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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.K. Paper Defends Tactics

LONDON -- Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, at the center of a "lawmakers for hire" row, defended Wednesday sending a reporter to parliament in the guise of a businessman who offered cash to members to put questions to ministers.


The House of Commons, the United Kingdom's lower chamber, shaken by the ensuing outcry over its integrity and increasing public disillusionment over the conduct of politicians, scheduled a rare emergency debate on the case of two members from the ruling Conservative Party accused of accepting ?1,000 ($1,500) each.


John Witherow, acting editor of The Sunday Times, said the newspaper would cooperate with any inquiry that parliament might agree to set up to probe the cases of David Tredinnick and Graham Riddick. Both parliamentarians deny any impropriety.


Witherow told BBC Radio that the newspaper launched its investigation after being tipped off by a businessman. He said the going rate for getting a member to submit a written question to ministers was ?1,000.


He said the paper checked the guidelines on subterfuge put out by Britain's media watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, and argued the probe was in the public interest. "It was entirely justified journalistically," Witherow said. "It was open to the MPs to turn down this offer. That two accepted the offer proves that some are prepared to take money in return for putting down questions."


But the Conservative Alan Duncan, who had to resign earlier this year after newspaper revelations about his financial affairs, said: "The way in which these two were trapped was entirely artificial. It was fabricated. The methods the press are using here are corrosive to the democratic process."


Prime Minister John Major, acting swiftly to counter opposition accusations of "government sleaze," has suspended the two accused members from their jobs as ministerial aides until an inquiry is concluded.


The Commons was due to start a three-hour debate on the row Wednesday afternoon. It is expected to vote for an investigation by a specially convened Committee on Privileges, made up of the senior members of parliament.


The opposition Labour Party is seeking to widen any inquiry by the committee to cover the question of lawmakers holding lucrative consultancies. At present, they must declare any financial interest in a members' register.