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Close down Cayman Islands’ access to Parliament, says peer

Lord oakshott
Lord Oakeshott

From The Mole, The Week

Lord Oakeshott goes on the rampage in wake of latest cash-for-access scandal to hit Westminster.

An all-party group whose purpose is to further the interests of the Cayman Islands – a Caribbean tax haven – should be closed down, the senior Lib Dem peer, Lord Oakeshott, said this morning.

The parliamentary group is chaired by Graham Brady, the Tory MP who also happens to be the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs – in effect, the senior shop steward for the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

The Cayman Islands is a British overseas territory in the western Caribbean and a major world offshore financial centre, renowned for helping businesses avoid paying tax.

The Commons standards committee is looking into the sleaze allegations surrounding some all-party groups after claims that Patrick Mercer, the MP who resigned the Tory whip on Friday, had boasted to undercover journalists posing as business contacts that he could get a group of “free-loaders” to join an APG on Fiji.

Lord Oakeshott, a former Treasury minister, told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: “Look at the Cayman Islands all-party group. Just see what this is all about. Just see who is running that and paying for that. That is not an appropriate way for Parliament to be used… in many cases these are front organisations for commercial interests. Close down the APG on the Cayman Islands and make them pay their tax.”

There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing by any members of the Cayman Islands group, which has its secretariat supplied by the Cayman Islands government, but Oakeshott was on the rampage.

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg

He rubbished Nick Clegg’s plans (outlined by the Lib Dem leader in today’s Daily Telegraph) for cleaning up Parliament with a lobbyists’ charter, comparing it to tackling malaria by spraying a bit of “disinfectant” around mosquitoes.

“We have to clean out the stinking swamp which is particularly the House of Lords where there is the nasty whiff of dirty money the whole time,” he said.

Oakeshott may be regarded by the coalition leadership as an outspoken maverick, but his outburst will have found widespread support around Westminster and among voters who are sick of the inability of Parliament to deal with sleaze.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Minister who will have to deal with the new lobbying legislation, admitted on another programme this morning that the register of lobbyists proposed by Clegg and David Cameron as a sticking plaster solution would not have stopped the three peers caught by undercover Sunday Times reporters offering to lobby in the Lords in return for cash. In fact, it could make such sting operations harder in the future because the register would alert peers to which lobbying organisations they can trust.

Oakeshott went on to make a powerful appeal for the reform of the House of Lords which could signal the start of a new campaign to clean up the Upper House which, according to the Sunday Times report, is “infested” with “subsidised public relations people… cashing in on their contacts.”

The Lib Dem peer took a sideswipe at a forthcoming list of working life peers, due to be announced by all three party leaders, warning that it could contain more peers who have, in effect, paid for a seat in the Lords with party donations.

“Until we stop the suspicion that a £1 million bung can get you a seat in the Lords, the public will be extremely sceptical about whether we are cleaning up Parliament.” ·

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Also see related story form UK’s Daily Mail

Murky politics crying out for head-to-toe reform’: Clegg promises curbs on lobbying to clean up sleazy Westminster

By Matt Chorley, Mailonline Political Editor and Tim Shipman, Deputy Political Editor

Deputy Prime Minister promises action after ‘Groundhog Day’ of sleaze

Voters to have power to oust disgraced MPs and lobbying register set up

Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott attacks all party groups in ‘stinking swamp’

Labour kick out two peers and a third resigned from the Ulster Unionists

All three Lords recorded discussing asking questions in return for payment

Lords standards commissioner launches investigation into peers

Voters will be able to sack sleazy MPs and lobbyists will be regulated, Nick Clegg vowed today as he insisted the government would act to ‘clean up’ British politics.

The Deputy Prime Minister admitted the two years left before the next election was not long enough to give Westminster the overhaul it really needs.

But in the wake of the sleaze scandal, with MPs and peers accused of taking money from journalists posing as lobbyists, Mr Clegg promised to act to deal with the ‘murkier side of British politics’.

Mr Clegg added: ‘It’s the political equivalent of groundhog day: MPs accused of abusing their position; businesses of getting too close.’

The coalition will press ahead with promised plans for a power of recall, ‘where any MP guilty of serious misconduct could be forced to resign if enough of their constituents wanted them to,’ Mr Clegg said.

There will also be a crackdown on lobbyists, including a statutory register.

‘Clearly there are instances where access is abused – further undermining the already weak public trust in our institutions – and greater transparency is a key part of the antidote,’ Mr Clegg wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

The crackdown comes after three members of the House of Lords were embroiled in a new sleaze scandal.

In what was branded a ‘new low for British politics’, Labour kicked out two peers and a third resigned from the Ulster Unionists after they were recorded offering to do parliamentary business in exchange for cash.

Tory Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude yesterday said the Government is set to legislate to create a statutory register of lobbyists in this session of Parliament – even though it was dropped from the recent Queen’s Speech.

‘We are going to do this,’ he said, adding that he would be ‘astonished’ if the powers were not in place by the next general election in 2015.

But today Mr Maude admitted the register would not have prevented the cases which have made headlines in recent days.

‘The statutory register of lobbyists would have made no difference in this case at all because what’s alleged to have happened would have been against the rules, parliamentary rules, in any event,’ he told ITV’s Daybreak.

The scandal escalated yesterday after Labour suspended two peers for offering to assist undercover reporters who were posing as lobbyists.

Former Cabinet minister Lord Cunningham – once known as ‘Junket Jack’ for his love of the high life – and former senior police officer Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate denied wrongdoing.

But they and Ulster Unionist Lord Laird were all recorded discussing how, in return for payment, they could help lobbyists representing a fake solar energy firm by pushing their agenda.

Today it was announced that the three peers will be investigated by the House of Lords standards commissioner has begun investigating the three peers caught up in a lobbying scandal.

Leader of the House Lord Hill of Oareford described the allegations as ‘very serious and distressing’.

The Sunday Times released a video of Lord Cunningham saying he would accept fees of £12,000 a month – £144,000 a year – to ask parliamentary questions on their behalf, and that he could ‘get other people to ask questions as well’.

He told undercover reporters he offered ‘value for money’ because he could introduce them to senior members of all three of the main political parties.

Lord Mackenzie, a former president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, said he could arrange parties for paying clients on the terrace of the House of Lords.

And he said he could get around Lords rules requiring peers to declare financial interests by asking ‘a colleague who has nothing to do with it, “would you host a function for me?” ’.

Lord Laird told undercover reporters that, working together, peers could ask parliamentary questions for each other’s clients, put down amendments in debates or write to ministers.

He was also embroiled in a second, separate sting operation after telling reporters from BBC Panorama, who were posing as lobbyists, that he would be interested in accepting a retainer of £2,000 a month to lobby for Fiji. He indicated that he would use the promise of a trip to Fiji as a ‘bribe’ in order to get others to join the group. He was recorded saying: ‘I’ll deny having said this, but it’s a bribe.’

That undercover operation – in tandem with a second national newspaper – was the same one that exposed Newark MP Patrick Mercer, who resigned from the Conservative Party on Friday after accepting £4,000 to ask parliamentary questions.

Mr Mercer said he agreed to be a consultant for work he said was outside parliament.

But he submitted five parliamentary questions which were all answered, as well as an early day motion, all in relation to Fiji.


Last night it was suggested that a legal complaint is expected to be issued to the police so Mr Mercer can be investigated for breaches of the Bribery Act.

The House of Lords code of conduct says peers ‘must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment for providing parliamentary advice or services’.

Lord Cunningham referred his own case to the Lords Commissioner for Standards and said he was consulting lawyers. He claims he ‘quickly became suspicious’ of the journalists. He added: ‘I told them I always stick to the rules and declare any interests. I informed them the next day that I wanted nothing more to do with them.’

Lord Laird added: ‘I wish to make it clear that I did not agree to act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the House, nor did I accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services.’

Lord Mackenzie said he was ‘quite happy’ that he had not broken the rules. ‘I went back to my office, I checked the codes of conduct and  I decided that it was getting a bit near the mark and I decided to decline the offer,’ he said.

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said the latest claims were ‘a new low for British politics’ and voters would be ‘sickened’.

‘The public, who have looked on with a sense of astonishment and with a sense that there is one rule for those who govern and another set of rules for those who are governed, will just be utterly sickened by it, and they are right to be sickened,’ he said.


Lord Oakeshott

The House of Lords is a ‘stinking swamp’ of corruption dominated by ‘dirty money’, a senior Lib Dem peer claimed today.

Lord Oakeshott called for an end to foreign governments bankrolling All Party Parliamentary Groups.

He said a register of lobbyists would be useful ‘as far as it goes’ but Lords and party funding reform was also needed.

The Lib Dem told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I regard it a little bit like eradicating malaria in Africa, you use a bit of disinfectant on the mosquito, which a statutory register would be, but we have got to clean out the stinking swamp, which is particularly the House of Lords, where there is a very nasty whiff of dirty money the whole time.’

He said rules must be changed to allow disgraced peers to be suspended for up to 10 years and called for all-party parliamentary groups to be reviewed.

He later told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think we should have these groups paid for by foreign governments.’

He singled out the Cayman Islands group, which receives support from the government in the renowned tax haven.

‘That is a lobbying operation to stop us cracking down properly on the Cayman Islands.

‘All-party groups like that make it more difficult for HMRC and the British government to collect the full amount of tax and make sure foreign companies pay the right tax.’

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