Politicians for Hire
*Please credit Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph
Clips and stills of the film are available by request.
Two of Parliament's most respected members were secretly filmed discussing how they would be prepared to use their contacts to benefit a private company and charge large sums of money, reveals a joint investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph.
The two elder statesmen of Westminster, Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Labour MP Jack Straw, will both feature in Politicians For Hire – A Channel 4 Dispatches airing Monday 23rd February at 8pm.
During meetings with our undercover reporters Sir Malcolm Rifkind described himself as ‘self-employed’ and claimed ‘nobody pays me a salary’. For his services he discussed his usual fee of ‘somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000’ for a half a day's work
Sir Malcolm also claimed he could write to a minister on behalf of our company without saying exactly who he was representing
Sir Malcolm added that he could see any foreign ambassador in London if he wanted, so could provide 'access' that is 'useful'
Mr Straw invited our two undercover reporters to his Parliamentary office. At a meeting he explained he could bring his name to the business. He also explained that he normally charges a fee of £5,000 a day for his work
Mr Straw told our reporters how his lobbying activities as a senior politician were extremely useful to a private company, he already works for and declares an interest in.
Mr Straw says he wouldn’t take on the role while he remained an MP, but claimed he would be more helpful to our company if he were to become a Lord because of the different rules that apply there
Background to the investigation
Five years ago, Channel 4 Dispatches conducted an undercover investigation into how some MPs were asking for large sums of money for their services to private businesses. The fall-out was massive, with former defence secretary Geoff Hoon banned from Parliament for five years and former transport minister Stephen Byers banned for two years. There was an inquiry and some new rules were introduced. But five years on has anything changed for the better or are politicians still falling short of public expectations?
Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph decided to investigate.
The fictitious company
PMR, a communications agency based in Hong Kong was set up, backed by a fictitious Chinese businessman. PMR has plenty of money to spend and wants to hire influential British politicians to join its advisory board and get a foothold in the UK and Europe.
12 MPs who already had significant outside interests were invited to apply for jobs with PMR.
Not all politicians are for hire. Half of those approached didn’t respond. One said he wanted to check us out in Hong Kong so we took it no further. And another said he just wasn’t that interested. Of the others, two stood out - Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind
Sir Malcolm’s held four cabinet positions including Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary. No longer a minister, he is still the MP for Kensington, earning a £67,000-a-year salary paid for by the taxpayer, and Chair of the highly influential Intelligence and Security Select Committee.
Sir Malcolm also declares five other jobs outside parliament that have earned him over £800,000 in the last five years.
We said we were looking to recruit people with ‘appropriate political or regulatory backgrounds’ in the areas of energy, engineering and transport.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind told our reporters: “I am self-employed. So nobody pays me a salary, I have to earn my income, but when I’m not doing something I can do what I like".
When it came to remuneration Sir Malcolm Rifkind says: “One sensitive issue, but I have to mention it. You mentioned there would be obviously remuneration…. I would simply give it as an example, but when I did a series of presentations on the Middle East and that was usually something in the order of… I mean it wasn’t a whole day, it was usually a whole morning or an afternoon and that was somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000 something of that kind.”
Later in the meeting, Sir Malcolm claims he could write to a minister without saying exactly who he was representing.
Our undercover reporter told Sir Malcolm that PMR’s backer was interested in investing in property near the route of a future rail project in the North of England - HS3. Any advanced information would be a real asset to our fictitious investor.
Sir Malcolm told our reporters: “What one could quite easily do is find out what is the current detailed state of government thinking on this because at this stage it’s a proposal…. Your uncle [PMR's fictional backer] would obviously wish to know is what is the best judgment at this stage. Is it likely to happen, if so when is it likely to happen, what is the likely route?”
“If it’s a matter of government policy then there’s two aspects to government policy. That which they have announced and which is public knowledge and is something you can find it in various ways of…”
Undercover reporter: “Of Google? Yeah.”
Sir Malcolm: “Or in my own case I could write to a minister… I wouldn’t name who was asking but I would say I’ve been asked to establish what your thinking is on X,Y, Z. Can you tell me what that is?... But if it’s an area of…they may be reluctant.”
Undercover reporter: “To say, yes. And is it possible to take discreet soundings?”
Sir Malcolm says: “You can take soundings. But when you take soundings you will get what is likely to happen”.
Undercover reporter: “Yes, precisely.”
Sir Malcolm: “You still have to be cautious…. I mean sometimes what you can establish is what can be ruled out. Well if we do go ahead we’re not going to go in that route.”
But Sir Malcolm does make clear the limitations of what can be achieved: “You cannot give privileged information to one private citizen or a company that is not available to others. Because why should they? There is no benefit from their point of view, and they will simply be very severely criticised. But there is an awful lot of information which is not secret which if you ask the right questions you’ll get the answers. “
On seeing the footage, Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life says that if Sir Malcolm did write to a minister in the way he described: “Well that would be a clear breach of the code of conduct and ... an example of here an experienced member of Parliament rather using their privileged position as a public servant in trying to get access to information which would benefit individuals and this company in a way that I think the public would find totally unacceptable.”
Sir Malcolm’s Right to Reply
In response to the allegations Sir Malcolm says:
“I have never undertaken nor would undertake any lobbying as an MP on behalf of any private organisation for which I was receiving remuneration.
You suggest that I showed myself as ‘willing to act as an MP for hire’. That is untrue…There was no suggestion that I was being approached as an MP…Their approach to me was because of my previous experience as a Minister… Ambassadors tend to respond not because I am a current MP but because I was Foreign Secretary. I did look at their website. Due diligence is something one does when one has received a firm offer.
No business meeting in my office was proposed. I said I would not be prepared to write to Ministers on behalf of PMR or any other company…The most I could do would be to enquire from them information…which was already in the public domain. I arrange my affairs so that around 75% of my time is spent on Parliamentary business... most constituency events are during the week rather than at the weekend."
Jack Straw held several cabinet positions including Foreign Secretary. Now the backbench MP for Blackburn, Mr Straw declares two outside interests: both in advisory roles, one of them earning him £60,000 a year working for a British global commodities trader. Mr Straw is standing down as an MP but he’s been tipped in the press to go to the Lords later this year.
We told Mr Straw that PMR was looking for people to join the advisory board who could help our client understand the various political, regulatory and legislative frameworks in the UK and across the EU.
Mr Straw invited our two fake employees to a meeting in his Parliamentary office. He explained the kind of business he’s already involved in.
Mr Straw told our reporters: “I am an adviser to a firm you probably won’t have heard of but is one of Britain’s biggest soft commodity traders, and they’re called ED&F Man, okay?”
One of the commodities ED&F Man deal in is sugar. In 2011 the company wanted to import raw sugar cane into Ukraine, refine it in their factory there and then export it.
Mr Straw says the business ran into difficulties because recently introduced Ukrainian regulations were preventing it from doing so.
And he told us how he helped ED&F Man out.
Mr Straw says: “I got into, took Man with the British ambassador in Kiev to see the Ukrainian prime minister… and to cut a very long story short, we got it sorted out.…They got the law, it all changed.”
ED&F Man is perfectly entitled to pursue its legitimate commercial interests and seek changes in the law. And Mr Straw ensured that his work for them was signed off properly by the appropriate parliamentary committee. He also declared the trip.
But what he told our reporters reveals how his lobbying activities as a senior politician were extremely useful to a private company.
On another occasion when EU sugar regulations were hampering ED&F Man’s ability to do business, Mr Straw told us he got to work on the case.
Mr Straw says: “I got in to see the relevant director general and his officials in Brussels and we got the sugar regulations changed… the crucial thing about this, it’s all, it’s public that the regulations have been changed, but the best way of dealing with these things is under the radar.”
Mr Straw says: “I’m well aware of the fact that I’m bringing my name – all right – I get that. But it’s what it is you want from me, what I can offer you, could do for, what’s the time commitment? Those things.”
On the subject of remuneration, Mr Straw says: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge”
Jack Straw told our reporters that he is well aware of his parliamentary commitments to Blackburn and his constituents and he wouldn’t’ take on the role while he remained an MP.
However, he says would be more helpful to our company if he were to become a Lord given the different rules he said applied there.
Mr Straw: “I’ve got a day job, that’s my first responsibility.”
“I don’t want to attract attention by earning a lot more, although I, cos, so, as a result of the… I turned down quite a lot, just because I, you know, I’ve got to be able to justify to myself and as well to my constituents that working for Man is something I can do in my spare time,” he added.
Mr Straw told our reporters: “Okay. Well obviously if I’m not in the House of Commons, I’m not in that position. Um, I could end up in the House of Lords, so you’re aware – you may have seen that…speculation in the paper at the moment – no one has said anything to me officially. But the rules there are different and plenty of people have commercial interests there.”
“I’ll be able to help you more Claire – I’ll be able to help you more. Um, well I wouldn’t take this on as long as I was a Member of Parliament.”
Mr Straw then took our reporters on a tour of Parliament, and offered another tour to the fictional head of PMR when he visited London.
On seeing the footage of Mr Straw, Sir Alistair Graham, the former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life says:
“Now it’s perfectly understandable that Jack Straw wants to have a positive and constructive retirement and he wants to have an income that takes advantage of his past public experience... But it is worrying that he is using public facilities to try and negotiate contracts for when he’s left parliament.
“Well, it’s a slightly cheeky assumption that he’s going to be appointed to the House of Lords. But I think he probably needs to brush up on the regulations because the House of Lords have had a fair number of scandals in recent years and they have gone to some length to tighten their regulations and disciplinary processes.”
Jack Straw’s Right to Reply
In response to the allegations Jack Straw says:
Having researched the company, I made enquiries in Hong Kong and was told the company appeared to be bona fide, but that the best way to carry out further due diligence was to meet with the individuals. If I had not received that response I would have cancelled the meeting.
I would have made full official checks before accepting an appointment.
I made clear from the outset that I was not available for any work until after I stood down as a Member of Parliament.
Due to my other parliamentary commitments and to save time for further such work, I met the individuals in my parliamentary office. We had a general discussion about work I have done on a consultancy basis for another company.
All of my outside paid work is fully and properly declared under rules that apply to MPs. I have also sought specific guidance from the Office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (of former ministers) before undertaking projects.
I am confident that I behaved, as I have always done, with integrity and that I did not breach any parliamentary rules in substance or in spirit.
Politicians For Hire – A Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 23rd February at 8pm
Notes to Editors
Video Clip of Sir Malcolm Rifkind -
Video Clip of Jack Straw - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpNm8FjbbcA<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpNm8FjbbcA><https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpNm8FjbbcA%3chttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpNm8FjbbcA%3e>