UK: Peer was paid to introduce lobbyist to minister

Publisher Name: 
The Guardian

A Labour peer has
admitted taking money to introduce an arms company lobbyist to the
government minister in charge of weapons purchases. The case of "cash
for access" in the House of Lords is likely to ignite fresh concern
about ethical standards in parliament.

The
lobbyist paid cash for an introduction to Lord Drayson, the defence
minister in charge of billions of pounds of military procurement,
according to evidence obtained by the Guardian.

Money
changed hands with former Labour frontbencher Lord Hoyle, previously
Doug Hoyle, an ex-government whip and former MP for Warrington.

The
lobbyist, Michael Wood, who trades as Whitehall Advisers, agreed to pay
Lord Hoyle an undisclosed sum in June 2005. MoD documents released to
the Guardian show that Lord Hoyle then engineered a private meeting
between Mr Wood and the newly appointed defence minister.

Mr
Wood is a former RAF officer who works for BAE and other smaller arms
companies to help get them contracts. He has free run of the palace of
Westminster because he has a security pass as a "research assistant" to
another MP. He operates his company from his nearby flat.

Paying
cash for ministerial introductions is a practice frowned on at the
House of Lords, but not specifically outlawed. "Cash for introductions"
is forbidden by the main lobbyists' trade body, the Association of
Professional Political Consultants, but Mr Wood is not a member.

Parliamentary
registrar Brendan Keith, who administers the peers' code of conduct,
says: "Facilitating meetings with ministers on behalf of a company that
a member is employed by is not something that I would advise."

He
says it would "probably not violate the Lords code of conduct".
However, he added: "Were a member nevertheless to go ahead, he would
certainly have to declare to the minister his interest/relationship
with the company."

Under
the code, a peer must specifically declare his financial interests to a
minister if they have a meeting, so that the minister can form a
rounded judgment of their arguments.

Asked
if he declared to the minister at the time that he was in the pay of a
lobbyist, Lord Hoyle told the Guardian he "did not know" whether he had
made the required declaration. The MoD says nothing was recorded about
Lord Hoyle's position in the note taken at the time. Lord Drayson's
office declined to comment when asked if the minister was aware of the
financial link at the time.

Lord
Hoyle's solicitor said that the financial relationship with Mr Wood was
"a matter of public record of which Lord Drayson, who is a friend and
colleague of Lord Hoyle, would be fully aware".

Lord
Hoyle did report to the Lords registrar that Mr Wood had hired him as a
"consultant", claiming it was for matters unconnected to parliament.
But the public register had not been updated at the time of the Drayson
meeting.

Lord
Hoyle now says he was not "specifically paid for [the] sole purpose" of
introducing Mr Wood to the minister. But he could not identify any
other services he provided. He said he had done "very little" for Mr
Wood, who would ring up occasionally and talk "mainly about football".

Accounts
vary of exactly what happened in the Lords on June 23 2005. Lord Hoyle
said it was an encounter in the bar, while the MoD said the meeting
took place "over a cup of tea".

Lord
Hoyle accepts he was asked to arrange the lobbyist's introduction "to
say hello to the new minister". He told the Guardian that Lord Drayson
was asked to come for a drink. Mr Wood was already there. He says he
told the minister: "Mike Wood of Whitehall Advisers would like to meet
you."

But
Lord Hoyle's solicitor subsequently gave a fresh version of events. He
said: "Lord Hoyle and Mr Wood were enjoying a social meeting in the
bar. Lord Drayson was present in the bar although he was not sat with
Lord Hoyle and Mr Wood. Lord Hoyle introduced the two to each other on
a purely social basis ... The parties held only a brief conversation
during which they exchanged pleasantries."

Ministry
of Defence officials say the meeting was arranged in advance "at the
request of a member of the House of Lords" and involved one of Lord
Drayson's private secretaries attending to take a note of "advice" to
be received. A background briefing was prepared in advance for the
minister about Whitehall Advisers.

The
MoD say Mr Wood used the ministerial encounter to describe his lobbying
company and his clients, made "frank" remarks about other arms
companies, and used his introduction to Lord Drayson to ring up the
minister three days later and have a personal conversation, also
minuted.

Mr
Wood refuses to comment about his payment to the Labour peer. He has
now hired a recently retired senior civil servant at the MoD, Colin
Balmer, to work for him. Mr Balmer has been required to promise a
vetting committee not to personally lobby former ministry colleagues .

Mr
Wood's two companies, European Business Strategies and Whitehall
Advisers, make him more than £200,000 a year. He holds a parliamentary
pass as a "research assistant" to Aldershot Conservative MP Gerald
Howarth. Before that he obtained a pass from the Labour MP for Derby,
Bob Laxton. This behaviour is also banned by the Association of
Professional Political Consultants.

Lord
Hoyle provides a "research assistant" pass of his own to Albert Poggio,
who promotes the interests of the local regime in Gibraltar, a British
dependent territory. He agrees that Mr Poggio does not carry out any
research, but says he deserves to be allowed access to parliament as a
quasi-diplomatic representative.

As
an MP, Lord Hoyle had minor links in the 1990s with another lobbyist,
Ian Greer, disgraced in the wake of a "cash for questions" scandal. Mr
Greer provided the MP with a research assistant at one point, and
donated to his local election campaigns.

Labour
MP Paul Flynn, a member of a Commons committee which has just launched
an inquiry into lobbyists, says: "To pay cash for introductions is
wrong and indefensible. Peers are not for hire."

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
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