Brochure lists advisers who joined lobby

Claim that Major's speech writer works for company is denied, reports Steve Boggan
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The Independent Online
The brochure of the lobbyists' Public Policy Unit (PPU) is staggeringly impressive, listing example after example of changes of government heart brought about by ruthlessly efficient lobbying.

But more impressive still are the staff profiles, the curriculum vitae of the people at the PPU who can advise clients on potentially damaging government intentions and how to head them off.

Frances Maude, former Foreign Office and Treasury minister; Bill Cash, vociferous MP and chairman of the Conservative European Affairs Committee; Sir Philip Woodfield, a former private secretary to three prime ministers.

And then, under the profile of Nicholas True, comes the impressively diffident throwaway line: "[Currently on secondment to the Prime Minister's Policy Unit.]"

Mr True, 43, is a former company secretary of PPU, one of the most heavyweight teams of lobbyists in Westminster, but he is also deputy head of Mr Major's policy unit and reputedly his favourite speech writer.

He is perhaps the best placed of a raft of advisers who have been at the heart of government and later returned to a life in lobbying. But his description as being "on secondment" - and, therefore, presumably intending to rejoin the company - is at odds with an assurance given last year by John Major to Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP, that only Lord Poole, of James Capel, and Alan Rosling, of Hanson plc, had been on secondment with his policy unit since 1990.

Yesterday, Downing Street confirmed that Mr True, a former special adviser to Lord Whitelaw and Sir Norman Fowler, was not on secondment and was being paid as a full-time government employee.

Why, then, did PPU's brochure say he was?

Charles Miller, the company secretary, said a new staff list had been printed since the brochure was sent to Mr Taylor via the House of Commons Library last year, and Mr True's name had been removed.

So why, when Mr True has been a member of the policy unit since January 1991, was it on the list last year? Mr Miller said the brochure was printed only every three years and was out of date.

"We left it on because we hoped he would come back to us," he said. "But he extended his term at the policy unit so his leave of absence is being regarded as indefinite. We still hope he will come back, though.''

Increasing numbers of special advisers appear to be taking the route into lobbying. Among those who have taken their knowledge of the system into the persuasion profession is Andrew Dunlop, a former special adviser to the Ministry of Defence and the Downing Street policy unit. He is now managing director of Politics International.

Perry Miller was a special adviser at the Department of Transport before moving to the Ministry of Defence under Malcolm Rifkind. His access to sensitive information resulted in him having to sign an undertaking not to become involved in defence matters for six months when he subsequently joined the lobbyists Ian Greer Associates.

Elizabeth Buchanan, a former special adviser at the Department of Transport, went on to work for Lowe Bell, another firm of lobbyists; she is best known as Baroness Thatcher's press secretary. And Jonathan Hill has had two stints at Lowe Bell in between working as a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry and in Downing Street.

A third Lowe Bell catch is Guy Black, former special adviser at the Department of Energy. Edward Bickham, a former special adviser at the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office, left to become managing director of corporate policy at Hill and Knowlton.

Opposition MPs are calling for rigorous changes in the regulations governing special advisers when they leave their posts, but Charles Miller said none of the advisers-turned-lobbyists would use information they had gleaned for improper purposes.

"We negotiate terms for their employment with the department they had been working for," he said. "There are certain fields in which they are not allowed to work. Everyone is scrupulous about observing those limits. It is not specific files or cases or pieces of information that make these people valuable. It is their knowledge of the system. And if you play fast and loose with the system, it will find you out and you will find that previously open doors will close in your face."

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