WRITTEN EVIDENCE RECEIVED BY THE PARLIAMENTARY
COMMISSIONER FOR STANDARDS
2. Article in The Sunday Times,
29 August 2004
Coining it at the Commons with Tory tours
For the American visitor it was an impressive experience.
He had a senior Tory MP acting as his personal guide on a tour
of parliament which took in Westminster Hall, a private chapel
and a visit to the Commons chamber to see Tony Blair in action.
The MP, Jonathan Sayeed gave knowledgeable descriptions
of the architectural and historical points of interest. But this
was not what most impressed Bob Morris, the American who later
wrote up an account of his visit.
"It isn't the information that its intriguing,"
he noted. "It is the access. The members' dining room overlooking
the Thames, where we have lunch is so exclusive that it makes
Sayeed, described by his guest as a "fastidiously
superbly well mannered, self-assured Englishman",
was not simply acting as a tour guide.
He also owns 30% of the shares in The English Manner,
the company that organised Morris's trip. The firm's website makes
no mention of Sayeed's stake in the company although he does declare
it in the register of members' interests. In the register, however,
he makes no mention of his Commons tours.
It is this business involvement that may open the
member for Mid-Bedfordshire to a parliamentary inquiry. By taking
paying clients of a company that he jointly owns on guided tours,
he risks breaching a long-held Commons principle that MPs must
not use the Palace of Westminster for commercial purposes.
Last week the company's representative in America
made it clear to an undercover reporter posing as a customer that
a key selling point of the $1,500 (£800) that it was charging
for a day's tour of parliament was the behind-the-scenes access
offered by Sayeed.
Since 2002 The English Manner, which has a wholly
owned American subsidiary, has provided clients with an expensive
slice of upmarket "olde England" in bespoke holiday
packages. Its chairman and majority shareholder is Alexandra Messervy,
who is deputy chairman of Sayeed's local Conservative association.
As his constituency assistant she is entitled to a Commons pass
which gives her access to areas normally off limits to the public.
A former member of the Queen's household, she offers
clients private tours of Kensington Palace and trips around Buckingham
Palace as well as stays in stately homes.
The English Manner's website describes in glowing
terms the kind of reception that American clients can expect in
stately homes including Somerley House, seat of the Earl of Normanton
in Hampshire; and Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, home of the
Duke and Duchess of Rutland.
Sayeed's role features in enthusiastic accounts in
the firm's literature. One, posted on the website, says: "Off
to parliament and an evening with a House of Commons MP! Jonathan
Sayeed led us through both the House of Commons and the House
of Lords. We travelled through halls filled with exquisite art
and enough English history that we were ready for a quiz!"
Last week a reporter working for The Sunday Times
posed as a prospective client. Bambi Duvall, American agent for
The English Manner, was keen to point out the identity of the
company's man on the inside: "He is a member of parliament,
Jonathan Sayeed." She said that although $1,500 for a single
day seemed a little high, the kind of access she was offering
never came cheap: "You've got to know the people in order
to make it happen," she cooed in her soft Virginian accent.
When asked whether it would be possible to "go
behind the scenes" at the Commons, Duvall replied: "That's
a definite. That is something you can't find anywhere else. We
have a great contact. He is a member of parliament. Jonathan Sayeed.
And if his schedule allows it, then
you can have lunch
In a second conversation Duvall seemed embarrassed
at the $1,500 cost, saying: "Depending on how much time they
are spending with our clients, [it] depends on how big the docent's
[guide's] fee is. You know how the Brits are."
Other Commons events available to the company's clients
have included a choral concert marking the Queen's golden jubilee
in 2003. It was followed by a champagne reception hosted by Sayeed,
chairman of the parliament choir.
Commons authorities have previously carried out at
least one extensive investigation into a peer suspected of conducting
tours for a fee. They also followed up allegations that paid tours
were being offered through websites. So far there has been insufficient
evidence to link financially any of the visits to a particular
Sayeed, 56, a keen yachtsman and motorcyclist, was
an officer in the Royal Navy before he became an MP and has homes
in Pimlico, central London, and in the village of Houghton Conquest
in his constituency, where he was elected in 2001 with an 8,066
A spokesman for Sayeed said yesterday that he advises
the company and assists with travel programmes, but is not always
involved when clients take tours around parliament. Despite repeated
attempts through the firm's American agent and Sayeed's office,
the MP and Messervy were unavailable for comment. Tory Central
Office also refused to comment.
The Sunday Times, 29 August 2004