Revealed: Ted Heath's cash links with China

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The Independent Online
SIR EDWARD HEATH, the former Conservative prime minister, has been earning thousands of pounds a year as a paid adviser to four companies - including a Chinese state-owned shipping corporation and a think tank run by a Saudi sheikh - which he does not declare in the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found that Sir Edward, the longest-serving MP and Father of the House, enjoys fees, expenses and gifts on top of his parliamentary salary.

He is a "senior adviser" to the China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco), one of the world's biggest freight operators, which is owned by the Communist Chinese government.

He is also on the Governing Board of the Centre for Global Energy Studies, a think tank set up and run by Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the former Saudi minister for petroleum and mineral resources. And he is an adviser on China for investment funds run by Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and CGU.

All four companies confirmed last week that Sir Edward is paid for his services. Cosco, which has employed him since 1993, also said that he had received expenses, including free flights and accommodation, which are declarable under Commons rules.

However, the former prime minister makes no mention of the jobs in the latest Commons Register, despite the requirement for politicians to disclose any "remunerated employment" outside Parliament. He declares only that he is chairman of Dumpton Gap, an unlimited private company which has not filed accounts with Companies House since 1994, and that he was a member of Lloyd's until 1995.

Labour MPs last night asked Elizabeth Filkin, the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, to investigate whether Sir Edward has breached House of Commons rules. The introduction to the Register of Members' Interests states that it was set up "to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament".

Sir Edward confirmed he was an adviser to the companies but refused to disclose how much he was paid. "That is entirely a private affair," he said. His aide said that Sir Gordon Downey, the former standards watchdog, had cleared his decision not to register the interests in March 1996.

MPs are only required to declare outside employment if they were "going to use Parliament for their interests", the former premier said, adding: "I don't ask questions in Parliament about them, I don't speak in Parliament about them, I don't deal with ministers about them." Sir Edward has not spoken in a Commons debate on China for several years.

However, Robert Sheldon, Labour chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, said the rules for MPs were quite clear that any paid advisory role should be specifically declared in the Register. "They have to declare any source of income which comes from outside Parliament," he said.

Fraser Kemp, Labour MP for Houghton and Washington East, plans to refer the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner this week. "The rules of the House apply to every elected member, whether or not he is a former prime minister," he said. "These rules were introduced to ensure that politics are above reproach and we are all expected to be as transparent as possible."

Sir Edward's link with Cosco will be particularly controversial because it is owned by the Chinese government which has a record of human rights abuses. Richard Taylor, Cosco's UK manager who deals with Sir Edward, said his role was to make "introductions" and advise the company on doing business in Britain. The company is becoming more autonomous but Sir Edward confirmed that it was still classified as state-owned.

The former Tory leader met Cosco's senior executives during a 10-day visit to China last September as well as having an audience with the Chinese Premier Zhu Rong Ji. Zu Chao, manager of Cosco's foreign affairs department in Peking, said Sir Edward was "a friend of China but he is also very British".

Altogether, the former prime minister has made 24 visits to China since 1974, two years after he reopened diplomatic relations with the People's Republic. His loyalty to the Peking administration has been criticised in the past. He was condemned by both Tory and Labour MPs when he compared the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which more than 2,000 pro-democracy protesters were killed, to the killing of 14 civil rights marchers in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday.

Sir Edward's failure to declare his interest in the Centre for Global Energy Studies could also come under scrutiny. He is on the governing board with Lord Healey, the former Labour chancellor, and Baroness Hooper, a former Tory minister, both of whom declare their position in the Lords register even though the rules on disclosure are less strict in the Upper Chamber.