Lord SnapeSunday 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
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?
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
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.
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 goodsa 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
LS: Woolworths have got one. A few places
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
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.
JC: So First Group employ you, but you
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
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
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
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 to...at 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
JC: Business Rates Supplements Bill,
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
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: 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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
CN: And are National Express still operating
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
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 ...
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
LS: Well, I don't know if the governmentt
will agree to it. If the governments agree to it...you can ask
them, they do it for you.
CN: They do it kind of in draft stages
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
LS: Sure, do you know a Parliamentary
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?
LS: I know it's a nuisance, but it's
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
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
CN: Well hopefully something similar
JC: Equally John Major was massacred
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 Blairpeople 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
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.
LS: Peter Snape.
MG: Hello Lord Snape thanks for getting
back to me. I understand you had a meeting yesterday with a company
Sunday Times Lord Snape page 18 of 21
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
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
LS: No I said I wouldn't do anything
on behalf of an individual clientthat 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...
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 likeI 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
LS: I don't even know who the minister
in charge is.
MG: You could find out?
MG: ... for £24,000 a year it wouldn't
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
LS: My normal fee structure is £1000
per month retainer and £500 per day.
MG: So 24 a year was the discussed fee
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
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
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
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
LS: Of course, I'll check it back with
you if I haven't got it down properly.