would go about putting together a PR campaign if you are going to be involved. What was the other point you made?

    Lord Hill of Oareford: I am trying to establish that you accept that you were not clear with them about your lack of willingness to be involved in setting up an all-party group. It is perfectly possible, looking at the transcript, to see why they would have formed the view that you were prepared to become involved in setting up an all-party group.

    Lord Laird: I want to make two points. One is that I am not as precise in expressing myself when under pressure, certainly not as precise as I used to be. I used to think that I was very precise, but I am not. That was one of the reasons, had I not had other reasons anyway, that I would not have accepted or been party to any discussions or agreements as a result of those meetings. I did not know that on that occasion they were going to discuss with me issues that required me to bring a copy of the rules or somebody with me. I would not read the rules myself. What I would do, and what I have done for instance with all this material, is always get somebody to read it for me and tell me what is in it. If you are dyslexic like me, you are quite able to read the rules and read them the wrong way round. It is a very complicated business. I do not know if anyone else here is dyslexic, but I do not read phonetically; I read by visually knowing a word, not by how you pronounce it. A new word is a total mystery to me, a total mystery.

    Lord Hill of Oareford: Are you saying in essence that you knew the rules or that you did not know the rules?

    Lord Laird: I knew the generality, absolutely. I knew the generality. That is why, do not forget, when I thought that either party was getting near that borderline, I kept on saying, "Look, I will not be party to this". As in the PR business, you would check it very closely and very carefully. You would agree the minute detail of what you were going to do. As a result of my experiences in the last number of years—you will see this again from the medical reports—I have lost some memory. I cannot trust myself too much on memory now. It is a function of age and the whole malaise that I get into. It is not unreasonable to say to these guys, "I want to go away; if necessary, I want to read the rules". Well, I said "read the rules", although in my case I would get the rules read to me. I have people who read these things very carefully for me.

    Q4. Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall follow up on the APPG issue and the interviews carried out on behalf of the Sunday Times. I refer you to your own appeal document, at the bottom of page 2, and I shall try to paint a clearer picture as to where we have reached. Are you saying that, throughout this, from your point of view, there would only be a breach of the rules if you had physically taken some payment or reward for setting up the APPG? Is that what I can infer from those two paragraphs of your appeal document? You are saying, "If I didn't take something, it is fine; if I had taken something, it is not fine"?

    Lord Laird: Is this under the heading of paragraph 33?

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Paragraph 30. It is on the second page of your appeal, "Appeal by Lord Laird on the findings of the report", Paper CP 13-14/17. "However, I believe that the creation of an APG at the behest of a commercial organisation in return for payment or with reward is at variance with the concept of personal honour". I am looking at that paragraph and the one below. My question is: are you suggesting that a breach of the code would only occur if there were a specific payment or reward for setting up the APG?

    Lord Laird: Will you give me a second?

    Would it be your suggestion that, when I talked about a lot of money, some of it would come my way?

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns: No, I am not jumping to that conclusion at all. I am trying to find out what you consider to be the rules about setting up APGs. In other words, are you suggesting, from everything you say, that you would only be breaking the rules in helping to set up an APG if you had already taken the money—if, by the time we were dealing with all this, you had taken money or reward?

    Lord Laird: But there is no suggestion that I was going to take any reward or payment.

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Are you saying, therefore, that you would have worked for this fake company—we now know it was fake—without payment or reward?

    Lord Laird: Yes, I could have. I did, actually, in both cases, give them what I regarded as a number of useful public relations ideas. I do not have the capability of doing a full day's work, which is why I have that particular agreement with the Clerk of the Parliaments' Office, but I like to be kept involved, to be quite blunt, and I like putting forward ideas and seeing how those ideas do in communication. I was even quite excited about some of the ideas I put forward. It was not a case of money. I would have given them advice—

    I believe that one of the jobs that I have—and I am, perhaps, arrogant enough to think that I have done it successfully for a length of time—is to make the House of Lords relevant to the people I deal with. I find that there is a bit of a barrier between us, a sort of them and us. People come to me regularly with all sorts of problems and things, perhaps not down to the constituency level, but I certainly get a lot of people coming with ideas or problems, and I cannot think of anybody who has come to me whom I have turned away, refused to talk to or refused to help, but it is not for money. It is just ideas; if they appeal to me, I would be quite happy. Money was not particularly important. The money I am referring to there is the money to run an APG. From my very limited experience of APGs, it is one of the reasons I do not particularly like them. I am sorry if that was a bit long.

    Q5. Lord Newby: Let us move on to your conversation with the "Panorama" people. On page 3 of your appeal, you say that there is no evidence that you demonstrated "a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would involve me helping to create an all-party group in return for payment or other reward" by the consultancy with whom you were having the conversation. How does that square with the statement quoted in paragraph 69 of the Commissioner's report, on page 23, where you say, "if the client wants an APPG we'll get him one with a bow on it"?

    Lord Laird: I was trying to be funny to somebody who I thought was in the same profession as me. In both cases they identified themselves as being in the same trade as me and for a while we talked a little bit of the same language. I was trying to build bridges. It may be incorrect on my part, but in order to build bridges and to get across to somebody I do not know terribly well I tend to try to be humorous or to use this type of cartoon language. It helps me greatly. It may not help the other person and I am sorry about that.

    Lord Newby: But in the PR business when you use the phrase "the client", the assumption is, is it not, that you have a commercial relationship with somebody?

    Lord Laird: Well, he did. That is what I was talking about. It was his client.

    Lord Newby: But you said, "if the client wants an APPG we'll get him one". You are saying that you did not envisage, when you said that, that you would have a client relationship with either the Fijians directly or the public relations company.

    Lord Laird: Sorry, would you mind just saying that again, please?

    Lord Newby: When you use the phrase I just quoted, are you saying that you did not envisage that you would have a formal relationship with either the PR company or the Fijians?

    Lord Laird: Will you just repeat that?

    Lord Newby: You are saying that you did not envisage being, yourself, in a client relationship with the PR company.

    Lord Laird: Not necessarily. Which one are we talking about?

    Lord Newby: The Fijians.

    Lord Laird: The Fijians? Not necessarily. Do not forget that I had already, by that stage, given them ideas that I think a number of PR guys would have sold for quite a lot of money. I had given them ideas off the top of my head. Those need to be polished and refined, but I find that that actually is my job—sorry, this was my job, this is how I fed my family, paid the rent and stuff. I find it very interesting, the concept of how to put together a message, as a job. To be blunt, I found the discussion of these things quite stimulating, quite interesting. I was thinking of ideas for all the things we could do and I had already given him ideas, without any suggestion of payment, which other PR guys would have charged an awful lot of money for. I had just given them to him, so I was not terribly worried, to be quite blunt. I was more interested in seeing how—

    I took his story about Fiji and I was very interested to be involved in a bit of international public relations. I was in it to see how the chemistry would work, to put that back on the rails again. That would be more interesting to me than anything else. I would probably not have ended up working for them. First, I cannot travel. Well, I can travel in Europe, but I cannot travel long distance. I could not have gone to Fiji and that would have been an important part of a relationship with a client, to go and visit him, or he would think you are lacking in understanding. I cannot travel because, as you know, I have a pacemaker and a defibrillator. Sorry—you have read all that. I do go on a bit. I apologise.

    Q6. Lord Eames: Lord Laird, it is obvious that you are under a great deal of strain. I want you to think very carefully about what I am going to ask you. It refers back to page 3 of your appeal document and your claim that there is no evidence to show that you demonstrated a clear willingness to accept monetary reward. In fact, you went so far in your appeal as to say that no there was no question of money being mentioned at that level. I want to be clear in my mind about this, and my colleagues would like clarity. Is it your suggestion that you would have been prepared to work for this make-believe consultancy without receiving money or other reward if it was something that obviously enthused or interested you?

    Lord Laird: Yes.

    Lord Eames: You would have been prepared to work at that level, and you were not talking about monetary reward?

    Lord Laird: The key word there is "work". I would have been keen to have been consulted on that basis. I like to work on ideas. That is what I think I am: an ideas man. To put it very clearly, I would have been more interested to be involved in putting the experiment together and seeing how it worked, and hoping it did work, rather than making any money.

    Lord Eames: And you would say in support of your appeal that this was evidence that you were not simply in it for the money.

    Lord Laird: Far from it.

    Lord Eames: You agree with what I have just said?

    Lord Laird: Absolutely, yes.

    Lord Eames: Any reference in part of the paperwork we have where you say, for example, "If this comes to pass, you are talking about £2,000 or something like that", is ancillary to the point that you would want to make: you were not in it for the money.

    Lord Laird: That, I think, refers to Fiji again.

    Lord Eames: Yes. It was specifically mentioned.

    Lord Laird: Oh yes, I agree with you. In the Fiji case, they were continually saying that they wanted to know how much I would charge. To be honest with you, that is a very small fee in public relations terms for that type of work; it is more a nominal type of thing. I would not be terribly worried about it, but they asked about my charges and I gave them an idea.

    In the other case, do not forget I was offered a six-figure sum, which I turned down without even consideration. I would not be a party to it.

    Lord Eames: Are you again telling me that you would have been prepared to work in this situation without money?

    Lord Laird: As long as it did not break the rules, which was quite clearly said and specified, and was outside Parliament. Sorry I am getting lost. One of those good ideas was to do with rugby.

    Lord Eames: The point that I want to make absolutely clear, and I want you to make clear to me, is that this was a possibility and that you would have worked even without money if there has been enthusiasm for and interest in it.

    Lord Laird: That is exactly the position.

    Q7. Lord Scott of Foscote: Lord Laird, in the report of the interview which you had with these characters who came to see you, on page 73 of the bundle the lady described as "female reporter" said to you, "Do you have clients?" The answer you gave was, "I am chairman of the Earth Foundation. I am chairman of that advisory board. I mean, that's the sort of—I am a retired PR guy, but", you went on, "I like the sort of challenge you"—i.e. the people you were talking to—"talk about. I would like to be able to help you guys, for a minor consideration of course". What was meant by "a minor consideration"?

    Lord Laird: They talked continually about money, as you will read from the transcript. The chairmanship of, let us say, the Earth Foundation had nothing whatever to do with anything in this building. They kept on talking money to me, and I was simply batting the ball back from that. It would be a minor consideration.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: What would you call a minor consideration, for example?

    Lord Laird: £1,000 a month.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: £1,000 a month?

    Lord Laird: Yes. That is what I have done. I do very little of this, to be quite honest with you, but that is what I would charge anybody for that sort of thing. That sort of covers your expenses and keeps you moving about.

    Q8. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Lord Laird, I now take you to paragraphs 41 to 48 of the Commissioner's report, in which you say that the extracts of your conversations with the undercover Sunday Times people that are quoted in those paragraphs are no more than a description of the role of a Peer. You go into quite a lot of detail about tabling Questions, and you say that there is a department in the Lords where you can seek advice in order to table Questions, et cetera. But then you also say, which disturbs me, that if you had a specific interest in an issue, you would get other people in the Lords to put down Questions for you. You suggest that there is a sort of "coterie of people, supporters" who you would get to put down Questions for you. If you have little or no pecuniary interest in a company that you might be representing, I wonder why you would find it necessary to ask colleagues in the House to table Questions on your behalf. I accept, of course, that you categorically state all the time that you have to be careful and you would not cross the line, et cetera, but I am interested to know why you would wish to ask other people to put down Questions for you.

    Lord Laird: If you are involved, particularly in Written Questions, you get to know the people who are interested in other topics and topics that are similar to yours, or at least that you know a wee bit about—if you are interested. This is something that I got into as a Northern Ireland MP: what information can you get from the use of a Written Question? If there is an issue on which I can see that a Question would get a lead, I would be very quick to mention it to the person who is leading on it. That is not the proper term; I mean the person who is taking a particular interest. I would check this. I would discuss it on a semi-regular basis, whenever you meet them or when something is coming up. Someone is interested in topic X. I have a slight interest in topic X, but I am pursuing other lines of inquiry. I am trying to dig out other government stuff. I would be very quick to say to that person, "What about this? Is there anything else you can do?", or, "There is something there you could do".

    Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I am quoting you here. Why, when you are asked about tabling Questions, did you say, "I mean, if I spoke on your behalf, I would have to declare an interest. You can do it. I have done it, but it would be easier to get a coterie of people who are supporters and make a point that I would ask them to do this issue, that issue or whatever". You are suggesting that you would marshal this coterie of people because they would be the people who would have an interest in it. I have to say that that does not really come out of what you are saying. I know, for the record, that you are a past master in asking Questions yourself, but that is not a criticism.

    Lord Laird: I have asked a few.

    Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I would be grateful for your view on this. In clearly stipulating to a third party, as it were, that it is very easy to get other people to put down Questions for whatever reason, you are bringing the Lords and Parliament in general into disrepute. It could be perceived as an underhand way of conducting business if one does not table one's own Questions.

    Lord Laird: Is that part of my appeal?

    Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Is it part of your appeal? Perhaps it is not part of your appeal. Forgive me, my Lords, but I thought that it was a relevant question.

    Lord Laird: I know people who are interested in fracking, which I think is going to be one of the major topics that we are going to have to deal with. I take a wee bit of an interest in fracking but I have never really got down to taking my jacket off about it. If I had any information or thoughts about fracking, I would pass them on to the person who would be interested in fracking. I do not think that that is anything other than that is what you would do in a workplace. Someone next door to you is interested in fracking or oil or energy, so you might say to them, "Have you looked at this way or thought of it from that way?" I would honestly think that was part of my job.

    Q9. Lord Scott of Foscote: Lord Laird, the background to the occasion when all these characters presented themselves as the representatives of various commercial companies that came to see you was that they were holding out the possibility—fictitious as it turned out, but you would not have known that at the time—of you becoming a consultant to the companies they were representing. Is that a fair description of the background to what took place between you and these characters?

    Lord Laird: They were holding out, in my opinion, the prospect that they would be seeking advice from me in some form.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: Yes, but as I understand it, your role would be as a consultant. You would be employed as a consultant by the companies.

    Lord Laird: That appeared at a certain stage. In both cases, but through the timescale I forgot about this, when I first got the stuff that turned out to be the Sunday Times—

    Lord Scott of Foscote: I am rather more concerned about what happened at the time you were talking to these undercover journalists.

    Lord Laird: It became clear when talking to them that because they were in the same trade as me, or the same trade as I had been in, they were talking about doing some stuff. As long as it did not affect this building and therefore did not affect the rules, that did not seem to me to be a particular problem.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: I follow that, but they were suggesting that you would enter employment for their client or their company. Is that what they were putting to you?

    Lord Laird: I think that that is what they were putting to me, but we never got far on in the discussions.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: But that was the background to the information you were giving to them in the course of this interview about what a Peer could do.

    Lord Laird: I was only giving a view of what a Peer can do. Do not forget that in both cases I talked heavily about two things. One was what can happen outside Parliament and the other was that I would not break the rules.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: In telling them what a Peer could do, it might appear to someone who reads the transcript that you were, as it were, underlining the value that your services might have for them.

    Lord Laird: In both cases, before you would enter into a final agreement, there would have to be a very detailed list. That is professionalism. You have to have a very detailed list of exactly what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and how you are going to do it, as well as how you are going to assess whether it has been successful or not, and who is going to look at and check the success with you. Sorry, I have lost the last part. Oh yes, the most important thing of all in a campaign like this is the command structure. None of that was ever brought into the conversation, let alone began to be developed. This was like a preliminary to the preliminary discussion.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: How would you describe the purpose of your telling them all the things that a Peer could do? Why were you telling them that?

    Lord Laird: Well, again, I wanted to make and I always tried to make—I am sorry, just give me a minute. I always wanted to try to make people relate to the House of Lords. I find that people, particularly possibly in Northern Ireland where I come from, hold the House of Lords in very high respect, and why should they not? But the point is that they would never think of coming along and talking to any of us or trying to make themselves understood. I always try to make things understood. I always do that. It is just a sort of answer to, "How do we do that?" I try to explain what is possible and what is not possible, what is there and what you do. I do not know if you have discovered this, but you get some very crazy ideas of what we actually do. I try to make it as understandable as possible and—this is an important point—if they have problems, and say to them, "Look, if there is ever anything I can do for you, would you let me know?"

    Lord Scott of Foscote: Against the background of the possibility, which they thought there was, or maybe thought there was not but you may have thought there was, of you becoming a consultant to the company they purported to represent, one might naturally think that your details about what a Peer could do would be a means of enhancing your value to them if an agreement for you to become a consultant was ever reached.

    Lord Laird: Well, that would not have occurred to me. I have lost quite a bit of cognitive ability. You will see that in the health reports. I have discovered that I miss a bit of the obvious. But the point is this: these were people whose job is to get out of bed in the morning, set up a scam system and try to bring somebody into it. Now, I am vulnerable.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: I follow that. You were the victim, but—

    Lord Laird: They were professionals trying to tie me in knots and I was vulnerable.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: But what was your intention and what was your reason for explaining to them all the things that you as a Peer could do?

    Lord Laird: I was trying to inform them. Particularly with the Sunday Times, the more I went on to go round that sort of area the more I began to sort of doubt their credibility. I mean, they claimed to know so little. But the trouble was that in the ambience of talking to people who you think are in the same trade and you are trying to explain how this fits into that and that fits into this, and, "Let us do it that way", that was what I was trying to do. It never—

    Lord Scott of Foscote: Did it not occur to you that you were sounding as though you were enhancing your value to them?

    Lord Laird: No.

    Q10. Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I wonder if I could ask a supplementary question. Would you turn, please, to pages 73 and 74? Page 73 of the transcript is the conversation you were having with the female reporter and male reporter; it is at the bottom, page 73.

    Lord Laird: Page 73 and 74—yes.

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal: If it helps you, if you have difficulty reading it, I will read it for you. The female reporter has been asking you about setting up a group—an all-party group—and she is suggesting to you, in the penultimate paragraph, that you perhaps should have more money for doing that. Do you see?

    Lord Laird: Where is that?

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal: On page 73 of the report from the Commissioner; it is the transcript.

    Lord Laird: Oh yes, I see.

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal: She suggests that you should get more money for setting up. Do you see? And you say, "Yeah, let me come back to you on that, as they say. If we get—You'll understand it, because I mean we're all very sort of crazy in our minds about the expenses scandal and all sorts of stuff. But if it gets anywhere near the red line, I'll put a flag up. Do you know what I mean?" She says yes. And you say—and I want you to explain to us what you meant by it—"What we're talking about here is not because—All you're simply doing, really, is using the services of a public relations guy who happens to be in the Lords. It's like going to a dentist who happens to be in the Lords." What did you mean by that?

    Lord Laird: You will note that in the case of their introductory discussions they said that they were looking for a consultant. They did not say that the consultant had to be a Member of Parliament, in either place. They said they were looking for a consultant. I think you will find that they implied it would be handy, or something like that, if I was, if the person employed, was in the Lords. What I am saying here is that if I was their public relations person—if I was doing public relations for them—that would just be me helping them doing stuff outside or whatever it happens to be along the lines they discussed.

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Not because you happen to be a Member of our House.

    Lord Laird: No, no. Excuse me, It is a bit like the dentist, you know. The fact that he is a dentist is unimportant. The fact that he comes here in the afternoon and is a dentist is not important; in the morning he fills teeth.

    Baroness Scotland of Asthal: So that is your explanation for the answers you were giving to Lord Scott. You were not suggesting that you were doing this as a Member of the House of Lords. You were doing it as a consultant.

    Lord Laird: Oh yes. I have 14 and a half years here. I come over every week from Northern Ireland. It can be a wee bit of a lonely experience. It can be a wee bit discommoding from your life, and all your family and commitments. To be able to keep your hand in at something you thought you were good at and used to lecture in university about, does not seem to me to be something that I should not do. When I was appointed here, one of the things that I felt I could try and bring was any communications skills that I may have. Now I may be wrong on that, but that was what I thought. You may note, from other parts of the presentation, other ideas that I have had, other things that I have done, in running functions where we debate and discuss all sorts of things, even running a thing called—I do not know if you read the Food for Thought-type launch—

    Q11. The Chairman: Can I ask you one question? In your discussions with the reporters, there are discussions about what you may do, what you can do, what you are prepared to do. You refer to the fact that you do not want to break the rules; that you would not break the rules. You said today that you do not have a detailed knowledge of those rules. Can you direct us to anywhere in your conversations with the reporters where you say anything to the effect of, "Before reaching a decision, I would wish to take advice on what the rules are"? I do not mean those precise words, but that general tenor.

    Lord Laird: There is, for example, the one that Lady Scotland was referring to. There is more, actually. "But if it gets anywhere near the red line, I'll put up a flag up", which means that I have got to find out.

    The Chairman: No, that is not saying that you would take advice.

    Lord Laird: Well, there is another; there is at least one other case. Well, it is what I would normally do; it is what I would do. I know this is a large organisation—the House of Lords and its employees. I do not know of any facilities specially to help people who are dyslexic to understand things—there could very well be, which may be my fault.

    The Chairman: Sorry, that is not the point I want to make. It is possible that people who are not dyslexic would not know in detail what the rules are.

    Lord Laird: Yes, I agree with you.

    The Chairman: They would say, "I have a general idea what the rules are but I am not sure. Before I can say anything to you about what I would do, I would want to check that I would be acting within the rules". I am just looking for some sort of statement anywhere in the dialogue that you come near to saying anything like that.

    Lord Laird: I keep on saying that I will not break the rules.

    The Chairman: Yes, but you say that you do not know what the rules are.

    Lord Laird: Well that implies that I am going to go and find out.

    The Chairman: Oh, I see.

    Lord Laird: Sorry?

    Q12. Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Would you look at page 139 with the "Panorama" people, at the top of the page. You say, "Look, I'm not … there are rules, and you cannot break the rules." The response is, "Sure". "If you want to break the rules, I would be acting, let's say, like a consultant who just happens to be in Parliament but not using my position in Parliament because that I think is not, that's not correct, if you follow my point". Were you not there at least trying to make the distinction between doing something outside Parliament because you could not do it inside Parliament?

    Lord Laird: Yes.

    Q13. Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I would like to clarify something on page 73 again. This is where we have had a couple of questions. The last one was from Lady Scotland and she was looking at the bottom of the page. Earlier on, we were looking further up the page where you say, "I'm the chairman of the Earth Foundation. I'm chairman of that adviser board. I mean, that's a sort of—I'm a retired PR guy, but I like the sort of challenge you talk about and I'd like to be able to help you guys, for a minor consideration, of course." And just before we leave this part, at that stage the point was made that you were asking for money, in effect, by saying "for a minor consideration". Your response was along the lines of saying, "Yes, but they"—the people who were talking to you—"had been going on about money beforehand". So you were actually responding to that. I wonder if you would help me find where they had been going on about money. In the time since Lady Scotland asked the question, I have been looking back through the papers to help my recollection and I cannot actually see where the people interviewing you have been going on about money and what they might pay you before. It appears to the person reading it, from page 73, as though you raise the issue of payment there for the first time, because they then say, "Absolutely. Now how does that work? Do you have a fixed fee or do you—?" So to the reader, it looks as though that is the first occasion on which payment is being raised, and it is by you.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: On page 78?

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns: No, page 73. The question was on page 73 which is the first time that Lord Laird says, "I'd like to help you guys, for a minor consideration, of course". And in response to a question on that, he said that the reason he raised it was because he had been under pressure; that they had been going on about money. So of course what is relevant is only what the people interviewing Lord Laird say before that point. I am struggling to find anything before that point where they have been going on about money and that they might pay him at all.

    Lord Scott of Foscote: On page 65 there is a reference.

    Lord Laird: "We'd have to pay for them."

    Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Again, what I am looking for is pressure on you by the people interviewing you. I can understand that you naturally raised the issue of costs, but I understood you to say in answer to a previous question that the reason you had referred to the minor consideration was because "they" had been going on about money being paid to you.

    The Chairman: I think there is something on the bottom of page 65.

    Lord Laird: To be honest with you—oh yes, did you see that?

    Q14. Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Just for completeness, it might be useful to look at what you say on page 139. It is the same page that you were asked about a moment ago by Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It is the third from the bottom, where you say: "What the work is. But … I mean I do not … just let me underline this point again. I will not be … and you wouldn't expect, you're not asking … just so there's no misunderstanding I wouldn't be involved in anything other than good and proper … orchestrated, organised lobbying. And putting up a case. And I don't want … I will not be misusing my position as … I'm just using the expertise gained, if you like, and the knowledge gained." That is just to help the Lord Chairman.

    The Chairman: In what context would you be involved in lobbying?

    Lord Laird: I go back to my original concept of what the whole area of public relations is, by creating a climate of opinion. Lord Chairman, if you were being met by people in the street et cetera who raised issues with you as a result of activities that had happened around a PR campaign, that might give you an idea to support something in here—not necessarily that anything has been said in here, but it is the creation of a climate of opinion. A good example is that at some stage someone is going to have to fight a battle on fracking. Just as a matter of interest I am for fracking, but the anti-frackers are running away with it. If we are going to succeed as a country, we are going to have to win that.

    The Chairman: I am trying to get a handle on the precise type of activities you would include under "orchestrated, organised lobbying". What actual activities would you engage in?

    Lord Laird: What you would do is make it simple for people. If it was fracking, for example, if you were for fracking, you would mobilise the people who are interested in fracking and spread information about fracking. You would look to get really involved in fracking. You would signal to the people in a particular area at some stage that you want to make your opinions known to the key decision-makers in that area. It may be the local councillors or it may be the MP, or maybe Members of our House. You want to make your opinions known to them, you being Mr Voter or Mr Ordinary Guy, for want of a better word. That is the concept of creating a climate of opinion. It is not me, it is not a PR guy; it is the girl next door talking to the local Member of Parliament saying, "We can't miss this opportunity for fracking in Northern Ireland. Look at the type of money we are going to make." You have created a climate of opinion in which the MP believes, rightly—this is totally acceptable in my opinion and what democracy is all about—that there is backing in his constituency or his area for fracking. It means that he can possibly take a different view or do other activities in the Commons, up here or wherever about fracking when it comes up.

    The Chairman: So if you were taking part in this organised and orchestrated lobbying, you would see talking to an MP about the benefits of fracking as part of that.

    Lord Laird: Oh no. Not me. The big issue is not me. I am sorry and I beg your pardon.

    The Chairman: I really want to know about the phrase, "I wouldn't want to be involved in anything other than good and proper … orchestrated, organised lobbying." I would like to know what activities you would take part in as part of organised, orchestrated lobbying, which is what you say you would do.

    Lord Laird: Yes. Let us take fracking. For the sake of argument let us look at Somerset. I would be trying to find out, as a PR guy, what is the decision-making process and who are the people. What is the thing in Somerset? Who are the people who count? Who are the people who make the decisions? What is the complexion of the seats? You would target those areas with information about fracking. The best kind of communication is when you, let us say, get farmer to talk to farmer. What you look for in Somerset is to get farmers who are in support of fracking to talk to other farmers. By continuing that process you are developing a climate of opinion. The other thing is to get shopkeepers in one village to talk to shopkeepers in another village saying, "This is going to be really good for the economy around here". All that creates a climate of opinion which will hit the newspapers and—this is interesting—will affect the local Member or Members of Parliament. What I am doing in my job as a PR guy, whether I am in this House or not, is totally irrelevant. You would be orchestrating that, or least I probably would not be doing the street work. I do not have the health and ability to do the street work. But I would like to put together a campaign like that and I feel strongly about fracking.

    Q15. Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Lord Laird, can I ask you to look at page 137 of the transcript where you are discussing with the "Panorama" people not fracking but how to rehabilitate Fiji so that it might be readmitted to the Commonwealth. Just about halfway down the reporter says, "I've made a list of some of the … the … some of the more out of the box suggestions you have made. But can we also call upon you to do some of the bog standards that will just please our client a la raising things in the House? Is that also …?" You reply, "Yeah … I'll not things myself but we'll get other people if you like that's the point." Further down in the third paragraph from the bottom of the page you say, "Well you see the point is, if I take this on, obviously there is, I would be doing it for monetary reward, and I don't want … I don't want to be having to unveil that because it weakens the position". "Right." "Plus the fact that it's much better … I'd have to list my interests … who I worked for whatever … the organisation is, that's not a big issue, but if I asked a question I have to declare an interest. Now that doesn't stop me, we can still do that. That's fine. But you want more than me. You don't … you don't want it sounding as if the only bloody person in Parliament who raises any bloody thing about Fiji is the guy they pay." Picking up on your previous answer when you said that you wanted farmer to farmer to be talking about fracking, would not the implication from what you have said there be that you want various Peers to be raising issues about Fiji?

    Lord Laird: Yes.

    Lord Wallace of Tankerness: And do you think that is consistent with you being a consultant and a Member of the House of Lords—of using your position as a Member of the House of Lords with contact with Peers to be getting them to raise issues for Fiji? To use your own words—

    Lord Laird: I would not be contacting Peers.

    Lord Wallace of Tankerness: You would be remunerated.

    Lord Laird: Let us take the Fiji case. We talked about the use of the rugby team at the meeting. It was a much better idea than I thought it was, to be honest with you. Off the top of my head when talking to these guys, I thought that the team could twin with the Ulster rugby team. They would therefore have plenty of opportunity when in Ulster to talk to the key decision-makers—MPs et cetera. That is when the issue is put to Members in this building, not by me.

    Lord Wallace of Tankerness: That may be one of the "out of the box" suggestions, to use the reporter's words. But he then asked about raising things in the House, and you say that you will get other people to do it. What I want to understand from you is whether you think that it is acceptable and consistent with the rules to get other Peers to raise issues on an issue for which you also have monetary reward.

    Lord Laird: Okay. In that case it would not be acceptable, but I am not saying I would do that. What I am saying is that if you ran a big reception in Belfast City Hall for the Fiji team and all sorts of stuff, you are going to be inviting all the key decision-makers. It is just an example. Fiji, to a lot of people, is very far away and sort of romantic-type stuff. They do not understand, perhaps, about the poverty and a lot to do with the Commonwealth. How do we spread that message? The best form of spreading a message like that is subliminally. What you do not want to do is to go along blasting it in front of people's faces. You have a very good rugby team, to take an example, which can beat any team in the world, so that is going to focus the local media on Fiji and bring a lot of interest. The subtlety there is to slip in the fact—which, for instance, I did not know until talking to these guys—that Fiji was out of the Commonwealth and wants back in; I do not know what is true or not now, it is all up in the air. That is the sort of thing you would be doing, to create a climate of opinion whereby people would say, "Oh, Fiji! Wouldn't that be a nice place to go to for the summer?" It wants back into the Commonwealth. Who is going raise that with a local MP, or write a wee note to him? It is going to be me. That is why we all get in the post every day a lot of letters about a lot of issues. Somebody has been out stirring the pot and creating a climate of opinion. That is the big secret, in my opinion, in public relations: the climate of opinion. Lobbying is a different exercise. As I said to you earlier, I do not agree with it. I do not think that it is good. That is what I call old-school-tie activity. It is actually not viable and is a waste of money; there is nothing I can say for it.

    Q16. Lord Newby: I am sorry if I am labouring the point, but we talked earlier about Fiji and you said that you might have given advice to the Fijians almost out of intellectual curiosity; you were interested in them. But you were not interested in being paid for doing that. That is what you said in answer to an earlier question, am I right?

    Lord Laird: Let me put it this way. I would have done it for nothing, but they kept talking about money. It was quite clear that the money was something that they were on. Perhaps I fell into a trap—£2,000 for a number of ideas is actually quite small in our business. It is more or less a normal type of thing. I could have thought that if there was going to be money flying about, as long it does not affect the rules here and is not in this building, then why not?

    Lord Newby: So that is why you said, "I will be suggesting a retainer. Well, you're probably talking about starting at £2,000 a month".

    Lord Laird: Yes. But that is not for stuff in this building.

    Q17. Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am trying to get a better fix on the nature of your relationships with the people with whom you worked. I am profoundly impressed that you have tabled 12,000 Questions. I am conscious that at some stage during that period, the rule was introduced that if you had an interest, you needed to put a capital letter "I" by the Question. I do not know exactly when that occurred, but it did, and it obviously occurred because there was a concern about it. Clearly the 12,000 Questions were not passed on to anyone else to ask. As a matter of curiosity, roughly how many of those 12,000 Questions which you asked before the letter "I" was introduced would in fact have been that sort of Question?

    Lord Laird: None.

    Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Could you say a word or two on what they were about?

    Lord Laird: I would take a few topics; that was not particularly lucid, which proves it was very hard. The particularly busy time I had, when I really felt that there was a lot of work to be done, was during the time before devolution. I was getting stuff on a daily basis. One of the issues that I took up was that of deaf people in Northern Ireland. I was approached by my solicitor, who is a trustee of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. Something in Northern Ireland was just not working as it should do for the deaf; the provision of some equipment. I put down a Question and I got a successful Answer. From then on, it has worked like a dream. I take endless pride in that. I think it is what I am here for. It makes my day really worth while. That was my good friend on my right, my solicitor. I was pleased, absolutely delighted, to help him. He puts a lot of hard work into charities.

    Q18. The Chairman: Lord Laird, I think we have come to the end of the question-and-answer session on the substance of the Commissioner's findings. On the substance, do you have anything you want to say that you think that you have not had the opportunity to say so far, or that you wish the Committee to hear?

    Lord Laird: Are the questions here today just on the charges I am facing, as opposed also to other stuff? That is the issue.

    The Chairman: The Commissioner's findings?

    Lord Laird: Yes. I am happy. Thank you very much. Thanks for the opportunity, my Lord Chairman.

    The Chairman: The next thing is that you are also appealing against the sanction that the Sub-Committee has recommended. We obviously have your written appeal and we also have the medical reports which you drew to our attention at the very beginning of the meeting. Are there additional things that you wish to bring to our attention?

    Lord Laird: I remind the Committee that I have co-operated with the Commissioner at every stage and turn without any problem. But I self-referred this issue. Nobody else did it. I am very happy and I stand by the written documentation on my health and by what I believe I have done. I believe that I have successfully helped to promote understanding of the House of Lords, particularly in Northern Ireland but also elsewhere. I think that that sort of thing, which I outline, should be taken into account.

    The Chairman: Thank you for your attendance and your help, and I ask you now to retire.

    Lord Laird: I thank the Committee. It has been awkward, I know, and I am sorry about this. It is pleasant and unpleasant, if you know what I mean, to do this. I appreciate the tolerance, sympathy and understanding that I have received here. Thank you.


 
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