Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)|
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
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",
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
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
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
Q247 Lord Irvine of Lairg: There
Lord Snape: At their instigation, my
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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 consultancyTogether 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
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