Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Letter from Mr John Walter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

  I am writing in response to your letter dated 3 February 1997, in which you request a statement on my knowledge of the circumstances in which Ian Greer Associates came to be appointed as political consultants to my former employer, UST.

  Firstly, I should point out that as I am no longer with the company I do not possess, or have access to, any relevant documentation concerning the appointment. Due to the hostile actions of the government, UST closed down their UK operations in 1992, and I imagine all papers would have either been shipped to the United States or destroyed.

  Ian Greer Associates were not appointed by UST in 1985-86; we did not meet or appoint them until 1988. We did, however, meet Messrs. Hamilton and Brown around 1985-86, and maintained a regular contact with them from then until, and beyond, the appointment of IGA. At the time of our initial introduction UST's operations in the UK had become a matter of controversy, due to the actions of anti-tobacco pressure groups and the ensuing media coverage. We briefed Mr. Brown on some of the facts concerning the issues surrounding our operations in the UK, and he offered to voice our support for stricter legislation concerning the sale of tobacco products to minors, during a debate on a proposed new Bill. We first met Mr Hamilton after allegations about UST were made on the BBC programme "That's Life!" in, I think, 1986. The company decided that the allegations were defamatory, and took legal action against the BBC. At that time Mr Hamilton was involved in litigation with the BBC, and UST's contact with him was precipitated by this mutual target of litigation.

  The appointment of Ian Greer Associates was made around May 1988. We had been looking to appoint a consultancy for some time, and had reviewed several, of which three names were supplied by Mr Brown (Ian Greer Associates, GJW, The Grayling Company). The decision to make an appointment was made urgent by proposed legislation which would effectively prohibit some of our products from being sold in the UK. IGA was appointed after one or two meetings with Mr Greer and some members of his staff, at their offices. The decision to appoint IGA was made by the Senior Vice-President for Government Relations from the US headquarters office and me, with the approval of our main board director in the US. We confirmed the appointment of IGA at a meeting at Mr Greer's home, on a Saturday, as we were en-route to Heathrow airport.

  I am aware of the allegations made in the media concerning commissions paid to Messrs. Brown and Hamilton for introducing UST as a client to IGA. At the time of appointing Ian Greer Associates and subsequently, until the comments in the media, UST had no knowledge of any such payments. We did obtain the name of Ian Greer Associates from Mr Brown, and meeting regularly as we did, with both gentlemen, would undoubtedly have discussed the merits of IGA with them. To what degree their comments had any influence on our decision is, after nearly nine years, impossible to recall. I called Mr. Greer to make the initial appointment for UST to meet with him; whether I mentioned either Brown or Hamilton I cannot recall. I have no knowledge as to whether Brown and/or Hamilton discussed UST with Mr Greer prior to our meeting with him.

  I trust that the foregoing information meets your request.

John Walter

5 February 1997

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Prepared 8 July 1997