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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)

Lord Snape

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 23 January.

  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 you—and now I am at page 15 of 29—Gillard 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 male—that 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 amendment—look 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 the scenes?

  Lord Snape: I was talking specifically not about the amendment—We 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 Friday.

  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 the scenes"?

  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 that.

  Q171  Lord Irvine of Lairg: For two years.

  Lord Snape: On the grounds that I did not think any Ministers would relieve businesses of that burden permanently.

  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 on—and I will find the reference if your Committee would wish—that 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 Registrar.

  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 mind—please I am not trying to deviate from Lord Irvine's question—there 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 words—again without referring exactly I paraphrase myself—when 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.[1] 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 one?

1   Comment by the witness: this submission was provided prior to Lord Snape's receipt of the transcript of his conversations. Back

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