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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)

Lord Snape

10 MARCH 2009

  Q200  Lord Irvine of Lairg: What you thought was legitimate. If you go over to page 10, you say, "PS: Well, the obvious question that the Registrar would ask me would be, `Who's paying you?' So it would have to be either yourself—again, it doesn't particularly matter to me provided I can do it on a blanket basis, but I could not, sort of, as I said earlier, represent your client in this and say, `There should be an exemption for this particular company ... '" Then you go and say, "I could well argue, I'm sure, under the rules, that there should be an exemption for new businesses from the extra business rate." If I may say so, this is your leitmotiv, this is the general position subject to what you say about approaching the Registrar?

  Lord Snape: Yes, indeed.

  Q201  Baroness Manningham-Buller: By this stage, Lord Snape, you are very much talking in terms of being paid and the issue when you talk to the Registrar he will be asking who pays you?

  Lord Snape: I do not think I am. I never mentioned money at this stage, I was freely dispensing advice to two attractive young people, about the same age as my own children, who were anxious to start up a business in London having recently arrived, as they said, from Brussels. I was not talking specifically about money. I never at any time said, "That will cost you so and so" or "I wish to be taken on". There was a general understanding, they had asked to see me about a possible consultancy but had they said, "Well, thank you and goodbye" at that stage I would not have said, "Well I will send you a bill for the advice I have given". I was giving it quite freely because, to be honest, I quite liked the two of them and they seemed to be honest and straight forward.

  Q202  Lord Irvine of Lairg: I think what Baroness Manningham-Buller has pointed out here is that money was in your mind because if you look at the top of page 10 of the transcript you are saying, "Well, the obvious question that the Registrar would ask me would be, `Who's paying you?' So it would have to be either yourself—again it doesn't particularly matter to me provided I can do it on a blanket basis ..." that is provided it is permissible on a blanket basis "... but I could not, sort of, as I said earlier, represent your client in this and say, `There should be an exemption for this particular company ... '" So on reflection was Baroness Manningham-Buller not right in suggesting that at this stage you did have reward in your mind?

  Lord Snape: No, my Lord, for I was replying to the question above, "Man: Well, in that case, so would you therefore—I mean, it matters not to us whether you are representing us or whether you are representing our client. It would be whatever's more convenient for you, really". Now if I am representing anybody, it is presumably as a paid consultancy but it is he who is saying that to me not me who is saying that to him. I am responding to his question about a consultancy in the way that I did.

  Q203  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You are assuming you would be paid?

  Lord Snape: I am assuming that having come to see me, my Lord, about a possible consultancy for the company, if they wish to accept my advice they would make some specific offer at the end of the meeting but I was not assuming I would be paid at that moment for this general amendment. Indeed, may I just say, my Lord Chairman, had they gone away and I never heard from them again, I might well have been tempted to say to colleagues in both Houses, do you think it would be sensible to exempt small businesses—I obviously would not get much change from my Lord, Lord Cope—from this additional rates burden in the current economic climate. I think it is a very attractive proposition and without any payment I would pursue that matter.

  Q204  Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was a Treasury Minister.

  Lord Snape: Indeed. Yes, they say no to everything, my Lord.

  Q205  Chairman: Could I ask another general question here because from what I see from the transcripts you did not know the name of the Bill before your discussion with the journalists began. Was your enthusiasm to some extent engendered by the fact that you might be paid by MJA and did it not occur to you that it might be perceived as that?

  Lord Snape: No, my Lord Chairman, it did not. The reason I did not know the exact title of the Bill but I did know something about the Supplementary Rates Bill was because I had served virtually for the whole of last year on the Crossrail Bill which when we asked the Ministers, "How are we going to pay the £16 or 17 billion", they said, "Oh, we've got an idea, a Supplementary Rates Bill that we are going to apply in London, the money for which is hypothecated ..." although I am never sure what the Treasury say about hypothecation (or I do know what the Treasury say about hypothecation) "... two per cent is hypothecated specifically for Crossrail and we are thinking of widening ..." this is whatever Minister I spoke to about it during the Crossrail Bill "... that to give other local authorities up and down the country the power to levy this particular rate." I passed some comment at the time, "Well, that will make us very popular in the run up to an election".

  Q206  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Before we leave the passage which I think Baroness Manningham-Buller was calling attention to at the top of page 10, that the Registrar would ask you "Who's paying you?" and you say "... it would have to be either yourself—again it doesn't particularly matter to me provided I can do it on a blanket basis ..." Do you want to leave your evidence to the Committee on the basis that you did not have any expectation of payment at that point for consultancy if an agreement was made?

  Lord Snape: No, my Lord, I think if an agreement was made for me to act as a consultant on behalf of MJA that is a perfectly logical conclusion to draw. What I was saying in reply to Baroness Manningham-Buller was that was not the thought that was uppermost in my mind at the time although I can readily see that it is a natural conclusion to draw. I repeat, my Lord Chairman, I was dispensing advice, some of it I hope valuable as I thought, to young people. The fact, obviously, they had come to see me about a consultancy is apparent but, I repeat, had they walked away at the moment I would not have sent them any bills, I would have thought, good luck to them.

  Q207  Lord Irvine of Lairg: The point is the conversation continued and it continued into the range of things that you said you could do for them provided, of course, that it was a blanket exemption that you were seeking, that is correct?

  Lord Snape: And provided, of course, that the Registrar gave his permission.

  Q208  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Oh, yes, I take that.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q209  Lord Dholakia: Just going back, Lord Irvine may pursue this point later on, you said I was dispensing advice and yet you go beyond advice when they said about the Bill being floated in the Commons. You talk about your contacts in the House of Commons, that you know many people, and if I may quote, this is on page 11, "So that I could say, look, you know, I've had this idea, or I've been approached about this idea. You know, I think we'd have to do it a bit more professionally than that. But, I mean, depending on who was on the Commons Committee I'd have a chat and see whether I could get them to table an amendment in Committee." I come back to this point, is this not using your parliamentary influence for that amendment?

  Lord Snape: No, it is a suggestion that a good idea for alleviating the burden of taxation. I do go on my Lord, to talk about alternatives to amendments for the reasons that I outlined earlier. Once an amendment has been debated in a Commons Committee and defeated by the Government, and these amendments invariably are unless the Government seizes upon them as being sensible, then that is the end of it. Although I used the word "amendments" in there, I would have liked the idea of this blanket alleviation of this particular burden to have been discussed, but if it was discussed as an amendment and then defeated, the point I was trying to make, and I think I go on to say that further down the page, that would be the end of it, and I am saying to them, in casual conversation, I am not sure that is the right way to go about it.

  Q210  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Lord Snape, that is not Lord Dholakia's point, I do not think. He is pointing out to you from the transcript that there were various things that you said that you would do personally in order to promote the amendment. If you look at page 11, you see about a third of the way in, "I would need to look at the Committee. I mean, it wouldn't be any problem. I can see who's on the Committee, anybody I could sort of approach and say ... To do that, I'd need something from you outlining these proposals ..." which means a short briefing on proposals. Then you go on, and say, "You know, I think we'd have to do it a bit more professionally than that. But, I mean, depending on who was on the Commons Committee I'd have a chat and see whether I could get them to table an amendment in Committee ... ." You would ascertain who was on the Committee, have a chat and see whether you could persuade somebody who was on the Committee to table the amendment in Committee. Then you say that the best way to go about it is that it would be better if you could get a Government person to do it but you could possibly, also, get a member of the Opposition. Pausing there, Lord Dholakia's question to you was, "Well is that not you offering to use your influence as a former Member of the House of Commons and Minister and now as a peer?"

  Lord Snape: To use my influence only to have this idea debated and explored. If it was never debated or explored no-one would ever know about it. I do not think there is anything improper in me saying to a Member of the House of Commons, provided I have (a) got the permission of the Registrar of Members' Interests and (b) provided I make sure, which I would do, that I tell any Member of the House of Commons if I had any sort of consultancy with these people, "Look, this is a good idea, why don't we give it a run in the Commons and see what the Government's view is?" Actually, my advice probably would have been, and I hope Lord Dholakia does not take this amiss, "Don't you think it would be better having a word with the minister rather than tabling an amendment for the reasons I have outlined?" Procedurally from my experience—27 years in the House of Commons—if you table an amendment of any sort in Committee and it is defeated you can forget the Government coming back to it because they will say, "We disposed of that earlier".

  Q211  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Lord Snape, you just said it might be better to go to the Minister, which brings us back to your statement which Lord Irvine touched on at the very beginning: "I could approach him sort of behind the scenes". That is concerning because it is behind the scenes. This is doing something for a small group who made it clear that they would be paying you.

  Lord Snape: Well, I am sorry, Lady Manningham-Buller, what I meant by "behind the scenes" was rather than a formal stage in the committee for the reasons I have just outlined, once you do something formally and it is defeated that is the end of it.

  Q212  Baroness Manningham-Buller: It is an issue on which you are asking for briefing on which you are not fully informed and your interest—I hope I am not putting words into your mouth—has been sparked by these two, as you say, attractive young people who you believe you are helping. "I'd need something from you outlining these proposals." This is not a subject on which you had a lot of previous thought, but you are now apparently, according to the transcript, offering to do various things on the basis of this possibility for the reason you explained that you think it would be worth doing it anyway, and still do, and then you proceeded to say what you might do, including a Commons committee, a minister and so on. Our concern is whether you think this is anything to do with paid advocacy and the paid advocacy rule?

  Lord Snape: I think provided I got the go-ahead from the Registrar, whether I was paid or not, if I may say so, was immaterial. A good idea being put to Members of the House of Commons is a sensible way to go about it.

  Q213  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Can I pick you up on the go-ahead from the Registrar. The Registrar gives advice but actually the basis of conduct in the House of Lords, as I understand it as a new Member, is the Code of Conduct, the Nolan Principles and so on, and the Registrar seeks to give advice based on those. What do you think was going on here that needed the Registrar to give you a green light or not? In other words, why do you think there might be ambiguity on it?

  Lord Snape: Can I just go to the first part first, my Lady. I am no expert on procedure either but I have tried to become one since these accusations appeared in the newspaper. My understanding is that if the Registrar gives permission then I am covered under 4(c). If I am wrong on that then I stand corrected. I am paraphrasing. If I can just wipe my eyes, because they are watering, I will try and find the appropriate—

  Q214  Baroness Manningham-Buller: If you need to put the drops in, please do.

  Lord Snape: No, no, I put them in before I came in. It is switching from looking up to looking down. There is a particular clause which—

  Q215  Chairman: Are you looking at the Code itself, 19?

  Lord Snape: I am looking at the Code of Conduct, my Lord Chairman, which specifically says, and I paraphrase, "If the Registrar gives the go-ahead then a Member is ... ."

  Q216  Chairman: The advice is at paragraph 18, is that right, "The operation of the Register shall be overseen by a sub-committee ..."?

  Lord Snape: The last line of that, my Lord Chairman, "A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct". That was the line I was seeking to draw Lady Manningham-Buller's attention to. We spent so long on that and wiping my eyes I have forgotten the second question, I am afraid.

  Q217  Lord Irvine of Lairg: What you are saying, just so that we do not leave this alone, is you always intended to go along to the Registrar and you would have acted on his advice?[2]

(i)  page 7—"I'd need to take advice"

(ii)  page 7—"But I'd need to take advice"

(iii)  page 7—"I would have thought that's the way the rules would be interpreted"

(iv)  page 7—"Although I worked for First Group which is declared in the Register of Members' Interests"

(v)  page 8—"Although I will take advice from the Registrar of Members' Interest"

(vi)  page 8—"I might well have to declare that you have certain clients"

(vii)  page 7—"Yes, and put it in the Register"

(viii)  page 8—"I am sure that you went to the Register of Members' Interests"

(ix)  page 9—"Provided I declare an interest first"

(x)  page 9—"Because I would be initiating legislation for a company from which I am paid, which would be improper under the rules of the House."

(xi)  page 10—"Well, the obvious question that the Registrar would ask me would be"

(xii)  page 10—"I could well argue, I'm sure, under the rules".

  Lord Snape: I said that two or three times during the course of the transcript, my Lord, yes. I am sorry, I am aware there is an outstanding question from Lady Manningham-Buller but I cannot think what it was.

  Baroness Manningham-Buller: If there is I have forgotten what it is too, so we are in the same boat.

  Chairman: Is there anything else you want to pursue?

  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Later.

  Lord Irvine of Lairg: If we just trace this through the transcript. The first thing you were offering to do was to try to persuade a member of the Commons committee, preferably a Government Member, to move the amendment. We are on page 11.

  Chairman: Where you mention John Healey, junior Minister.

  Q218  Lord Irvine of Lairg: It is two-thirds of the way down page 11, "The overall Minister is Hazel Blears, but it's actually being done by John Healey, a junior Minister. PS: 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'." Your position is that because it was an amendment for the benefit of new business generally you thought that was entirely proper?

  Lord Snape: The phrase "behind the scenes", my Lord, is not one I hope you read too much significance into. It is not that I am going to whisper behind a curtain to him. The reason I used the phrase "behind the scenes" was if I got the go-ahead from the Registrar to do this I might well have said to a minister, PPS or anybody else, "Don't you think it would be a good idea to exempt new business? Would you consider an amendment on those grounds?" I would also go on to say, of course, I would have to declare an interest to that person I spoke to. I would say, "I have been approached on behalf of a consultancy for which I work to look at this method of alleviating the rates burden on new start-up businesses". The phrase "behind the scenes" is an alternative to tabling a formal amendment. Again, I go on to say why I do not think that is a particularly good idea for the reasons I have already outlined to the Committee.

  Q219  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You are saying you do not want us to read a sinister meaning into "behind the scenes", you just meant not moving an amendment directly?

  Lord Snape: Yes, I meant informally talking to people about the merits or otherwise of a blanket amendment.

2   Comment by the witness: please note following references in the Hansard transcript to seeking advice; the rules (i.e. the rules of the Code of Conduct); and/or to the Registrar. Back

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