March 28, 2010
Two more ministerial ‘cabs for hire’
TWO more former Labour ministers have been secretly recorded offering to exploit their government contacts and experience to help commercial clients for fees of up to £2,500 a day.
Adam Ingram MP, Labour
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Adam Ingram, the former armed forces minister, said he could draw on a pool of out-of-work ministers who could be used to harness their government contacts.
Richard Caborn MP
Labour, Sheffield Central
Richard Caborn, the former sports minister, said he may be in line for a peerage that would boost his chances of extracting valuable information from the corridors of Westminster.
The cash-for-access scandal has already claimed three Blairite ex-cabinet ministers, suspended last week by Labour after they were exposed for offering to help clients lobby for fees of up to £5,000 per day. On Friday, John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, said he would hold an inquiry into the trio.
This weekend a YouGov poll of more than 1,500 people for The Sunday Times shows that by nearly two to one, 49% to 29%, voters agree with Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, that this is the most corrupt parliament in Britain’s history. Three-quarters of people, 74%, believe there should be an inquiry into claims by former ministers that their lobbying had changed policy.
The Speaker, John Bercow, is working on curbs to restrict the number of ex-MPs with Commons passes and bring in new rules on disclosure of members’ outside work. A 15% cap on the amount of money an MP can earn on top of basic salary is also being proposed.
Today’s disclosures show that former middle-ranking ministers are also willing to use their connections with politicians and officials as they line up work to cushion their retirement from the Commons.
Ingram and Caborn were interviewed by an undercover reporter posing as a company executive wanting to hire MPs for lobbying work. The interviews were part of a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches in which both Labour and Conservative politicians were approached.
Ingram, who is standing down as MP for East Kilbride at the election, offered to develop a network of former ministers who could be useful for their contacts in different departments.
“There’s going to be a lot of ex-ministers ... and they then become a point of contact in the political network. ‘Who do you know in that department? Who can you suggest to talk to?’ And that becomes a point of contact. So all of that can be established,” he said.
He was happy to help the reporter meet serving ministers after the election, saying there were strict rules preventing him lobbying while in parliament but he could do so as a “non-MP”.
However, he suggested that the fictional company might wish to target civil servants as “they draw up invitations to tender, they then make all the recommendations, which may not cross the minister’s desk”.
When asked if he still had good contacts with civil servants from his time as a minister, he responded “oh yeah”. The reporter asked: “So you would be able to help us develop our relationship with the ministers and civil servants?” and Ingram replied: “I’d do that, I could work at that, yeah.”
Ingram said he was paid £1,500 a day or £1,000 a meeting by companies. He could already make up to £173,000 a year from outside earnings on top of his £65,000 salary as an MP.
The former defence minister revealed he was employed by two British businesses which are helping to establish a new defence academy in Tripoli for Colonel Gadaffi, the Libyan leader. “Gadaffi wanted a defence academy built, and people I’m with have got very good points of contact with the Libyan regime,” he said.
On Friday, his solicitors said he had not offered to sell his experience and contacts during the meeting. He said he regarded it as wrong for ex-ministers to sell their contacts and influence to give businesses privileged access to government.
Caborn, who is standing down as the MP for Sheffield Central, expressed interest in working for the reporter’s fake company but said he would not decide until after the election.
He talked about a number of services he could offer, quoting a daily rate of £2,500 “plus expenses”. He said he would be willing to build relations with ministers who were “good friends”. He was also happy to approach senior Conservatives if they come to power.
“There’s a number of ways in which you can influence or at least access ministers, whether it’s a sector or an individual company, or what. And also on policy as well,” he said.
Caborn may be in line for a peerage, which he said would give him “access to ministers” and information. “All this is all about contacts, it really is. It’s not so much always about influencing, it’s about getting information. And that’s absolutely key, because if you can get information that is very powerful.”
On Friday, a letter from Caborn’s solicitor said he had not committed himself to work for the fake company and denied that he had acted “unethically”. Caborn said his £2,500 day rate reflected three days’ work. This was not made clear during the meeting.
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