Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
10 MARCH 2009
Q160 Lord Irvine of Lairg: It is
the passage on page 15 of 29.
Lord Snape: Can you just give me a clue?
Q161 Chairman: Take your time.
Lord Snape: Yes, I have it.
Q162 Lord Irvine of Lairg: You have
it. Obviously you recall Michael Gillard ringing you on Friday
Lord Snape: Indeed.
Q163 Lord Irvine of Lairg: And you
are learning that the two people, whom you had met, ostensibly
from the lobbying company, MJA, were in fact two Sunday Times
undercover reporters, so that we are all familiar with that. You
remember, do youand now I am at page 15 of 29Gillard
putting it to you that you had offered to approach the minister
in charge in relation to the proposed amendment behind the scenes.
Do you see that, just below the half way point in the page?
Lord Snape: Yes.
Q164 Lord Irvine of Lairg: You said,
"I offered to look into the best way of, er, sounding out
the government, er, sounding out, er, the possibility of such
a piece of legislation. Don't specifically, I didn't specifically
name the Minister or anybody else. Man: Sorry, my question isn't
whether you named him. The question is whether you offered to
approach the Minister in charge. PS: I, I, I didn't know, I don't
even know who the Minister in charge is. I mean ."
You pick that up?
Lord Snape: Yes.
Q165 Lord Irvine of Lairg: You will
bear that in mind, and then can we go to the Hansard transcript,
which is understandably your preference, and page 11.
Lord Snape: Yes?
Q166 Lord Irvine of Lairg: If you
go two-thirds of the way down, the malethat being male
not mail, nothing to do with the Daily Mail"Man:
The overall Minister is Hazel Blears, but it's actually being
done by John Healey, a junior Minister." You say, "Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, again, I could approach him, you know,
sort of behind the scenes to say, you know, `This is the purpose
behind this amendmentlook at it'". Could you help
us with this, in the earlier passage that I showed you from the
Gillard telephone conversation with him, were you being entirely
frank with Gillard?
Lord Snape: I was obviously being imprecise,
my Lord. I thought I had said the Ministry, now obviously I did
not when I look at the interview, page 11, to which you have just
drawn mine and the Committee's attention. I thought I was talking
about the Ministry generally, I did not actually know, as I have
indicated on page 11, who the Minister was in charge of this particular
Bill but I accept that what I said to Gillard in the [CD2] transcript
on page 15 was incorrect and I did mention the minister. I have
to say, if I may, that this was in the course of something like
an hour long conversation and recalling everything is fairly difficult.
I accept that I did say the Minister.
Q167 Lord Irvine of Lairg: You see
what I am bound to ask you, and I want to hear your explanation,
it could appear from this that you were denying that you had offered
to approach the Minister in charge because you were saying, "I
don't even know who he is".
Lord Snape: I meant the Minister in charge
of the committee. There are lots of Ministers in various departments.
I was not sure who the specific Minister was. I overlooked the
fact that I had been told that during the course of the interview.
I have to say, if I may, my Lord Chairman, my Lord, Mr Gillard
was pretty hostile on the telephone. He first approached me on
the train, I called him back when I got home and I was a bit taken
aback by the abrupt nature of his questioning. I accept that I
did say "Healey" and I was wrong in the additional denial
to him but I can only say, I repeat, it was in the context of
an hour long conversation. I could not recollect exactly what
I had said or who I had spoken about.
Q168 Lord Irvine of Lairg: When you
spoke to Gillard had you remembered that whoever the minister
may have been you had said that you could approach him behind
Lord Snape: I was talking specifically
not about the amendmentWe are talking about two different
things. I was talking about the general amendment to alleviate
the burden of the supplementary rate on businesses countrywide.
I admit that the language is imprecise but, again, I was having
a general conversation on [Hansard] page 11 of 33 and I was being
pinned down, if that is the right term, by Mr Gillard, having
just got off the train and spoken to him subsequently on that
Q169 Lord Irvine of Lairg: Why, incidentally,
did you say, as you did at page 11 of 33, that you could approach
the Minister behind the scenes? What did you mean by "behind
Lord Snape: I think I have said this,
I will try and refer to it by a specific reference in a moment
or two, I was talking in parliamentary terms, once you table an
amendment, particularly in the House of Commons and it is defeated,
that is normally the end of it. I was suggesting that it might
be a good idea, an idea I am still rather taken with and still
agree with, to suggest to ministers that given the current economic
circumstances alleviating some of the rates burden on new start
up businesses might well be advantageous. That is what I meant
by "approaching him behind the scenes" rather than a
formal sense by tabling an amendment either in your Lordships'
House or elsewhere. Once an amendment is tabled, as all of us
in the room know, and it is defeated, that is normally the end
of the matter; governments do not like returning to matters that
they have already disposed of. That is what I meant by the phrase
"behind the scenes".
Q170 Lord Irvine of Lairg: I think
you meant, did you, that you would seek to persuade him behind
the scenes of the general merit of an overall extension for new
businesses from this proposed two per cent supplement?
Lord Snape: Albeit time limited, I specified
Q171 Lord Irvine of Lairg: For two
Lord Snape: On the grounds that I did
not think any Ministers would relieve businesses of that burden
Q172 Chairman: Did you take the view
that it is legitimate to move the amendment to the benefit of
the public good or the whole industry, even if those amendments
are also for the benefit of the client?
Lord Snape: Only if I had first spoken,
and again, my Lord Chairman, if you look at the transcript I said
earlier on that it would be necessary for me to speak to the Registrar
of Members' Interests. Remember I had been approached ostensibly
to be a consultant to MJA, the mythical PR consultancy company.
I have said earlier onand I will find the reference if
your Committee would wishthat I could only approach the
Minister or anybody else once I have cleared the matter with the
Registrar of Members' Interests who might well, I say earlier
on, ask me for a full list of those clients and I would only approach
the Minister or anybody else if I was given the go ahead by the
Q173 Lord Dholakia: Would you say
you were using parliamentary influence at that particular stage?
Lord Snape: No, I would have thought,
and still do, my Lord, it makes eminent sense to alleviate the
rates burden for new businesses at the present time. I think it
is incumbent and a duty on Members of Parliament in either House
if they see an opportunity to alleviate the rates burden, bearing
in mindplease I am not trying to deviate from Lord Irvine's
questionthere had been no discussion of money or fees or
whatever at this stage. I was merely expressing an opinion, one
I held then and one I still do, that I do not think it is exerting
any improper influence to suggest to ministers, given the state
of the British economy, that this might be a way of helping to
set up new businesses. I emphasise, my Lord Chairman, if I may,
I had ruled out the question of the specific amendment for this
person's client in almost my first business like comment.
Q174 Lord Irvine of Lairg: You will
appreciate, do you, the force of the question from Lord Dholakia
relates to paragraph 4(c) of the Code, that is what Lord Dholakia's
language is drawn from.
Lord Snape: I see.
Q175 Lord Irvine of Lairg: Which
says, "Members of the House ..." this is clause 4(c)
"... must never accept any financial inducement as an incentive
or reward for exercising parliamentary influence". Just to
assist you with following Lord Dholakia's question, what Lord
Dholakia is asking you is whether you felt that if you were to
be paid as a consultant that you would be exercising parliamentary
influence, contrary to paragraph 4(c), if you did this for reward,
the parliamentary influence being let it be for a provision, exemption,
which you believed would be for the benefit of new business generally
and not for a particular client.
Lord Snape: I understand, my Lord, and
again I say I would not approach anybody unless I had first cleared
the matter with the Registrar of Members' Interests. At this stage,
the only mention of fees or consultancies had actually come from
MJA who had left me a message to say could they come and see me
to talk about the possibility of a consultancy. I had thought
they were two young people who were starting up in London and
I was giving them the benefit of my advice at that particular
time and I would never have improperly used any influence and
broken that particular Code. I would have cleared the matter with
the Registrar and if he had said "don't do it", I would
not have done it.
Q176 Chairman: Can I ask two questions
following that. The first one is that the journalists when they
were talking to you they were very clear what they wanted.
Lord Snape: To start with.
Q177 Chairman: They said "pay
you a retainer as a consultant to help us amend the bill".
If that is the case, why did you continue to negotiate with them?
Lord Snape: Because they moved away from
that, if you look at the transcript, with respect, my Lord Chairman.
Immediately they came out with those wordsagain without
referring exactly I paraphrase myselfwhen they asked me
about the specific amendments on behalf of their client, I said,
as far as I can remember, it is in there, "I don't think
I could. It would be against the rules and I could not do it".
Then and only then did they say, "Well what about a general
amendment" which appealed to me, not from a financial point
of view but from a common sense point of view, given the state
of the economy and how things are at the present time. But I stress,
my Lord Chairman, and again it is in the transcript, I said to
them I would have to approach the Registrar of Members' Interests.
He may well ask me, I think I used the phrase, "who is paying
you", and he may well ask me for a list of your clients.
Now I would have only gone ahead, on the basis behind your question,
if the Registrar had given me permission.
Q178 Chairman: Could I ask another
question, following from that. In your submission of 29 January
you say that in the initial discussion with the journalists regarding
amendments, there was no mention or suggestion of payment or retainer
and I would not have raised such.
The journalist said "What we will do is pay you a retainer
as a consultant to in effect help us amend the bill" before
you express any interest in the merits of the amendment. Was it
not clear from the start that what you were discussing with MJA
would be they could pay you?
Lord Snape: No, it was not, with respect,
my Lord Chairman. I had ruled out accepting any payment for the
specific amendment very early on in the conversation. It will
be in the transcript, I do not know whether you wish me to find
it and to read it. I was attracted, as I repeat, by the question
of an overall amendment for all new start up businesses but again,
I repeat, I was not negotiating anyway during the course of this,
this was a general conversation, as I thought. Remember, if I
may respectfully say, this was only a bona fide conversation on
my part, the journalists had another agenda in mind. Having ruled
out payment for a specific amendment, we were then, I thought,
going back to discussing their needs so far as parliamentary advice
was concerned, but I stress, it was always in my mind and I repeated
it on two or three occasions during the course of our conversation,
to take the advice of the Registrar of Members' Interests before
even pursuing what I thought was a well merited amendment to alleviate
this additional rates burden from all businesses.
Chairman: Lord Cope wants to come in.
Q179 Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was
a little concerned about the merits of the amendment.
Lord Snape: The overall one, the blanket
1 Comment by the witness: this submission was provided
prior to Lord Snape's receipt of the transcript of his conversations. Back