Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)|
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 yourselfagain,
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 yourselfagain 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 thereforeI 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 businessesI obviously would not get much change
from my Lord, Lord Copefrom 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 yourselfagain 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
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 experience27 years
in the House of Commonsif 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
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 interestI hope I am not
putting words into your mouthhas 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?
(i) page 7"I'd need to take advice"
(ii) page 7"But I'd need to take
(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
(viii) page 8"I am sure that you
went to the Register of Members' Interests"
(ix) page 9"Provided I declare an
(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
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
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 amendmentlook
at it'." Your position is that because it was an amendment
for the benefit of new business generally you thought that was
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