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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)

Lord Snape

10 MARCH 2009

  Q180  Lord Cope of Berkeley: The overall one, yes. It may be a slight distraction from the questioning just now but it did not seem to me to have much merit that foreign companies—the Chinese one in this particular instance—should be able to come in and get a tax relief to compete with existing British companies already in difficulties by means of this relief from the new charge—

  Lord Snape: The supplementary business rate.

  Q181  Lord Cope of Berkeley: —being made. I can well understand why neither the CBI nor, as far as I know, any other lobby has made any proposal of this sort.

  Lord Snape: That is not what they said.

  Q182  Lord Cope of Berkeley: It was an invention of the journalists concerned. You think it has merit nevertheless?

  Lord Snape: They did mention the CBI and the Association of Small Businesses and I think I happened to mention to them I knew the general secretary of the Association of Small Businesses because he tried to be a candidate for Parliament over the years. I was not—I repeat—asking or even considering an amendment for a specific business, Chinese or otherwise, I was talking about a blanket amendment for new start up businesses, perhaps time limited, which would alleviate this additional burden that would be applied to them under the Supplementary Rates Bill. Now whether they are Chinese or not, my Lord, I have to say if I was back in the House of Commons if anybody wanted to open a firm, shop or factory in my particular constituency, I do not care where they came from, given the present economic circumstances I would do my best as a Member of Parliament to assist them. If everybody is benefiting then provided the Registrar gave me permission to go ahead with that blanket amendment I would have done so.

  Q183  Lord Cope of Berkeley: Yes, but in so far as these foreign businesses got tax relief for their new operation it would increase the competition on the existing business in whatever field it was, in this case selling clothes.

  Lord Snape: I repeat, my Lord, it would not be just this business, it would be every business. If I may say so, during our time together in the House of Commons, your own Government alleviated the burden of rates in various parts of the country not, alas, in my constituency which gave me similar grounds for complaints to the one that you just made but that is what happens if you try and alleviate the rates burden for new start up businesses or in the case of the last Conservative Government on a geographical basis.

  Chairman: I think we need to move on from that.

  Q184  Lord Irvine of Lairg: I have taken careful note of the general points that you have made, the centrality of your understanding that it would be an exemption for the benefit of new business generally and, secondly, your statement that you would not have proceeded without reference to the Registrar. I have taken note of both these points.

  Lord Snape: Which is in there, my Lord.

  Lord Irvine of Lairg: What I would now like to do is take you slowly but not too slowly through the transcript and give you the opportunity when the moment arises, and I will probably take you to the relevant parts. If we go back to page 5 of the transcript, about two-thirds of the way down, they tell you the cock and bull story about the 40 retail shops and so on. We will pick that up, page 5, two-thirds of the way down.

  Q185  Baroness Manningham-Buller: "The purpose of this consortium is to set up something called Emerald". Have you got it?

  Lord Snape: I have got page 5 of the transcript that the Clerk has just given me. Is this the same one?

  Q186  Baroness Manningham-Buller: No, we are back on to Hansard.

  Lord Snape: I am sorry.

  Q187  Lord Irvine of Lairg: When I say the transcript, I mean the Hansard transcript.

  Lord Snape: I am sorry, it is my fault.

  Q188  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Two-thirds of the way down, "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." So this is, if you like, the cock and bull story.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q189  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Then if we go over to page 7, what they tell you, almost a half way down, is that they want to pay you a retainer as a consultant to secure the desired amendment to the Bill.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q190  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You pick up that?

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q191  Lord Irvine of Lairg: So you were under, obviously, no illusions that the sums of money subsequently discussed, £25,000 in total, were to induce you to take steps to procure the desired amendment?

  Lord Snape: No, I am sorry that is not the case, my Lord.

  Q192  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Forgive me.

  Lord Snape: Later on in the transcript you will see they brought up the question of money. I dispensed all this advice, whether valuable or not, without even talking about money. I am aware that they said they wanted to come and see me about a possible consultancy but they could have walked away with the advice I had given them without, obviously, any financial discussion whatsoever. They mentioned the question of money and they said something, again it is in the transcript, about now we come to the hard part and I merely said to them the £25,000, which actually, my Lord, I think is £24,000 which appeared in the Sunday Times actual story, comes from the fact that I said that the normal fee that I charged my clients was £1,000 a month retainer and £500 a day. We then had to talk about how long. I even said to them then—because I thought they were a newly starting up company with two young people—it would not necessarily be two days a month, it would depend on the burden of a consultancy for MJA overall. Indeed, in the page to which you referred, Lord Irvine, page 7, I thought I had specifically ruled out any question of payment or me tabling an amendment, that specific one, for the benefit of that one particular company.

  Q193  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Let me assist you. Half way into the page, the man says, "It's bad enough as it is starting, and therefore you should have — and so we were hoping that we might be able to amend it to include a clause such as that. Now, the question is, I mean, you know, 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, or b) you would be able to do?" You say, quite clearly, "I don't think I would. The problem about having a direct financial interest is that one is not supposed to initiate legislation which would benefit the person who gives you or pays you this financial interest. So, you know, if I specifically worked for your company, for example, then I'd need to take advice, as these people are your clients, as to whether or not I could amend it. I certainly couldn't do it if I was working directly for the client themselves. Man: Right." You say, "But I'd need to take advice." That is what you are referring us to.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Then the bogus male, undercover journalist, says, "Oh, I see. So if you were working for Michael Johnson Associates you might be able to do it but not if—PS: Not if I were working directly for the person or industry concerned. That's off the top of my head and I would have thought that's the way the rules would be interpreted." Then I jump forward and go to the top of page 8 where you say, "So provided I made that declaration, then I could amend, let us say, what I liked and I would have thought, although I will take advice from the Registrar of Members' Interests in the Lords, that I feel that would also appertain if I worked for your company rather than specifically ..." So we understand—

  Q194  Chairman: Could I just ask a question, if you go to the bottom of page 7, what I really would like to understand, why did you believe that it was legitimate to move amendments to benefit the bus industry but not exclusively First Group?

  Lord Snape: I did not move amendments, my Lord Chairman. I spoke at great length, some of the Committee might say, on some aspects of the Local Transport Bill when I spoke in favour of various Government clauses, and occasionally amendments tabled by somebody else but I declared an interest on each and every occasion that I worked for First Group. I did not move any amendments on the—

  Chairman: My question is why did you think it was legitimate to move amendments to the benefit of the bus industry but not exclusively for the benefit of a—

  Q195  Lord Irvine of Lairg: —for the benefit of a particular client?

  Lord Snape: It is rather carelessly worded but I did not move any amendments on the Bus Bill for the reasons that I have just given to them and the reasons I have given to this Committee. It is rather loosely speaking on my part but I actually did table two amendments to the Local Transport Bill, my Lord Chairman, which I did not move because I felt, on reflection that it might be said I was benefiting a company for which I worked, that is First Group. I am speaking rather loosely there. Can I emphasise again, my Lord Chairman, I was chatting to two genuine young people, as I thought, about general parliamentary business, I was not being particularly specific about these matters. If I may say so, my Lord Chairman, it is not what I said there but what I actually did and I did write in the letter in response to the Clerk to this Committee pointing out that I had tabled two amendments to the Bus Bill reflecting afterwards, it might be said, that amongst the people who would benefit—Although I thought they were sensible amendments, I would say that, on reflection I decided not to move them—this was last November, well before this business from the Sunday Times came up—and I did not move them for that specific reason and nor would I have done so and nor have I ever done so in either House.

  Q196  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Can I summarise your general position and you tell me if this is correct or not. What you are saying is that you are agreeing you could help them provided the exemption sought by the amendment was for all new businesses but not if it was for their client only?

  Lord Snape: That is correct as far as it goes, my Lord, and I could only move a general amendment provided the Registrar of Members' Interests had been consulted and given his approval.

  Q197  Lord Irvine of Lairg: I have taken that on board. I think you probably make that perfectly plain because you say at the foot of page 9—and then I will take you to a passage towards the foot of page 10—"Because I would be initiating legislation for a company from which I am paid, which would be improper under the rules of the House. Man: I see." Then you go on, "But if I was wanting to exempt the whole of the railway industry from some particular clause I could do so on the grounds that, you know, this is for the public good or the benefit of the industry rather than one specific client".

  Lord Snape: I am sorry, my Lord, could you give me the page reference again.

  Q198  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Page 9, two-thirds of the way down.

  Lord Snape: Yes, I see.

  Q199  Lord Irvine of Lairg: What I am saying is that—and I have read it into the transcript—represents your position in principle, does it not?

  Lord Snape: Yes.

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