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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)

Lord Snape

10 MARCH 2009

  Q240  Lord Irvine of Lairg: By amendment.

  Lord Snape: By amendment or by suggestion to the Minister. Given the way Parliament works, my Lords, and I am sure you know better than I, if ministers come up with ideas they are sensible, if backbenchers do they are not always sensible, that is how these things are perceived. Without trying to appear clever, my Lord Chairman, I did point out earlier, and I suppose you could argue there is some contradiction in here, in clause 18, "The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House. A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar ..." and I am not trying to shuffle everything on to the Registrar here, but I would not have acted in any way or approached anybody in any way without fulfilling clause 18 of the Code of Conduct. I might argue it is slightly contradicted by some of the interpretations, if that is the right term, in clause 4. I considered at the time by approaching the Registrar and only after getting his clearance I would be free to act in the way that we are discussing at the present time.

  Q241  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Can I pick up the characterisation of the Registrar as somebody who gives permission. He gives advice and that advice you are wise to take. I suppose what I find surprising, Lord Snape, and I would welcome your comments on this, is this part of the conversation which we are concentrating on on page 11, and there are other bits later on, where you say "These are the sort of things I could do"[5], I find it surprising that you would think that they would not all fall foul of this particular paragraph.

  Lord Snape: Paid advocacy.

  Q242  Baroness Manningham-Buller: And that you would need any advice from the Registrar on that because they seem to me to fall foul of that directive from paragraph 4.

  Lord Snape: Again, Lady Manningham-Buller, I have not been here for a long time myself, I have only been here five years.

  Q243  Baroness Manningham-Buller: I have not even been a year, so I am very new.

  Lord Snape: I understand. Again, I do not actually see how someone who abides by paragraph 18 in the Code is breaking 4 either. The fact is had the Registrar advised against it I would not have done anything at all.

  Q244  Chairman: The point that we are trying to make is that you would have gone for advice, yes, but the tenor of your conversation with MJA was on areas like you would approach a Minister, you would talk to the Bill team, a whole range of things that you would do. The tenor of the conversation seems to be on the basis of what is actually not allowed under the Code, so why did you continue to pursue that conversation if that was the case?

  Lord Snape: I have to repeat again, my Lord Chairman, I was not negotiating. This was a casual conversation, I am walking around the office chatting to these people largely thinking aloud because I am not negotiating any contract with them at that particular time, I am thinking aloud of what could or could not be done. This is not a criticism of the Committee's line of questioning, my Lord Chairman, I do not want you to think it is, but now you put it quite like that I can see the point you seek to make. I did not see that point in the course of a casual conversation. I did see the necessity to tell them, "Look, if the Registrar says no I can't do it anyway", but I did not see the point — I repeat, it was a casual conversation, we talked about Australia, jazz, the Labour Party's prospects at the next elections, such as they are.

  Q245  Lord Irvine of Lairg: But it is a pretty long conversation.

  Lord Snape: Indeed it is, yes. You mean this specific one or generally?

  Q246  Lord Irvine of Lairg: This conversation is a pretty long conversation. You could have said, could you not, that now you knew what they wanted to do the conversation should not go any further until you had sought the view of the Registrar.

  Lord Snape: Indeed, and I suppose on reflection that would have been the sensible way to do it. Again, I have to say, my Lord, they were two very friendly young people and I was trying to be helpful to them, so I was giving them the advice that they sought without any financial commitment. Again, I have to say, there was no mention of money at this stage other than the fact that they asked if they could come and see me about a consultancy.

  Q247  Lord Irvine of Lairg: There is later.

  Lord Snape: At their instigation, my Lord.

  Q248  Chairman: I do not wish to jump ahead but if you look at page 27, as we have reached the question of money, you see there in the middle of the page: "I mean what I want from you as far as we're concerned is if you would summarise this conversation and our agreement in a letter to me, formally requesting me to act as a consultant on the lines financially that we have just agreed".

  Lord Snape: "Agreement" was not a sensible word to use, although I readily concede that I used it, my Lord Chairman. I meant arising from the fairly long discussions about all sorts of things that we had had. The financial lines that we discussed were my basic fees which were a monthly retainer and a daily rate. That was to what I referred. I stress, we never formally negotiated that. I wanted to see something in writing from them before I agreed to anything or before I agreed to go ahead.

  Q249  Chairman: I jumped forward and I know that my colleagues want to go back.

  Lord Snape: Forgive me, my Lord Chairman, but, again, that paragraph arises out of their introduction of money into the conversation. I realise we will probably come back to that under Lord Irvine. Again, I am replying to their question because he said something about, "Now we get to the hard bit".

  Q250  Lord Irvine of Lairg: We have run ahead to this point in the transcript, but why is the Lord Chairman's point not absolutely correct? What you have said is, "I mean what I want from you as far as we're concerned is if you would summarise this conversation and our agreement in a letter to me", so you feel that there is a concluded agreement "formally requesting me to act as a consultant on the lines financially that we have just agreed". Surely you think that all the essentials have been agreed and it now must just be set out formally in writing.

  Lord Snape: Not necessarily.

  Q251  Lord Irvine of Lairg: What did you mean? These are your words?

  Lord Snape: Yes, indeed. What I meant was, "You've been here an hour or so, I've got a lunch appointment, would you kindly formalise, if you are going to, any proposals. I will look at them and on the basis of those formal written proposals I may or may not sign them".

  Q252  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You do not use the language of proposals, you use the language of agreement and to record in writing "to summarise this conversation and our agreement in a letter to me", and it includes the financial terms "that we have just agreed". It is as if all essentials had been agreed. What do you say?

  Lord Snape: Yes, that was what I said, my Lord.

  Q253  Chairman: What I want to emphasise is that if you look at page 7 that was when they mentioned the money first time. They say: "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 ...", so the money was mentioned very early on.

  Lord Snape: Yes, I see.

  Q254  Lord Irvine of Lairg: But then you go on, Lord Snape, and say "I don't think I would", you say it would have to be for legislation to benefit new business generally.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q255  Lord Irvine of Lairg: However, the real point is on page 27, is it not, that you thought you had made a concluded agreement.

  Lord Snape: Well, I did not actually think I had concluded an agreement, although I readily accept that that was probably what I said and that is why it appears in the transcript. I thought we had a general discussion about me working for the company.

  Q256  Lord Irvine of Lairg: If that is right, why on earth did you use the language of agreement? You know what an agreement is.

  Lord Snape: Yes, I do indeed. I am not a lawyer. I am not trying to evade that point, nor cast any aspersions on your profession, Lord Irvine, but I repeat it was a casual conversation at the end of an hour or so's discussion which I was anxious to conclude. What I really wanted was a letter from them in writing setting out what they wanted me to do so I could go off to lunch.[6]

  Q257  Lord Dholakia: I am just wondering, Lord Snape, if you peek ahead at the discussion you had, you talked about two young people coming to talk to you and you were advising them about the process, but the advice seems to go beyond what is normal because you then talked about the Bill team, civil servants, about how you find out and how you can influence them because you consider civil servants to be more important than Ministers. I do not dispute what you said, but what I am saying is this does not build confidence in terms of your conversation that you could take it that far with two individuals who knew nothing about the procedure and at the end of the day there was that particular agreement that you were seeking with them.

  Lord Snape: Again, my point in chatting to them, and it was a general conversation, my Lord, it was not sitting down trying to draw up an agreement, there were lots of casual conversations about lots of things other than this, on the specific area that you ask it would be perfectly permissible to say to a civil servant, "Do you think your Minister would approve of a blanket exemption for new start-up businesses to yet another new tax?"

  Q258  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You were really trying to urge the civil servant to put that forward to the minister as a good idea. There would be no point in your speaking to the civil servant unless it was to engage his interest and support for that as a concept.

  Lord Snape: I might talk to him on the grounds that he might think it is such a good idea that he approaches the minister because of the number of complaints and whatnot that one gets from business about the burden of the taxation.

  Q259  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Yes, but you would still be seeking to persuade him in favour of an idea that you were promoting.

  Lord Snape: I would be seeking to persuade him of an idea with which I am greatly taken and I repeat, Lord Irvine, could well have pursued had they never come back to me at all. I still think it is a very good idea whether or not the mythical consultancy—Together with my wife I started up a small business in the 1980s and people say two per cent will not make any difference but, believe me, my Lords, it is the bits you have not budgeted for that always bring you down, not the ones that you have.

5   Comment by the witness: this is not a quote from Lord Snape's words. Back

6   Comment by the witness: in the Sunday Times transcript, their introductory summary concludes: "He asks for the lobbying company's business proposal to be put in writing" (my emphasis). Back

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