BA is tops for friends in high places

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The Independent Online
BRITISH AIRWAYS appears as a donor on the newly published register of MPs' interests more often than any other company. At least 14 MPs received free flights or other benefits last year.

Among the beneficiaries were Dame Angela Rumbold, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, and Alan Haselhurst, who sits on the Transport Select Committee. By contrast, only two MPs registered free flights from Virgin.

The register, published last week, illustrates how companies attempt to gain influence with MPs. It contains details of MPs' directorships, paid employment, clients, sponsorships, gifts and substantial shareholdings.

Thirty-two of Britain's 100 biggest quoted companies paid MPs directly in cash or kind last year. Many others paid MPs indirectly through public relations firms and parliamentary consultancies.

Five FT-SE 100 companies have MPs on their main boards: Argyll (Cranley Onslow); British Steel (Sir Giles Shaw); Hanson (Kenneth Baker); Ladbroke (Greville Janner); and NFC (Sir Norman Fowler). Some businesses appear to value MPs very highly. Cable & Wireless, chaired by Lord Young, the former Cabinet minister, employs former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker and Sir Michael Marshall as advisers.

BSkyB, the satellite television channel, has given dishes to several MPs, including Gerald Bermingham and Robert Hughes. Austin Mitchell is a presenter on the channel. Sebastian Coe, the athlete turned politician, has preferential treatment from Hertz, the car rental group; Terry Dicks, another of the BA beneficiaries, has been given the free use of a Hertz car.