The lobbyist and the MPs' hired help

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The Independent Online
Ian Greer, the controversial lobbyist at the centre of the cash for questions scandal, sent his staff out to work for MPs and ministers during the last general election campaign.

As well as making cash donations to MPs' fighting funds, Mr Greer encouraged staff to leave the office for the three-week duration of the election battle and to work for prominent politicians. They continued to receive full pay from his firm, Ian Greer Associates, and their services were provided to the MPs for free.

Four Tories and the Shadow front-bencher Chris Smith benefited from the secondment scheme. Mr Greer yesterday confirmed the following secondments had been made: John Fraser worked for Christopher Chope; Paddy Gilford helped John Bowis; Jeremy Sweeney assisted Sir Graham Bright; Richard Jukes worked on Colin Moynihan's campaign and Robbie MacDuff was on Mr Smith's team. "It was great work experience for them," explained Mr Greer.

A former Greer employee said it was the firm's policy to wind down the office in London while the campaign was on and to farm out employees to MPs.

With little lobbying to do at Westminster and all eyes on the election battle, there was little point, said the ex-Greer executive, in attempting to carry on as usual. In common with other lobbying firms, Greer's staff were themselves politically active and wanted to get out and fight their cause. Other lobbying firms, he said, also followed a similar practice of allowing their staff to help MPs.

Further evidence of the close ties between Mr Greer and Neil Hamilton came with the disclosure by another ex- member of his firm that Commons notepaper from the MP was held at the lobbyist's office. The ex-Greer staff member said Mr Hamilton's notepaper was kept in the offices of Mr Greer and his deputy, Andrew Smith. He did not know what it had been used for. Mr Greer would not comment about Mr Hamilton's notepaper.

Last night, Mr Hamilton spared the Government's blushes by pulling out at the last minute from a long-standing invitation to attend a reception at No 10. His presence at the event, organised by the right-wing think- tank, the Adam Smith Institute would clearly have been an embarrassment to the Prime Minister.

Yesterday Mr Hamilton admitted he had received pounds 10,000 from Mr Greer, despite having originally denied to Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, that he had a financial relationship with the lobbyist.

Mr Greer denied the money was for questions to be tabled in the Commons. He said it was a "thank you" for bringing in business for his agency, Ian Greer Associates.

The Harrods boss, Mohamed Al Fayed, yesterday stepped up the pressure on Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer by claiming in a statement that he had paid pounds 18,000 to Mr Greer. He said he had paid the money after being told by Mr Greer that MPs could be hired "in the same way as you hail a taxi".

At its Blackpool conference, Labour repeated calls for state funding of political parties. Delight at Tory discomfort over Mr Greer's links with Tory MPs was tempered by the disclosure that he had made donations to the local campaigns of Doug Hoyle, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Mr Smith.

Mr Hoyle, a member of the Select Committee on Members Interests, and not the Privileges Committee as had been reported, was robustly defending his friendship with Mr Greer.

MPs protest innocence, page 2