Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
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
companiesthe Chinese one in this particular instanceshould
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
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
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 notI repeatasking 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
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 shopsquite substantial
shopsacross 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
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
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 thenbecause
I thought they were a newly starting up company with two young
peopleit 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
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
ifPS: 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
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 benefitAlthough
I thought they were sensible amendments, I would say that, on
reflection I decided not to move themthis was last November,
well before this business from the Sunday Times came upand
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
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 9and 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 thatand I have read it into the transcriptrepresents
your position in principle, does it not?
Lord Snape: Yes.