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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)

Lord Snape

10 MARCH 2009

  Q260  Lord Irvine of Lairg: If we can just get through this transcript. You said that if need be you would get a peer to move the required amendment.

  Lord Snape: I do not think I did. Can you point that out to me?

  Q261  Lord Irvine of Lairg: We are now going to 12 and 13. You said at the foot of 12 how you would proceed in the Commons and then you said at the top of page 13 that you would get somebody to do it and then you proceed further down the page on 13 saying, "So, you know, you pick people incred ...—reasonably carefully".

  Lord Snape: I am talking about the House of Commons, my Lord.

  Q262  Lord Irvine of Lairg: That is the House of Commons?

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q263  Lord Irvine of Lairg: If that would be proper in the case of the House of Commons it would be equally proper, would it, in the case of the House of Lords?

  Lord Snape: As we both know the proceedings are much different in the House of Lords. There is not a committee stage as such, it is obtained on the floor of the House. The reason why I talked in the way that I did about the House of Commons, and I think I indicated in there, people are desperate for ideas. The Opposition want to keep the debate going in the House of Commons while the Government is anxious to get on with its business. As Lord Cope and I both served in the Whips Office I think that is a fairly accurate summing up of what normally happens down there. It is much easier to get people, particularly the Opposition backbenchers if they have seized upon a good idea to make speeches about things like that. It is not always the sensible way to do it, my Lord Chairman, for the reasons I outlined earlier, that governments of any political hue rarely accept amendments, no matter how sensible, from the other side, you have normally got to persuade governments that they thought of it in the first place, or Ministers thought of it in the first place.

  Q264  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Or in this case your clients thought of it in the first place.

  Lord Snape: Again, we are back to the Registrar and whether or not I approach anybody on that.

  Q265  Lord Irvine of Lairg: At any rate, you were saying, let it be that it is confined to the House of Commons, that you would select with great care somebody to move the amendment in the House of Commons.

  Lord Snape: Not necessarily to move the amendment, my Lord, but who would accept the sensible nature of the proposal. I say somewhere else that formalising things by an amendment is not always the sensible way to get intelligent debate in the House of Commons.

  Q266  Lord Irvine of Lairg: Well, go to the top of page 13. He says: "And would you be, do you think you'd be able to get it, given that you want to, I don't know, would you be able to get an amendment tabled on the committee, do you think? PS: Yes. I mean, I'd get somebody to do it, yeah, I mean". That is beyond argument.

  Lord Snape: Yes, indeed. Again, it is one of a series of alternatives, my Lord, it is not necessarily the sensible way to do it. I am replying to what is apparently a casual question from them in the course of a long conversation.

  Q267  Lord Irvine of Lairg: It is not a casual question, it is really a very serious question if this is a way that you could go about it and you are saying yes.

  Lord Snape: It is a way that I could go about it, a blanket amendment provided I had been given the go-ahead[7], but it is no more than that. It is one of a series of alternatives, my Lord, that I could have suggested.

  Q268  Lord Irvine of Lairg: But this is the only one we are talking about at the moment.

  Lord Snape: Yes, I understand that.

  Q269  Lord Irvine of Lairg: You say a little further in the page, and then I will fall silent, "So, you know, you pick people incred ..." and then you pause and change it to "reasonably carefully".

  Lord Snape: I am sorry, can you just tell me where you are?

  Q270  Lord Irvine of Lairg: A third of the way into page 13 of 33.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Baroness Manningham-Buller: You say, "So, you know, you pick people incred ..."

  Q271  Lord Irvine of Lairg: "Reasonably carefully".

  Lord Snape: Reasonably carefully, yes.

  Q272  Lord Irvine of Lairg: It is perfectly obvious what you are saying, that you would select with reasonable care an appropriate person to table the amendment.

  Lord Snape: What I actually meant was there were certain people that I would not ask to do anything because of (a) their own political views, perhaps somebody on the left of the Labour Party would not approve of alleviating the burden on business, and I use that just as an example—

  Q273  Lord Cope of Berkeley: First of all, your description of what happens in committees I entirely accept, it happens from time to time, but the question I had was when you say, "I'd get somebody to do it", that is to say to table an amendment, bearing in mind this is as a result of a paid consultancy, how is that not promoting a matter in return for payment or other material benefit?

  Lord Snape: Again, this is all based on my earlier conversation about talking to the Registrar of Members' Interest and registering that interest. Bear in mind, if I had accepted a paid consultancy, my Lords, from this mythical company it would have gone straight into the Register of Members' Interests. If the Registrar had then pointed out that one of the companies that is part of MJA, or one of the clients of MJA is a direct beneficiary and, therefore, I could not go ahead with any of this, I would not have done so. I think it is a bit difficult if you are representing a client who has many diverse businesses. Later on this particular company talk about aviation and aerospace. Does that mean that I would not be allowed, if I was a consultant to them—Does that mean anything that even impinges remotely on aviation would be beyond my ability to speak on or amend? I would take advice, I would take advice from anybody, and I would certainly take advice from the Registrar, but if those lines are drawn extremely closely then any sort of consultancy arrangement in the upper House would be held to be improper.

  Q274  Lord Cope of Berkeley: My question was if you had got somebody to table an amendment as a result of your consultancy, do you accept, whatever the Registrar said, that would be flat against the rule against promoting any matter in return for payment, et cetera?

  Lord Snape: I would have said to the person, if I accepted this consultancy with MJA, "Look, I have a consultancy with MJA. One of their clients first suggested this, I refused to do it on the basis that you cannot benefit one particular person, but is it not a sensible idea and would you consider an amendment that would alleviate this rates burden on every start-up business on a time-limited basis?" Now, if that were held to be contrary to rule 4(c) my Lord Chairman, then obviously I would be in breach of that rule. Again, I fall back, and I do not do this deliberately and nor am I trying to shuffle off responsibility, I would have taken advice before I had done anything, as I have done previously. Speaking generally, my Lord Chairman, I would ask not necessarily to be judged on loose and casual language in an hour long conversation but on my own record in both Houses. I have never done anything to break the rules in either House and nor would I.

  Q275  Baroness Manningham-Buller: This may have been covered. Lord Snape, just clarify for my benefit, please. I think you said a minute ago you thought some of these things you were talking about the possibility of doing would not be sensible to do because there would be cleverer ways of doing them and more likely to be effective. What I would like your views on is the principle. Whether it is sensible or not seems to me less important than whether it fits with the Code of Conduct.

  Lord Snape: Yes.

  Q276  Baroness Manningham-Buller: Obviously you would have referred to the Registrar, but on your reading of paragraph 4 of the Code of Conduct, and in particular the last two points of it, do you think with hindsight and on reflection that offering to get someone to table an amendment and picking them is within the Code of Conduct?

  Lord Snape: On reflection and with hindsight, no, I do not.

  Q277  Lord Dholakia: Can I just pursue that particular point. Lord Snape, you say that in November you put forward a number of amendments and then withdrew them.

  Lord Snape: No, I did not, with respect, my Lord. I left them on the table, I did not move them.

  Q278  Lord Dholakia: What was the reason for not moving them?

  Lord Snape: I looked at them and thought someone could say that I was benefiting First Group because they are one of the big bus conglomerates, as you know, by moving an amendment which would have—I do not want to get into the technicalities of it because I am not sure whether you are familiar with the bus business. It would have made it more difficult for the local authorities, some of whom wished to retake control of their bus services, to do so and I thought on reflection I would be benefiting First Group as well as the bus business. I thought they were two eminently sensible amendments, to be quite honest, but it might be said that I was benefiting First Group, for whom I have a paid consultancy, so I left them on the table.

  Q279  Lord Dholakia: Would that criterion not apply similarly in relation to the amendment that you said you would try and promote in the Commons?

  Lord Snape: Indeed it might, and on reflection I might not have done anything at all without even going to the Registrar of Members' Interests.

7   Comment by the witness: or otherwise by the Registrar. Back

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