Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Statement to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Baroness Turner of Camden

  1. My name is Muriel Turner. In 1985 I was created Baroness Turner of Camden    Until October 1996, I was Front Bench Spokesperson on Employment for the Labour Opposition in the House of Lords. My background is as follows. I was until 1987 Assistant General Secretary of a Trade Union (ASTMS now MSF). I was for eight years a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. For six years I was a member of the Council of the Equal Opportunities Commission and of the Occupational Pensions Board for 17 years. I am currently Chair of the PIA Ombudsman Council and a member of the Occupational Pensions Advisory Service Council. I am a member of the Council of the Industrial Society. I am a lay member of the Professional Standards Committee of the General Council of the Bar.

  2. In 1991, I became a non-exective director of IGA Ltd. I had known Mr Ian Greer, its Chairman, for some years during the period that I was a union official. I was aware that IGA was a lobbying/public relations company. I was interested in taking the appointment, but before doing so I thought that in view of the nature of the enterprise I should seek the advice of the Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I therefore did so; however, he saw no reason why I should not take up the appointment. IGA was well known as was its Chairman and the reputation of both was good.

  3. I should perhaps explain that since becoming a Parliamentarian I had had experience of lobbying in the sense of being on the receiving end. Not only did I not object to it - I felt that in many cases it was helpful. It is the job of the lobbyist to represent the interest of charities, companies, organisations etc., who may be affected by legislative decisions and whose voices might not otherwise be heard. In order to do this effectively, he/she must seek to brief and keep briefed those Parliamentarians who display an interest in receiving this information. All lobbying firms do this - indeed their publicity makes claims as to the nature of such contacts and their ability to "influence" legislation.

  4. At the time I became a non-executive director of IGA it was extremely successful, so much so that it became possible to divide the company and to establish separate companies for European and international work.

  5. However, in late 1993, problems began. The press commenced a campaign against "sleaze" in politics which eventually culminated in the establishment of a Commission under Lord Nolan and his subsequent recommendations. Lobbying firms in particular came under scrutiny, it being felt in some sections of the press that they had too much influence. IGA participated in the founding of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) which was established in response to requests from the Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests that the lobbying profession should establish a self-regulatory system.

  6. After a time, the media interest in all lobbying firms diminished - with the exception of IGA. The Guardian newspaper continued to focus particularly on IGA. In mid-1994, the Board received a report from its Chairman of a "sting" operation which had been set up to try to get him and the Company incriminated in dubious dealing. Two so-called businessmen had invited IGA to make a presentation. Mr Greer and a colleague went to a flat in London (in a block which later turned out to belong to Mr Al-Fayed). The interview was taped. At the interview, Mr Greer and his colleague insisted that the source of the funding of the two "businessmen" would have to be revealed. It had apparently been intended that the taped interview would be part of a "Cook Report" television programme, but it did not go out, presumably because it was not felt to be enough of an "exposure".

  7. Nothing daunted, however, The Guardian's Parliamentary correspondent began to put about the story that there had been "suppression" of this vital "evidence" and a number of MPs in the Commons put down an Early Day Motion in protest. It made no progress, but it all helped to create the impression of a firm of doubtful probity.

  8. At around the same time, an article appeared in The Guardian stating that I had been "lobbying" for IGA on House of Lords notepaper and this had caused a "row" in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The story was wrong, but The Guardian refused to publish a letter from me. Eventually, following a reference to the Press Complaints Commission - and a number of weeks later - The Guardian agreed to publish my letter.

  9. In October 1994 The Guardian published the allegation against IGA that it had acted as a conduit for funds used to "bribe" Parliamentarians - in particular Mr Neil Hamilton MP. The allegation emanated from Mr Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. Apparently Mr Al-Fayed, who at one time did have a contract with IGA in 1987-8 claimed to have paid sums of money via IGA to get Mr Hamilton to ask Questions in Parliament on his behalf. Other allegations were made with regard to Mr Hamilton, but the "cash for questions" issue is the one directly involving IGA.

  10. The Board of Directors had made no such arrangement. It questioned Mr Greer, who strongly denied the allegation - and indeed continues to do so to this day. The campaign conducted by The Guardian - which constantly concentrated on IGA - was harmful to the company's business. It was decided to sue for libel. I supported the decision. I went immediately to see my Leader in the Lords and the Chief Whip. I told them that it was not the policy of IGA to pay cash for questions and never had been. For that reason it had been decided to sue. I assured them that if it did transpire that money had been paid for Questions to be asked in the Commons, as alleged in The Guardian, I would sever my relations with the Company. I did not however think this would be necessary because I felt sure that the stories were untrue. Both thanked me for having told them and asked to be kept informed. This I continued to do.

  11. When the Writ was issued, things began to calm down. Business was still badly affected, however, and the Company had to make some staff redundant. I decided to discontinue accepting a fee then, since I did not want to do so while we were having to dismiss staff.

  12. Mr Hamilton also decided to sue in regard to the stories about him in The Guardian. The decisions were taken separately, but a Judge decided that the cases had to be consolidated. When eventually they came before the Courts, The Guardian's plea was accepted that the Bill of Rights meant that they could not be heard because it would have meant encroaching on Parliamentary privilege. When the Defamation Bill was before both Houses, however, an amendment was accepted which allowed the cases to proceed.

  13. They were due to be heard early in October 1996, at the time of the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool. When I got to my hotel in Blackpool on the Sunday evening, I learned from television news - much to my consternation, that the cases had been dropped.

  I immediately contacted IGA to ascertain what had happened.

  14. I was informed that fresh allegations had been made on the previous day (Saturday) which were "bizarre" and included unpleasant allegations about Ian Greer's private life, as well as some quite new allegations about the acceptance by Mr Hamilton of brown paper envelopes containing £50 notes from Mr Al-Fayed's staff.

  The charges were denied, but the lawyers indicated that it would be necessary to apply for an adjournment to deal with the new allegations, involving more legal work and a further £80,000 "up front". The case had already cost IGA around £200,000 which the Company was having difficulty in meeting because of loss of business. It was therefore decided to cut losses and to try to get out as easily as possible. This in no way meant that the allegations were accepted as true - indeed both Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer continue vigorously to deny them.

  15. However, the news caused the media present in large numbers at Conference to become absolutely frenzied. The assumption was that the withdrawal of the actions meant that the charges were true. A determined attempt was made by The Guardian in particular to "demonise" IGA and anyone remotely connected with it. Stories giving a distorted account of IGA's activities were printed. One in particular was headed "24 MP's had IGA cash". In the atmosphere generated it looked as though they had received personal bribes. In fact, all that had happened was that small amounts of money had been paid at General Election times to the election funds of a number of MP's. The MP's often did not even know that it had been paid, since it would have been handled by their constituency parties or their agents. It has been the custom for many years for organisations, companies, unions and so on to make payments to election funds of MP's with whom there were connections - sometimes personal friendships. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this - indeed some newspapers were honest enough to say so. Not The Guardian, however.

  16. Included in the MP's so named was Mr Doug Hoyle MP - Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a long-time friend of Ian Greer - and also of mine. He was deeply distressed by the report.

  Other stories were printed - which had nothing to do with the "cash for questions" issue. They were distorted versions of the way in which all lobbyists go about their business.

  17. Of course, it is true that IGA had "relations" with a number of Parliamentarians. It was customary to hold receptions and to invite a number of MP's. Briefings were held, in advance of the 1992 General Election to which clients were invited, when members of Labour's Shadow Cabinet could talk about what a future Labour Government would do. I was instrumental in arranging some of these briefings and it never occurred to me that there was anything remotely wrong with this kind of activity. However, such was the press campaign that any function arranged by IGA automatically became suspect.

  18. On the Thursday morning of the Conference, the newspapers were carrying the story that I was involved. The Daily Telegraph carried a photograph of me under the heading of "Labour Peer is on IGA Payroll". After that, I had no peace from journalists. I was approached by Jon Snow and persuaded by him to give a short interview. I was reluctant to do so, but he seemed friendly and said it would not be a "hostile" interview. In front of the cameras, his attitude changed and I was asked a series of questions all based on the assumption that The Guardian stories were true.

  19. When I asked why IGA, of all lobbying companies, was being singled out, he said as if it were a proven fact "Yours is the only company that pays cash for questions." I denied it and said I believed Ian Greer when he said he had not done so and would continue to support him until the allegations were proven to be true. I said there should be an inquiry. I did not believe what I read in the press. I was asked whether I thought my position was compatible with my being a Front Bench Spokesperson in the Lords for the Labour Party and I said that since I had done nothing wrong, I saw no problem.

  20. When I returned to my hotel room that afternoon I received a telephone call from the Party Leader's office telling me to stay there for the next 45 minutes. During that time Lord Richard, the Labour Leader in the Lords, telephoned me. I told him about the interview which he had not then seen. He said that in all the circumstances it would be better if I stood down from the Front Bench - at least until it had all blown over. If I resigned, the Party would make a statement to the effect that there was no suggestion that I had acted improperly in my capacity as an IGA director, but that in present circumstances it would be better if I stood down. With some reluctance, I agreed and the Labour Press Office did issue such a statement.

  21. I was then advised by the Party Press Office to stay in my room to avoid the hordes of waiting journalists. Lord Richard advised me to make no statement to the press.

  I got up early next morning (I had been intending to leave Blackpool on Friday morning anyway). I managed to avoid the journalists at the Station, but was not so lucky at Euston. However, I was accompanied by two members of IGA staff who had been in Blackpool. They protected me to some extent as I was mobbed by journalists. I decided not to go home and went instead to IGA offices in Catherine Place, where more of them seemed to have taken up permanent residence outside. After a few hours, when some had gone, I ventured outside. A number of them were still there - shouting at me "If you've done nothing wrong why did you have to resign?" I felt I was being hounded by them. IGA's driver managed to shake them off and I ultimately reached home. When the stories appeared they were awful - "Disgraced Peeress slinks out of Blackpool" was one - and there were others in the same strain.

  22. In accordance with the advice I received I have made no statements to the press. I turned down an offer from the programme Panorama. Lord Richard's view - and I think it was right - was that any interview would simply prolong the story. However, press interest continued for a while. The PIA issued a statement which was supportive, since journalists asked whether they intended to retain my services because of what had happened. They confirmed that they would do so.

  23. Somewhat to my surprise, I received a very large mail. Almost all of it was supportive. It appears that many people think it honourable to refuse to join in general condemnation of someone when there has been no independent scrutiny of the allegations against him. In other words, many people firmly hold to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty".

  That is still my position. I am, however, convinced that there has been a campaign by a particular newspaper to destroy one individual and the company he created - and also to make it as difficult as possible for anyone who refuses to join in the general condemnation.

  I do not know the reason for this, but I am not alone in thinking that there has been such a campaign and that it goes beyond normal investigative journalism.

  24. This view has also been voiced by Mr Matthew Parris - The Times Parliamentary Correspondent - in the Spectator. The consequence of this has been that the firm has gone out of business and innocent people have been damaged.

  I deeply resent that this has occurred. I resent it - not because of my own financial interest - which has ceased to exist and in any case was fairly small - but because it is unjust and unfair. The firm has acted in no way differently from its rivals in the same industry. If anything, it has been rather more ethical. For example, it turned down a public relations contract for the Libyan Government, which one of its main rivals immediately accepted. It was a founder member of the APPC. It has consistently argued that the industry should be regulated.

  25. I believe that there should be a system of regulation which could involve licensing so that a firm would not be able to operate if it breached the Code. The Guardian's campaign, however, has been quite disgraceful - a travesty of what good investigative journalism should be. Unfortunately, libel action is prohibitively costly.

  If, however, the present inquiry results in a system of regulation so that everyone knows what is and what is not acceptable, that will be a great advance.

25 November 1996

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