William Hill has one. Safeway has two. British Gas also has a pair. And the pharmaceutical industry stretching from Rhone Polenc to Whitehall Laboratories is paying well over 100,000 a year for the advice of ten.
Packaged goods brand owners are paying more than 1m a year to Members of Parliament to be directors of, consultants or advisers to, their companies. That is without including the expense of corporate hospitality and entertainment the “wining and dining” which many companies offer MPs.
Divided evenly between the 651 House of Commons seats it would give each member an extra 15,000. But the biggest money is being spent in those areas where there is the most regulatory change – the utilities, financial services, pharmaceuticals and the media.
The latest Register of Members’ Interests, published at the end of last week, is the most transparent to date but the total payment to MPs is still an estimate. MPs do not have to give absolute figures; just broad bands for the monies they receive.
Some refuse to give even broad estimates and others, like David Mellor, refuse to give any financial details at all, saying that the work they do is not related to their role as an MP. But it is difficult to imagine Mellor landing his football show on Radio 5 Live but for his position as the MP for Putney.
Some MPs refuse to register interests point blank. As Marketing Week has revealed (February 14 and 28) Defence Secretary Michael Portillo failed to register two payments, amounting to an estimated 7,000, for speaking at two advertising agencies, McCann-Erickson and Bates Dorland in November and June 1995.
Although payment was made to a Conservative organisation, either Portillo’s constituency or another fundraising body, under the tightened rules introduced after the Nolan Committee investigation in 1995 they should have been registered. Portillo’s office refuses to discuss the issue but a Commons Standards Committee investigation could follow.
According to one senior Westminster source, both the semantics and the failure to disclose full details will be reviewed by the Committee at the start of the next Parliament, but not before the general election.
The refusals make it difficult to calculate the figures being paid. But more significant is the fact that there is no duty on MPs to declare what they actually do on behalf of their clients, unlike the US system. What should be even more alarming to the companies involved, is a broad feeling at Westminster that the money is being wasted.
“The public is now asking whether an MP should have a second income from advising companies how to approach Parliament when he or she is actually sitting in Parliament,” says one Westminster lobbyist. “There are severe doubts about the appropriateness of such appointments.”
The broad task of the MPs is to act as political weather-vanes for their clients. To identify colleagues who may be sympathetic to an immediate issue or will be worth “softening up” as a long-term friend of the company or industry. They may act as an early warning system for potential long-term problems.
They may also table Early Day Motions or adjournment debates; Parliamentary devices which were widely abused during the Eighties and which are of little more than cosmetic significance. MPs may also book rooms and offer access to the Palace of Westminster and monitor the Parliamentary process for clients.
In some cases it has more to do with corporate vanity and associating the company with an idea of “power”, although you do not have to dig too deep in the list of retained MPs before you find anonymous backbenchers with no Cabinet experience.
MPs may also offer fast-track access to Cabinet ministers when seeking guidance on future policy matters. The minister’s office will respond through courtesy but the information will probably be available even without the intervention of an MP.
“The final judgement has to be based on the calibre of the individual MP. Most are unable to be objective and give cross-party advice and are not, through sheer practicality, able to monitor Hansard and the order papers.
“If you can get an MP who is a specialist in a sector he will know others sympathetic to a company or industry on both sides of the House and will be aware of the policy climate in Parliament. That can be valuable,” says the lobbyist. “Some can add value but I would argue that the negative association far outweighs any benefit from a link with a sitting MP.”
What they are prevented from doing is advocating on behalf of their client. Although in many cases that is exactly what the client requires. The introduction to the Register clearly states that a 1947 resolution reinforced in 1995 “prohibits members from engaging in advocacy on behalf of outside bodies or persons from whom they receive payment.”
Barclays Bank has retained the South West Cambridgeshire MP Sir Anthony Grant since 1984, a period of great change in financial services regulation. Last year, he was paid between 5,001 and 10,000 by Barclays. A spokeswoman says: “Sir Anthony is basically retained because he helps in putting Barclays point of view in the political arena when necessary.” But that sounds very close to advocacy.
Supermarket chain Safeway retains Labour’s Janet Anderson and John Major’s former private secretary Sir Graham Bright. The combined payment could be as high as 15,000. “We specifically tell the MPs that they are not to ask questions or speak on our behalf in the Commons,” says a spokesman. “It is a two-way flow of information allowing us to feed our views into the Parliamentary process.”
Oobservers suggest that the furore surrounding the Neil Hamilton sleaze inquiry, a slightly more transparent register of interests and lobbying companies terminating financial relationships with MPs has led to a drop in the number of companies involved. And privately some MPs admit that the new climate is costing them money. But it is still a central aspect of life on the backbenches – especially among Conservative MPs.
There has been heightened activity in the past six months with outgoing MPs – through choice or from the fear that their constituents might dump them – searching for somewhere to go once their Westminster career ends. There is also an expectation of the traditional post-election scramble as new MPs sort themselves out with lucrative contracts, dubbed the “school fees factor” or more recently the “second mortgage” syndrome.
One of the most high-profile new entrants will be Asda chairman Archie Norman, Conservative candidate for Tunbridge Wells. Norman declared that he would retain his position at the head of the supermarket chain even after the election, on the grounds that “being a backbench MP is not a full-time occupation”.
As if to reinforce that view, some backbenchers are virtually doubling their basic 43,000 salary through external commitments. Others like ex-Cabinet ministers Sir Norman Fowler and Douglas Hurd will be receiving more than their Westminster salary from their media and financial directorships, plus various clients, but neither declare their earnings.
“There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the availability and quality of information,” says Dale Campbell-Savours, the Labour MP and a member of the Standards Committee. “We want to make the rules work and are reviewing how it is developing at all times.”
Almost as interesting as those employing MPs, is the list of companies who are not. There are no News International, BT or British Airways retained MPs in the register. All three did their most effective lobbying in the Eighties and are now confident that their political access is secure without retaining an MP.
“The only ones that are available, are available because they do not have a job in the Government,” says one Westminster source. “So why spend 10,000 to 15,000 on an MP who has no power and will be regarded by many as lobby fodder and be treated with cynicism by everybody at Westminster as a result?”
It is a calculation a number of companies will be doing, once the general election is out of the way.
MP’s for financial services
Sir Kenneth Baker (C-Mole Valley) – director, Bell Cablemedia, chairman MTT (international telecoms), adviser to Mercury – no fees given.
Spencer Batiste (C-Elmet) – consultant, Energis, 10,001-15,000.
Tony Benn (L-Chesterfield) – shareholder, United Newspapers. No dividend declared.
Sir Rhodes Boyson (C-Brent North) – consultant, Arc International Advertising. No fee declared.
Michael Colvin (C-Romsey & Waterside) – consultant, Meridian Broadcasting, 1,001-5,000.
Jack Cunningham (L-Copeland) – adviser, Centurion Press, 5,001-10,000.
David Faber (C-Westbury) – adviser, Chartered Institute of Marketing, 5,001-10,000.
Dudley Fishburn (C-Kensington) – director, Cordiant. No fee declared.
Sir Norman Fowler (C-Sutton Coldfield) – chairman and shareholder, Midland Independent Newspapers, director Express Newspapers. No dividend or fee declared .
John Greenway (C-Ryedale) – adviser, Yorkshire Tyne Tees, 10,001-15,000.
Michael Heseltine (C-Henley) – shareholder, Haymarket Group. No dividend declared.
Michael Jopling (C-Westmorland & Lonsdale) – adviser, Channel 4 (as part of 20,001-25,000 fee for work for the PR firm Hill & Knowlton).
Robert MacLennan (Lib-Caithness & Sutherland) – director, Atlantic Tele-Network. No fee declared.
Sir Michael Marshall (C-Arundel) – managing director, Marshall Consultants (clients include Cable & Wireless). No fee declared.
Elizabeth Peacock (C-Batley & Spen) – Meetings Industry Association contributed 1,001-5,000 to office costs. Unpaid non-exec director White Rose Radio.
Raymond Robertson (C-Aberdeen South) – free cabling of constituency office by Aberdeen Cable Services.
David Shaw (C-Dover) – director Adscene Group. No fee declared.
Chris Smith (L-Islington) – 15,000 cost of research assistant covered by the production company Planet 24.
Sir David Steel (Lib-Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale) – non-exec director Border Television. No fee declared.
Nicholas Winterton (C-Macclesfield) – director of the Government Relations Unit whose clients include Talk Radio, UK TV, Teletext and CLT UK Radio. 5,001-10,000.
TOTAL 120,000 – 200,000*
(*Excluding Michael Heseltine.)
MP’s for drink, food and tobacco
Janet Anderson (L-Rossendale & Darwen) – adviser, Safeway, 1,001-5,000.
Sir Graham Bright (C-Luton South) – director of the food manufacturers Dietary Foods and Mother Nature (no fee declared), and the International Sweeteners Association (unpaid). Adviser, Safeway, 5,001 – 10,000.
Paul Channon (C-Southend West) – shareholder, Guinness. No dividend declared.
James Couchman (C-Gillingham) – adviser to Gin and Vodka Association, “nominal benefits”.
Nirj Deva (C-Brentford & Isleworth) – consultant, Rothmans International. No fee declared.
Hugh Dykes (C-Harrow East) – adviser, British Wine Producers Association, 1,001-5,000.
Harold Elletson (C-Blackpool North) – adviser, Rothmans and Pall Mall International, 10,001-15,000.
Barry Field (C-Isle of Wight) – shareholder, brewers George Gale & Co, Daniel Thwaites plc and Wadworth & Co. No dividend declared.
Sir Marcus Fox (C-Shipley) – director, Bristol Port Company and the Yorkshire Food Group. No fee declared.
Roger Gale (C-North Thanet) – media consultant, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. No fee declared.
Sir Robert Hicks (C-South East Cornwall) – adviser, Milk Marque, 5,001-10,000.
Michael Jopling (C-Westmorland & Lonsdale) – consultant, PR firm Hill & Knowlton, 20,001-25,000 – clients include the brewer Vaux.
Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd (C-Morecambe & Lunesdale) – shareholder, Guinness. No dividend declared.
Sir James Lester (C-Broxtowe) – consultant, BAT Industries, 10,001-15,000.
John McGregor (C-South Norfolk) – non-exec director, Associated British Foods and Unigate plc. No dividend declared.
Paul Marland (C-West Gloucestershire) – adviser, Unigate Dairies, 10,001-15,000.
David Nicholson (C-Taunton) – adviser, National Association of Cider Makers, 1,001-5,000).
Sir Timothy Sainsbury (C-Hove) director and shareholder, J Sainsbury plc. No fee or dividend declared.*
Sir Roger Sims (C-Chislehurst) – adviser, Scotch Whisky Association, 1,001-5,000.
Sir Jerry Wiggin (C-Weston-super-Mare) – consultant, British Sugar, 5,001-10,000.
Nicholas Winterton (C-Macclesfield) – director Government Relations Unit, 5,001-10,000, whose clients include The Health and Diet Food Company.
(*excludes Timothy Sainsbury)
Does not include corporate hospitality and entertainment from companies including Philip Morris, Gallaher, BAT and McDonald’s.
MPs for financial services
Jacques Arnold (C-Gravesend) – consultant, Norwich & Peterborough Building Society, 5,001-10,000.
Sir Andrew Bowden (C-Brighton, Kemptown) – Amex Travel, 1,001-5,000.
James Cran (C-Beverley) – consultant, Lincoln National, 5,001-10,000.
Quentin Davies (C-Stamford & Spalding) – adviser, NatWest Securities, 20,000-25,000.
Nigel Forman (C-Carshalton &Wallington) – non-exec director HFC Bank, no fee declared. Consultant Saloman Bros 20,001-25,000.
Tristan Garel Jones (C-Watford) – UK adviser Union Bank of Switzerland. No fee declared.
Sir Anthony Grant (C-South West Cambs) – adviser Barclays Bank, 5,001-10,000.
Douglas Hurd (C-Witney) – non-exec director, NatWest Bank, deputy chairman NatWest Markets. No fee declared.
Peter Luff (C-Worcester) – adviser, Visa Int, 10,001-15,000.
Sir Nicholas Scott (C-Chelsea) – consultant, Bank of Ireland, 10,001-15,000.
Sir Peter Tapsall (C-Lindsay) -consultant, Mitsubishi Trust and Banking Corporation. No fee declared.
MP’s for utilities
Jack Aspinwall (C-Wansdyke) – adviser, British Gas, 15,001- 20,000.
Sir Andrew Bowden (C-Brigh-ton, Kemptown) – consultant, Southern Water, 1,001- 5,000.
Alex Carlile (Lib-Montgomery) – Welsh Water is supplying on secondment one of its employees, and paying their salary.
Michael Clark (C-Rochford) – adviser, British Gas, 1,001- 5,000.
Keith Hampson (C-Leeds North West) – consultant, PowerGen, 10,001-15,000.
Andrew Hargreaves (C-Birmingham Hall Green) – consultant, Midlands Electricity, 5,001- 10,000.
Michael Jopling (C-Westmorland & Lonsdale) – adviser British Energy (as part of 20,001- 25,000 payment to its PR advisers Hill & Knowlton).
Tim Rathbone (C-Lewes) – consultant, Seeboard, 1,001-5,000.
Sir Giles Shaw (C-Pudsey) – marketing consultant, Yorkshire Water, 15,001-20,000.
Sir Michael Spicer (C-South Worcs) – president, Association of Electricity Producers. No fee declared.
Sir Malcolm Thornton (C-Cros-by) – adviser, United Utilities, 5,001-10,000
TOTAL 60,000 – 100,000*
(*Does not include corporate hospitality, such as Sir Hector Mon-ro’s day shooting with United Utilities in December 1996.)>