Minister gave lobbyist Commons pass

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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

A government Minister arranged for a lobbyist who represented several large defence contractors to have free access around the House of Commons as his research assistant.

Despite the fact that Barry Joseph has not worked for Richard Page, junior minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, for more than a year, Mr Page sponsored the renewal of his Commons pass last May, three months after he joined the Government.

A research assistant's pass allows Mr Joseph freely to enter the Commons, circulate among MPs and ministers in the bars, restaurants and corridors, use the library and obtain published Parliamentary papers.

In his report last year on standards in public life, Lord Nolan voiced concerns about ties between MPs and lobbyists. Last night Labour called for an inquiry by the Serjeant-at-Arms, the senior Commons official who issues passes. Dale Campbell-Savours, MP for Workington, was writing to the Prime Minister about the affair.

Mr Page, MP for Hertfordshire South West, has responsibility at the DTI for small businesses, industry and energy. He has access to ministerial briefings, participates in top-level departmental discussions and receives advance notice of forthcoming Govern- ment announcements.

According to the Commons computer, Mr Joseph's pass is due to expire on 1 May this year. It was renewed for 12 months on 2 May last year. The lobbyist works for British Aerospace, Racal and Rolls-Royce.

Mr Joseph said he had assisted Mr Page before he became a minister last February, when he was a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Mr Joseph said that when Mr Page became a minister, he suggested Mr Joseph would be able to help with press work in his constituency. "He renewed my application, believing I could do some work for him." That did not materialise, said Mr Joseph, and sometime in the middle of last year, the pass was returned.

The Commons pass office yesterday had no record of the pass having been returned.

Mr Page said that Mr Joseph "used to do research when I was on the PAC. He was knowledgable on defence and military things and he did research for me." Asked if he knew that Mr Joseph worked for Rolls-Royce and BAe, he said: "He's an adviser to them, yes." The minister said he had "no idea" why he had renewed Mr Joseph's pass. "I have not used him since I have been a minister."

Mr Joseph said he could not remember exactly when the pass was returned but thought it was in the middle of last year.

The corridors of power, page 2