The Conduct of Lord Moonie, Lord Snape, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn - Privileges Committee Contents

Lord Snape—Sunday Times Transcript

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 1 of 21

Claire Newell, a Sunday Times reporter using the name Claire Taylor, contacted Lord Snape by phone on Friday 16 January and left a message. She spoke to Lord Snape on the telephone on Tuesday 20 January and arranged to meet at his office. Newell and Jonathan Calvert, a Sunday Times reporter using the name David Thompson, met Lord Snape at his House of Lords office on Thursday 22 January 2009. Calvert explained that he and Claire work for a public affairs company and they are looking for someone in the Lords to help them amend the Business Rate Supplements Bill on behalf of a Far Eastern client. Lord Snape said he could not help if he was paid directly by the Far Eastern client but might be able to if he was paid by Calvert and Newell's lobbying company. He said he could talk to mps on the committee to see if they would put the amendment down and make representations to the minister on the lobbying company's behalf. At one point he suggestesd that he could draft the amendment for the lobbying company. His fees amounted to £24,000 for two days a month over a year. He asked for the lobbying company's business proposal to be put in writing

Conversation begins as Calvert and Newell meet Lord Snape at the security office

  CN: Hello. David Thompson, one of our directors.

  LS: Hi, nice to meet you.

  CN: We're just waiting to go through the security thing.

  JC: You don't have to do this presumably?

  LS: No, no they trust me not to blow myself up. It's everybody else they're concerned about. (To security) Have they got to go through security?

  Security: Yes

  [Security checks]

  JC: Is this whole building Lord's offices?

  LS: It is yes, yes. It's rather new. Most of us have desks across at the House.

  JC: Then you have to share.

  LS: We have to share here. Although my colleague and I normally work it between us that if one's in the other isn't.

  CN: So you can divide it up?

  LS: And he runs a property company anyway so he's not here that often and of course there's a couple of conference rooms here they can always use. This is...they don't

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 2 of 21

  insist but it's normally one of the younger end of the House of Lords. If there's a vote in the House it's 7 or 8 minutes to get over there.

  JC: You've got a terrific view. You've got the best office in the building...well I guess there's one or two above...

  LS: It is quite nice isn't it?

  CN: It's lovely.

  JC: What are they doing to the car park down there?

  LS: They're doing something ... about to be honest ...Westminster council are doing something on top, some building eventually there.

  JC: Didn't there used to be an underground car park there?

  S: Various peers who are silly enough to drive their cars in London sometimes park in there ... Not driving in London for obvious reasons.

  JC: It's years since I've driven in London. I stopped just before the congestion charge.

  LS: I bring my car down at Christmas if I want to take a souvenir...some whiskey or what not back with me ... Think I've only brought mine down twice since the congestion charge started. My daughter who lives in London hadn't realised that she'd passed through. Of course if you don't pay within 24 hours it's 100 quid or something. Ignorance is no excuse.

  JC: Especially if you go through a corner.

  LS: She lives in ***. She was just driving back there and must have just clipped the corner.

  JC: There are big signs up but you don't really clock them do you?

  LS: Especially if there's only a few cars. You think of something else.

  LS: If there's something distracting.

  CN: Buses.

  JC: Has Clare explained who we are? We are from a company called Michael Johnson Associates. We were initially a public affairs company in Brussels. We set up an office in the UK in 2002. Initially we did financial pr but more recently we've been doing public affairs work and we were looking for somebody who could help us out in the house there. And I think what happened was that our researcher Linda did some research and...

  CN [Interrupting]: and identified a couple of people who she thought might be interested in this kind of work or who are familiar with it. Your name came up.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 3 of 21

  JC: Which is why we're coming to see you. In particular we've got one client who is a Far Eastern client who came to us initially because he was one of our Brussels clients. He's a man named Lou Lee Jiang. He's an entrepreneur from Hong Kong. He exports leather goods—a lot of shoes actually to the European Union. We did some work with him on shoe import tariffs which is how he came to us. But more recently he's now in a consortium with a company called Wong Hing. Who, I won't expect you to remember all this. They're a Taiwanese company who have big retail interests throughout the Far East. If you lived in the Far East you'd know them like you'd know Marks and Spencers.

  LS: I was in Taiwan last week. I didn't come across them.

  JC: When I say retail, they're in clothing retail. Now the purpose of this consortium is to set up something called Emerald which over the next 18 months is going to be setting up 40 retail shops, quite substantial shops, across the UK.

  LS: Are they sure about their timing?

  JC: Well, suddenly so many available buildings.

  LS: Woolworths have got one. A few places have.

  JC: And so, having said this to other people, if you imagine, do you know the shop Uniqlo? It has quite a high street presence.

  LS: I have to tell you that. I think my wife ...we have an agreement that she does the shopping.

  JC: So if you think Gap, a similar sort of clothing but actually they're more competitively priced as Uniqlo are. That's the sort of market they're aiming for. And they were looking for someone to help them do parliamentary work in relation to problems, any issues they identify as they set up this group of retail shops across the country. Now one thing that they identified which would come into effect just as they were opening would be something called the Business rate Supplements Bill. I wouldn't expect you to be familiar with it necessarily but you may be, I don't know. In effect what it does is it allows local councils to levy an extra 2% charge on business rates on properties over 50,000 pounds. And since all the properties are likely to be over 50,000 pounds, as we'll shortly know, quite substantial retail outlets, they will become liable for the tax. The tax itself has been quite unpopular with people like the CBI, private business and other organisations.

  LS: The money's hypothecated for some purpose isn't it?

  JC: The whole purpose of this seems to be ... the tax was suggest by the Lyons report but it seems to have been taken on by the government specifically for Crossrail really. But the bill doesn't provide just for Crossrail, but it allows local councils to use it across the country and of course the fear is that the local councils use it as a way of raising money. It has to be hypothecated. It has to be identified for specific schemes. And one of the things we were looking for help on and it's an issue that Mr Hing's

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 4 of 21

  people have identified to us early on is that they'd quite like to see if we could amend it so that its onerous tax would not necessarily affect the business. So, for example, I know that quite a lot of these groups such as the CBI have been looking to say give retailers and businesses who will be liable for the tax a vote on whether they should pay the tax. I don't know whether in the end the government will buy that but that's one option.

  LS: I think Manchester's congestion charge is the last option the government want. It's like turkey's not voting for Christmas.

  JC: The other is and it may well be more realistic and would be useful for our client would be that you had a two year exemption for any new business the argument would be that it's a particularly difficult time for any business to start. It's bad enough starting off and therefore, and so we were hoping that we might be able to amend it to include a clause such as that. Now the question is, what we would do is pay you on a retainer as a consultant to, in effect, help us amend this bill. Now is that something A you would do and B you would be able to do?

  LS: I don't think I would. The problem about having a direct financial interest is one is not supposed to initiate legislation which would benefit the person who gives you, who pays you the financial interest. So if I specifically worked for your company for example then I'd need to take advice if, as these people are your clients whether or not I could. I certainly couldn't if I was working for the clients themselves. But I'd need to take advice.

  JC: So if you were working for Michael Johnson Associates you might be able to do it but not if you're working dir

  LS: [Interrupting] But not if I'm working directly for the person or industry concerned.

  JC: I see.

  LS: That's off the top of my head. And I would have thought that's the way the rules would be interpreted. For example, I played quite a prominent role in the local government transport bill which has just gone through but could do so because I was talking about exemptions to the specific bus industry although I worked for First Group which is declared in the registry of member's interests so provided I made that declaration then I could amend, virtually say what I liked, and I would have thought although as I said I would take advice from the registrar of member's interests in the Lords, that that would also obtain if I work for your company rather than specifically and likewise declare that you have certain clients involved in this particular field.

  CN: Well, before speaking in the House you would have to declare that.

  LS: Yes. And put it in the register.

  CN: What kind of consulting? When we spoke on the phone you said you've got your own consulting company.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 5 of 21

  LS: When I left the House of Commons in 2001, I was working for National Express, of course, it was for a full-time basis. I was Chairman of their bus division for some time. Their main bus subsidiary was based in Birmingham, my home constituency. So I was not anxious to go straight from the Commons to the Lords. A because I'd just got this full-time job and B I'd had enough of politics to be honest I wanted a break from the whole thing. National Express at that time had made an unwise choice of trying to run Melbourne's trams as well as in Sydney and some in Perth. So I was flying backwards and forwards so I was out for three years and I was in the second batch of peerages created after the 2001 election. So I formed this consultancy when I was out, although it's virtually, well I do do returns for tax purposes. I'm now directly employed as a consultant by First Group because A I didn't get on with the new chief executive of the National Express Group and B since I'm 66 I don't particularly want to be working 7 days a week. I can sort of reinter my original consultancy. I can work as an individual for you or for anybody else as I do. I've had 3 different companies that I've worked for at the present time which I declare, I'm sure you've looked at the register of members' interests anyway.

  CN: Yes.

  JC: So First Group employ you, but you could

  LS: [Interrupting] I am actually self-employed. First Group pay me a retainer to be a...

  CN: A consultant.

  LS: Yeah. To be a consultant to them at a daily rate. When I'm sort of...their office is Aberdeen so I can drop in and see them. Now they have an office in Paddington so....

  JC: Sorry I must have missed it. They employ you ...

  S: I am actually self-employed.

  JC: You're paid a fee by them. Would you be able to amend legislation for First Group?

  S: Not specifically but I can amend legislation which applies to the bus industry provided I declare an interest first, I mean I couldn't say for example, let's say First Group or First Great Western. I couldn't get some exemption or do something specifically on rail fares for example on First Great Western because I would be initiating legislation for a company for which I have paid which would be improper under the rules of the house. But if I was wanting to exempt the whole of the railway industry from some particular clause I could do so on grounds that this is for the public good. It will benefit the industry rather than speaking for a particular client..

  JC: I see, I see. So, in our instance you could for example argue that this exemption was for general business.

  LS: A newly set up business anywhere in the country ought to be exempt from this supplementary rate because of the high cost of starting up and the need for the

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 6 of 21

  government to encourage small businesses, small and large in the current economic situation.

  JC: So in that case, so would you therefore. I mean it matters not to us whether you were representing us or whether you were representing our client. It would be whatever is more convenient to you really.

  LS: Well the obvious question that the registrar would ask me would be who's paying you? So it has to be either yourself, again it doesn't particularly matter to me, provided I could do it on a blanket basis, but I couldn't sort of as I said earlier represent your client in this and say there should be an exemption for this particular company because it's in Hong Kong or whatever. I mean, well I could argue sure on the rules that there should be an exemption for new businesses.

  JC: Right. I see. Because in terms of who pays I mean it's a question of whether they pay you directly or whether we pay you. It could go either way. That's something we can arrange whatever I guess.

  LS: I probably should know this but I don't. At what stage is the legislation at the present time?

  JC: A Second reading in the Commons last week and it's currently in committee at the moment actually I think.

  CN: In committee at the Commons.

  LS: Well, yeah. They've got to allow something like ten parliamentary days between second reading and committee stage so I mean they may well have set the Committee up. Why not approach a member of the House of Commons who is involved in the detail? The trouble is by the time it gets to the Lords you know it's had a bit of a kicking around in the Commons and sort of attitudes are set and can be intransigent. It wouldn't be a bad idea if you got someone least lob the idea in the Commons as well.

  CN: To work on it in the Commons as well. Is that something you would be able to do? I don't know how good your contacts are in the Commons? Or do you think it's better for you to concentrate on the Lords because you're in the Lords?

  LS: Well I know lots of members in the House of Commons, I've been there for many years. When you're out for two elections, there are suddenly all these young people walking round. I would need to look at the committee. It wouldn't be any problem, I`ll see who is on the committee, anybody I can sort of approach and say that. To do that I would need something from you outlining these proposals.

  CN: Yes of course.

  LS: I can't say, I have had this idea, I have been approached about this idea, I think we would have to do it a bit more professionally than that. But depending on who is on the commons committee, if I had a chat, see if I could get them to table an

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 7 of 21

  amendment in committee. It'd be better if you could get a government person to do it, purely in political terms or if possible a member of the opposition because they're always looking for amendments to table anyway because oppositions have got to debate these things and come up with different ideas. Sounds like the sort of idea a Conservative opposition or Liberal perhaps if there's one on the parliamentary committee would be interested in pushing.

  JC: The overall minister is Hazel Blears but it's actually being done by John Healey, who's the Junior Minister.

  LS: Again, I can approach him behind the scenes to say, you know this is the purpose behind this amendment, look at it.

  CN: Yeah, what do you think?

  LS: You could take it away and the civil servants will give him 16 reasons why it shouldn't be done! I mean, it appears to me to be an eminently sensible idea anyway, given the current economic circumstances in particular.

  (26 mins)

  LS: I mean getting it debated in committee would be useful if only to get the goverment's view to see how sympathetic they are. Of course, in the Lords, there's no, well, committee stage in the Lords is always done on the floor of the House, er, it's a different procedure to the Commons where it gets kicked upstairs to committee rooms, you know we deal with legislation on the floor of the House. I don't know if you've been in the Lords, debates aren't particularly well attended and the government, of course, doesn't have a majority. So, I think we've got 216 members, Tories have 208, 70 odd Liberals, 200 odd cross-benchers. Again if you got a few of them interested in matters like this they can lean on the government. Because the government never wants to be defeated in the House because it means legislation's got to go back to the Commons. Clause amendments are struck out, sent back to us. They're usually anxious. It's easier in a way to get a compromise in the Lords because of the lack of government majority. Even in an early stage of committee, if a minister's indicated they'll look at the idea which they'll probably normally say, they're not going to throw it out completely, that then sort of suggests it could be included in a debate in the Lords. In which case, they'll move it themselves. If that was their ... table the government amendment you know if they accepted the earlier principle.

  JC: So we wouldn't actually have to put down an amendment?

  LS: In those circumstances, I have just outlined, no. If the govt indicated they were sympathetic to it, they quite often say, well, rather if it's been debated first in the committee in the commons, the government quite often says we'll look at it and see what we can do at report stage. If they're still discussing it at report stage, they'll amend it themselves in the Lords, if they're prepared to accept it rather than be seen to be forced into it when it gets up the corridor.

  JC: So how do you in the first instance make sure it's discussed in committee?

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 8 of 21

  LS: You get someone to table an amendment.

  CN: To the Committee.

  LS: Any member of the committee can table an amendment at 24 hours notice to appear on the order paper and of course you're dependent on the chairman of the Committee selecting it for debate if it's obviously relevant ... it's to stop people tacking things onto bills that have no sort of real purpose as far as that bill is concerned. So the chairman can say I'm not debating that.

  JC: Do you think you'd be able to get it, given that you want to, would you be able to get an amendment tabled on the Committee do you think?

  LS: Yes. I mean I could get somebody to do it.

  CN: I didn't know how straight forward it would be.

  LS: Everybody's always looking for ideas. The problem for backbenchers is, government backbenchers in particular are, they're encouraged to do their mail on committee and not speak because they want to get this legislation through whereas opposition backbenchers always want to cut their teeth in committee and impress the whips and the shadow minister. So, they want to be coming up with ideas. Again it's important not to get too political in committee. If you've got an opposition person to table such an amendment, you wouldn't want them to say, `typical of this government, damaging business this is a brilliant idea that would help save business money'. What we need is someone to say, `given the economic situation, I think this is an idea the government should look at'. So you pick people ... reasonably carefully. I mean some people just like a row. If the purpose is to get the legislation changed ... I mean you've got to compromise.

  CN: Well that's your objective isn't it? Bashing the government. [Laughter] Certainly our objective. We don't want the government to be bashing us with a legislation change.

  JC: Also, there are two committee stages aren't there. Presumably, you might be better off doing it at committee in the Lords, because presumably ... I don't know ...

  LS: Well the Committee stage as I said is taken on the floor of the House and the government try to persuade their people not to table too many amendments because they make a guess at how long they think each committee stage is going to be, like the Banking Bill which is .... I think we've done 4 days on it so far, because so many amendments, made by the governments themselves incidentally, because the legislation is poorly drafted to start with. But something like this, I'm guessing there would be two bills that particular day so they'd want this through in 3 or 4 hours ... as far as the Lords Committee stage is concerned... In the Commons it doesn't particularly matter ... they hazard a guess when they see a Committee. They'll at least take let's say 2 weeks like that ... they normally only meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at the committee stage in the Commons unless it's something particularly controversial in which case they'll meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and ... too.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 9 of 21

  So, I would have thought. I don't know how big the bill is, I mean I can get a copy of the bill from downstairs. Have you seen the actual printed copy of the bill?

  JC: Yes, but I can't remember how many pages it is.

  CN: I haven't seen it. I don't think it's particularly massive. I haven't got that impression anyway.

  JC: No. The only thing I was just thinking ... the last day of Committee stage is early February sometime. We don't have an awful lot of time that's all.

  LS: What's the name of the actual bill?

  JC: It's the Business Rate Supplements Bill.


  LS: I'm having lunch with the shadow minister for the West Midlands. I wonder whether she could get a copy of the bill. [Long pause] Business Rate Supplementary Bill?

  JC: Business Rates Supplements Bill, I think.

  LS: [on phone] Hi, is Linda there? It's Peter Snape. No? Okay I'll try her on her mobile [hangs up] Somewhere when I came in I put my phone.

  JC: Your mobile? It's somewhere right next to your left hand.

  LS: I used to have lots of assistants when I was in the House of Commons. [Pause] [on phone to Linda] I thought it might be the way you were whispering. Can you make it as far as the door without upsetting anybody? Okay. [pause] You're out there? We're lunching today. Well as part of my happiness about that I wonder if I could ask you or one of your many minions to bring me a copy or to bring with you a copy of the Business Rate Supplementary Bill. Is that alright? Okay. Well, I'll explain later. Right, right. So can you drop by my office on the way? Because if we're going across the road it's handy isn't it? Okay, you're anticipating the vote then? Is this all the ... expenses bill? Very sensible. Okay, just let me know. Bye. [hangs up] They just went for a vote, she said she's send someone over with it now. She'll bring it over on her way.

  JC: Who's that?

  LS: Linda Waltho. She's the MP for Stourbridge. She's just appointed, the Prime Minister's appointed a series regional ministers. She's a minister for the West Midlands. The sort of thing she might be interested in.

  JC: So, it sounds like something you'd take up on our behalf?

  Snape: Well, I'll certainly look at it. I think it's interesting, Something worth while.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 10 of 21

  JC: I suppose the other question for us is ... it's always a bit of an embarrassing one! We're thinking monthly retainer, which I think is the normal way of doing these things.

  Snape: Yes it is. Yeah, yeah.

  CN: What do you normally charge?

  Snape: I charge £1,000 a month and £500 a day.

  CN: How many days do you think you would need to dedicate to this and also that you have available to dedicate?

  Snape: One or two a month I'd think maximum. One probably. I can let you know the number of hours spent on it, but I'm not like a solicitor where every phone call...

  CN: [laughing] totting it up.

  JC: So for us it would be £12,000 as a sort of ... fee and if you did 2 days a month, that would be another £12,000.

  LS: Yes.

  JC: Thanks.

  LS: Something like this wouldn't take me two days a month.

  JC: So it might be cheaper than that?

  LS: Yes and if it wasn't, I'd come back and tell you.. I wouldn't just bill you.

  (38 mins).

  JC: In this thing it is basically just to get the amendment for our clients.

  LS: Right, right. I couldn't give you any guarantees, for obvious reasons, because I don't know what the government's view is. But I'll find out and talk to one or two people and see what they say. I mean, it appears to me to be an eminently sensible thing. As I said earlier I've no doubt civil servants will find all sorts of reasons not to do it because that's the way they work.

  CN: Is it worth speaking to the bill team at all?

  LS: The civil servants? Yes, if you know anybody.

  CN: Unfortunately I don't!

  LS: I'm not sure I do. I'll have to use some of my contacts to find out who they are. I mean, they've always been more important than the politicians, in my experience. If you can persuade them, then you are half way there. I wouldn't off the top of my head

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 11 of 21

  think I had many direct contacts with them. Listen I only specialise in transport. They're the people I see down the scene, but they're not normally adverse to lunch somewhere. They'll always say they're so poorly paid they can't afford to eat in the places where mps eat. I can't see it myself. But I mean I could find out who John Healy's pps is. In theory, he or she will be a reasonably junior mp. That's normally the way to civil servants. Will say this is what I want to do for a client I'm working for. You know, up to and amongst ministers too. If it's something reasonable they'll look at it and take it away. As I say they can always think of an objection, but that's the civil service for you. Many of them are very good, I think they're much maligned and if they know what ministers want to do they're good at implementing or drafting the legislation. The trouble is many ministers don't know what they want to do or they have vague ideas ... and in my experience they much prefer ministers saying `I want this'. I mean they might say that's courageous minister, which, if you watch Yes Minister means, courageous means foolhardy. But, you know, I think that they are very good at what they do and as I say, there at least as important if not more than politicians. If you can get them on side, they see politicians every day. We see each other fleetingly.

  JC: Well that sort of covers it, doesn't it?

  LS: Tell me more about your company. The only Michael Johnson Associates I know is in Australia. I thought that's maybe where you got that name from?

  JC: No. Michael Johnson is actually a company that is set up by an American called Michael Johnson. He had an office in Washington and an office in Brussels. He now also has an office in Hong Kong as well. But he's now retired, he no longer runs it. I mean he still owns the business. Most of his business has been with the European Parliament in Brussels and the Commission. We've been trying to establish a business here in the UK which initially we did as corporate communications for all sorts of clients people like, say, Trevor Hemmings the man who basically owns Blackpool. Blackpool leisure park.

  LS: Anybody who owns Blackpool has my sympathy [Laughs]

  JC: And we have a number ... we have some reasonably high profile clients. We have some businesses and work for a couple of airlines but we wanted to branch out into public affairs as a new area for our business so we're not necessarily very experienced in this area. Both of our backgrounds.

  CN: Pr really.

  JC: So as much as anything having a relationship with a consultant in Parliament would be very useful to us because it shows us...we make assumptions that are not always ... as it seems.

  CN: It's just important to know how it all works I suppose, which is something that you're very familiar with and as outsiders we're not. Even identifying who people are and having relationships with those people.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 12 of 21

  LS: I spent my formative years in the Whips office in the 1970s. We discovered to our amazement in 1974 we were elected. We didn't expect to be elected, miner's strike and all the rest of it. So I spent a year on the backbenches, and was a whip for four years. There was a ... by one in 1979. The one thing about the whips office is it teaches you how this place works. It was amazing some of the people who were in Jim Callaghan's Cabinet at that time, had no idea how Parliament works. People like Michael Foot. He'd been here for 30 years and never done Committee work. Broadbrush man terrific orator, but then he made him leader of the House of Commons. He didn't have the faintest idea how to get any legislation through. In fact someone's just sent me Kenneth Morgan's biography of Michael Foot which says his campaign against Dennis Healey when he ran for leadership of the Labour party was going nowhere until these three backbenchers Neil Kinnock, Peter Snape and Jim Marshall took over the running of his campaign and he won. One of my colleagues, a bloke called George Howarth said to me he's just been reading this said didn't he propose Michael Martin for the chair... He said ... bloody Tories. Long time ago.

  JC: Didn't you have the transport brief?

  LS: Yes, for ten years. I was going to be Minister for Transport if we'd won in '92 which we expected to do. Either that or Chief Whip. I quite fancied the job of Chief Whip. But I'd seen Neil Kinnock in a meeting in Birmingham about three days before polling day. He said he hadn't made his mind up yet. You've been doing it for ten years do you fancy doing something else? I said not particularly, what did you have in mind? We need a chief whip. I said let's talk, but wait until after Thursday. And of course he resigned immediately because we didn't win and Jon Smith rang me up and said are you going to carry on and I said `no I'm not! I've been offered a job outside as a non-executive Director of a company called West Midlands travel' I was the only person the Trade Union management side could agree on. They needed at least two independent non-execs and I was the only one they could agree on. So I said I can't obviously do that and be on the front bench as a transport spokesman. Well you can for a year he said, just don't do any buses. They were a bit more lax then. And then they became part of the National Express Group run. I think the Tories to a man board so I expected to say goodbye. They kept me on and made me Chairman of the bus division which I did for four years.

  JC: When did you stand down as mp then?

  LS: 2001. Their Chief Executive moved on. Bloke called Phil Whiting. I'd fallen out with his successor who ran the Strategic Rail Authority, Richard Bowker.

  JC: So you were made a Lord presumably by Tony Blair?

  LS: Yes. As I indicated to you earlier I could have gone straight from the Commons to the Lords. I was actually in Australia when the 2001 election was postponed because of the foot and mouth outbreak. Everyone had said the 3rd May which is why I'd arranged my trip to Australia to try and resolve some of the problems I'd been having with the State government in Victoria. And of course it was postponed so I said I'm going anyway. So I did a couple of radio interviews from Australia, because people just ring on your mobile.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 13 of 21

  CN: Exactly!

  LS: I said well I can't get to a phone you'll just have to do it from here, so I think I know all the information from British newspapers. But Australia was a disaster for us. Fortunately I'd taken the precaution of saying it is not a good idea when the board decided to run and try to get into the Australian transport market. The shares in National Express are now down to four quid. It's still the same business it was when it was thirteen quid.

  JC: Well look at the banks at the minute.

  LS: I mean the reason for that is that the banks are skint. National Express is a very good company. It might be affected by recession as far as the British trains act, but it's not going to go bust. But the city there were urging expansion so we bought some yellow buses in the United States. Yellow School buses. The Australian market when I went over there. The Unions were just like they were in Britain in the 1970s. Have either of you been to Melbourne?

  JC: No.

  LS: It's a great city. I mean I like Australia. My wife has lots of ... there and we go. We were there last August but they're particularly difficult to deal with especially if you're a pom. You know we can't import management in from the UK. You've got to get local people to do it. State government's done the deals to get rid of conductors on track, it's been a one-person operation which is, anyway, the whole thing's a nightmare but interesting.

  CN: And are National Express still operating in Australia?

  LS: Well, we've just pulled the plug in the end. Cost National Express 8 million. It was the only way, it was never going to work.

  CN: Total nightmare then for a couple of years.

  LS: I mean used to go two or three times a year. The Chief Exec at one time was going for the weekend.

  CN: That's horrendous isn't it?

  LS: He'd take some pill so he could sleep on the plane and would be back at his desk on Monday lunchtime.

  CN: It's incredibly tiring. You could just stay there for a month quite frankly.

  LS: Well I never go for less than three weeks. It takes at least 2 or 3 days. And you know people sit in the back. Business class is comfortable, because you can stretch out. You see whole families getting on in Heathrow. It's 26 hours.

  JC: My sister lives in Australia. Up in Queensland. A place called Noosa

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 14 of 21

  LS: Noosa. Wow.

  JC: And we went...

  LS: Did you stay at that hotel the ... I think it's called. that right on Noosa drive.

  JC: Well I just stayed at my sister's.

  LS: You've got the Sheraton on one side.

  JC: My parents have stayed at the Sheraton.

  LS: Lovely place Noosa. Last time I was there. It wasn't this year but the year before, because we don't go the last time we came. We've been two or three times to the jazz festival. I hate jazz.

  JC: There was a jazz festival when I was there. We went in August.

  LS: Drove me mad. It's impossible to have a meal. With that nonsense down my ear.

  JC: I did find the flying off-putting. Being in the air so long. We split it by going to ...

  LS: Gorgeous.

  JC: If you ever get a chance you should.

  LS: I fly by Singapore you see. Got expensive taste. Shangri-La hotel.

  CN: Nice! Shangri-La's are amazing.

  LS: They are aren't they, especially there. The service. We break our journey. We had 5 days there last time, but normally I like to fly all the way back just to get it over with. But it is an heck of a journey.

  JC: It is.

  LS: Get one of our nephews to pick us up from Heathrow to take us to Birmingham.

  JC: So have you amended any legislation before on behalf of clients?

  LS: I'd have to go back to the bus business there. I don't think I've got any specific amendments I can think of. I've certainly amended legislation as an official spokesman.

  JC: But you don't foresee any difficulties here?

  LS: Well, I don't know if the governmentt will agree to it. If the governments agree to can ask them, they do it for you.

  CN: They do it kind of in draft stages do they?

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 15 of 21

  LS: Yes, yes, I mean what you need to do is draw up or get a parliamentary agent or if it's simple, I'll do it. You need to draw up an amendment that's properly worded in the parliamentary sense. Do you work with parliamentary agents?

  JC: No, but I assumed we'd work with a parliamentary draftsman to do it because it's quite a specific task and then we could give you the draft and you'd give it to whoever ...

  LS: Sure, do you know a Parliamentary draftsman?

  JC: Yes, yes.

  LS: Oh fine. Well that's the best way to do it, they know all the legalese. You'll find they're a lot more expensive than I am, incidentally. You won't get these things cheaply. There's a whole industry around here of parliamentary drafts. You can't call them parliamentary draftsmen any more it has to be parliamentary drafts-people. If you do that and let me have a copy of it, I'll circulate it amongst people who I think will be sympathetic to you on the committee initially. But I'll talk to the minister's pps first, just to put them in the picture. What I want from you as far as we're concerned is if you summarise this conversation and our agreement in a letter to me, formally requesting me to act as a consultant on behalf of...and it's not essential but I'd quite like to meet your client.

  JC: That is possible.

  LS: In your office if you like. If he thinks it's impressive, bring him here.

  JC: He may like to, say, have lunch in the Lords if that's okay.

  LS: Of course it is. I mean if it's Chinese or Hong Kong/Chinese you know they're fairly astute business people aren't they? To say the least. Most people like the ambience of visiting. It indicates you've got some sort of connections.

  JC: It's difficult of them that they've identified this particular piece of legislation. I'd imagine that there might be others as well, but they haven't identified any to us at all.

  LS: Is this 2 per cent that you mention, is it in addition to the business rate?

  CN: Yes.

  LS: I know it's a nuisance, but it's scarcely massive

  JC: Well no, but I suppose it's an irritation. And when it's aggregated across many different businesses.

  LS: You don't know how much it is to trade in Hong Kong

  JC: There's going to be a business rate audit next year.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 16 of 21

  LS: It's obviously going to go up isn't it?

  CN: There are many variables. That's part of the problem. Especially when there's enough going on with the economy at the moment.

  LS: It's hardly healthy is it? It's not going to get any easier. I'm not a betting man but I think you'd get pretty good odds from a bookie against a fourth term of the Labour government. A double figures deficit in the opinion polls you're not going to go aren't you?

  JC: You box yourself in.

  LS: Just as John Major did. But politics is about something will turn up. You never know. You forget about Mrs. Thatcher. The most unpopular Prime Minister ever before the Falklands.

  CN: Well hopefully something similar doesn't happen.

  JC: Equally John Major was massacred wasn't he?

  LS: He was yeah. But he won in '92 against the odds. Mrs. Thatcher would still be leading the Tory party. A fact that a lot us forget when we go on about how wonderful she was We'd have won by a landslide in '92 and of course we'd have behaved in exactly the same way because John Smith the Shadow Chancellor at the time was just as keen about the European money mechanism as Lamont and the Conservatives. So we would have won in '92 and in the same way we would have been expelled from the ERM, would have cemented our view about our general incompetence and been massacred in '97 by the Tories. Although it stopped me from being Minister of Transport or whatever, it was a good election to lose. You've all the time to change things. You've been in a long time. It's very difficult to argue against that.

  JC: And although the argument about competence, which is a good argument, is really I think most people would trust Gordon Brown above Cameron in terms of competence economically, sort of is slightly ... bad newspaper coverage. I mean this week has been bad.

  LS: Yeah. Terrible. It'll actually get worse. Job losses every day. People going bust. I tell you what about Blair—people quite liked him but we had a media. I mean. John Major said something, I knew him reasonably well because he was a whip opposite me when we went into opposition after that in '79 he said the British press are merciless. They'll build you up for two or three years they'll turn against you like they turned against Brown. I think it's fortunate that Cameron's a bit of a lightweight and Osborne is even more so. Bringing in Ken Clarke and keeping him quiet on Europe is a good stroke. It takes away the main problem Labour's attack that they're rich kids.

  CN: That they're inexperienced.

  JC: At a time like this, would you trust the economy with George Osborne? That is a good line of attack.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 17 of 21

  LS: And you know, are we really going to turn the clock back to the days of the old Etonian magic circle? The shadow cabinet. I should imagine Labour's connection strategy is to be giving a lot of ... to that particular photograph. You know, getting Clarke back is a good stroke if you can get him off Europe. You never know, politics is full of, you never know what's round the corner. You know, I wouldn't write them off completely.

  JC: It's not looking good is it.

  LS: 2 out of 10

  JC: Well look, we won't detain you any longer. What we'll do we'll just thank you very much.

  CN: Thanks for your time.

  LS: Not at all. Oh you can email me. Actually it would be handy if I had it in writing.

  CN: Would you prefer it in ... because I can send it via email as an attachment or would you prefer it in the post?

  LS: Er ... I guess if you put it in the post. Would that be okay? Communicate by email.

  CN: Makes no difference.

  LS: I don't normally use a parliamentary email, I use my own. parliamentary ... jumps to the whips office. Can you go here? Can you turn up?

  CN: Have a nice lunch. Where are you going for lunch?


  Calvert and Newell depart


  LS: Michael Gillard.

  MG: Yes.

  LS: Peter Snape.

  MG: Hello Lord Snape thanks for getting back to me. I understand you had a meeting yesterday with a company called MJA?

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 18 of 21

  LS: Yes.

  MG: And I also understand that they were representing a Chinese businessman called Li Jiang and that they wanted to have legislation amended in relation to the business rates bill going through the two houses?

  LS: That's right.

  MG: I wanted to talk to you about what it was that you were prepared to do for them?

  LS: I'm on a train, can you speak up.

  MG: So what was it that you agreed to do for them?

  LS: The question they put to me was, they said they had a client from Hong Kong who wanted to start a business in the UK and obviously was concerned about these supplementary rates and the legislation coming through the house of commons at the moment. I said to them that er under the rules that I could not attempt to amend any legislation on behalf of an individual client or an individual company er but I was quite happy to look at the possibility of the government exempting any new companies throughout the UK from this supplementary business rate, perhaps for a limited period.

  MG: And how would you go about doing that?

  LS: Well I think that's between me and them isn't it.

  MG: What I'm saying is, is what you did within the rules?

  LS: Of course it is. I just had a conversation with them and...

  MG: What you agreed to do was that within the rules of what Lords are allowed to do with outside interests.

  [line cuts out]

  MG: Would you be willing to talk about what you agreed to do for them and whether money was involved?

  LS: Yes of course.

  MG: I thought you said you wouldn't tell me?

  LS: No I said I wouldn't do anything on behalf of an individual client—that would be outside the rules of the house. I said I was quite prepared to discuss with them how legislation could be changed which would benefit businesses throughout the UK. And if they wanted to take me on as a consultant for their company my usual fees were, which I went through. I asked them to confirm in writing and I said I would confirm back to them in writing that I would only act on their behalf on behalf of businesses throughout the UK and not on behalf of individual clients as within the rules of the house.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 19 of 21

  MG: So you wouldn't have acted on behalf of the Chinese client even though you knew that it was a Chinese client that was wanting this done.

  [LS asked to repeat the question and we agreed that I would call him at 12.40 when he got to Birmingham]


  Introductions MG: What I am interested in is this company MJA and their client this Chinese businessman who I understand engaged your services.

  LS: Er MJA yeah engaged my services not the Chinese client.

  MG: Well that's their client and as I understand it...

  LS: What?

  MG: ...the Chinese man is their client? He is one of their clients I presume. As I understand it, what they are engaging you to do is on his behalf.

  LS: No it is not. If you understand that then whatever transcript you've got isn't true.

  MG: So what exactly did you think you were doing for them?

  LS: Well. I'll give you a statement if you like. `Following a telephone call from a Claire Taylor of MJA regarding a possible consultancy agreement between us she asked for a meeting which took place in my office this week. Her colleague told me that the company had a client based in Hong Kong who was anxious to open over 100 retail outlets in the UK and was seeking exemption from the proposed supplementary business rate, a piece of legislation currently with the house of commons. I said that under the rules of the house I was unable to initiate any legislation on behalf of an individual or company.

  MG: You wouldn't be initiating it, you'd be amending it.

  LS: Well Ok initiate and amend. I'll amend my own statement. [statement continues] initiate or amend any legislation on behalf of an individual or company. However, I did state, following discussion, that such an exemption perhaps time limited for all new start up businesses may be beneficial in the current economic circumstances and undertook to investigate such a possibility further. I went on to explain to Mr Johnson and his colleague, parliamentary procedures in both houses through which this legislation would pass. I was then asked if I was interested in accepting a contingency with MJA. I informed them of my normal scale of fees and asked then to forward a formal letter to me and (unclear but sounds like—I would consider it.) That's about all I've got to say on that.

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 20 of 21

  MG: What I was interested in knowing is, is it the case or isn't it the case that you said you'd draw up an amendment for David Thompson to give to someone to put down in the committee?

  LS: No it isn't the case. I said I'd assist in, er, the best people to draft an amendment would be parliamentary agents who are the experts. Mr Thompson said they had people in mind.

  MG: You didn't offer to draft the amendment?

  LS: I wouldn't know how to draft an amendment. You know parliamentary procedures are fairly technical.

  MG And you didn't offer to approach the minister in charge behind the scenes?

  LS: I said that it would be as well if soundings were taken of the likely government reaction to such an exemption for all new start up businesses.

  MG: My point is, did you offer to approach the minister in charge, behind the scenes?

  LS: I offered to look into the best way of, er, sounding out the government, sounding out the possibility of such a piece of legislation. I didn't specifically name the minster or anybody else.

  MG: My question isn't whether you named him, my question is whether you offered to approach the minister in charge?

  LS: I don't even know who the minister in charge is.

  MG: You could find out?

  LS: Well...

  MG: ... for £24,000 a year it wouldn't be too.

  LS: Well indeed, in this case if I was being paid £24,000 a year I might do just that. But at that stage we were discussing the legislation.

  MG: But that was your fee structure wasn't it?

  LS: My normal fee structure is £1000 per month retainer and £500 per day.

  MG: So 24 a year was the discussed fee structure?

  LS: I said that if I would take more than two days a month, if I was going to charge more than two days a month I'd come back to them. But normally that was about the average fee that I charged.

  MG: Is it your case Lord Snape that you were willing to help MJA amend the legislation?

Sunday Times Lord Snape page 21 of 21

  LS: I was willing initially to help MJA to see what the reaction would be and I was willing to give them advice as to how the legislation might be amended, particularly by the use of a parliamentary agent. [this next bit is not very clear] It's about changing legislation but if you try doing it yourself you find out that by the time the boys have finished with it, it means the opposite of what you thought it would.

  MG: Which is why a phrase I'm told you used was behind the scenes, is where your influence would work?

  LS: Not quite. As far as the drafting is concerned I emphasised it needed drafting professionally by a parliamentary agent.

  MG: You are categorical that you didn't say they should draw up an amendment for you to give to someone to put down in the committee?

  LS: They couldn't draw up an amendment, they wouldn't have the expertise.

  MG: And you are categorical that you didn't say that you would offer to draft it for them?

  LS: I wouldn't know how to draft it for them.

  MG: Obviously, I've said to you that the meetings were taped.

  LS: Well I've no doubt about that yeah.

  MG: The people that you met were undercover reporters.

  LS: I guessed that too.

  MG: When did you guess that?

  LS: Well I had my suspicions beforehand [unclear] the way it was done.

  MG: Did you report that to anyone?

  LS: I didn't have any occasion to, any cause to did I? I mean I emphasise that I laid down very strictly that I, in fact they asked me the question whether I'd amended legislation on behalf of anybody. I said I'd amended quite a bit of legislation but only from the front bench on behalf of the party. I'd never done it for any individual. It would be against the rules of the house.

  MG: I think I've covered everything I need to cover. Is there anything you want to ask me?

  LS: You will use my statement I hope will you.

  LS: Of course, I'll check it back with you if I haven't got it down properly.


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