David Cameron regularly broke one of the strict rules governing the use of Parliament’s exclusive dining rooms because he had not read the rule book properly, it has emerged.
For the first time yesterday it was revealed that MPs have booked the subsidised entertaining facilities, with their plush furnishings and silver cutlery, some 8,000 times since 2004 to play host, in some cases, to people with no apparent links either to politics or good causes.
An MP who books a room for a function is supposed to be there from start to finish to take responsibility for the conduct of guests. But on three occasions the British Dental Health Foundation had functions in Parliament's dining room, which had been booked in David Cameron's name. The Conservative leader was not there.
Yesterday, the Tory leader’s office admitted that he had broken the same rule on about half of the 16 occasions that private dining rooms had been booked in his name since 2004 but that he had not noticed that the clause which said that his presence was required. On every occasion, he was represented by someone from his staff.
After the error had been pointed out by The Independent, a spokeswoman said: “He recognises this oversight. It will not happen again.”
A study of the 8,000 bookings made public for the first time yesterday by being posted on Parliament’s website suggests that in many cases, MPs have acted as a booking service for lobbying firms or commercial activities in which the MPs have a personal interest. Others have acted as host for what look like political fundraising events.
Some appear to have been pushing at the boundaries of parliamentary rules which strictly forbid the use of private dining rooms for “direct or indirect financial or material gain by a sponsor, political party, or any other person or outside organisation”.
Richard Caborn, the former Sports minister, hosted two dinners in 2008 and 2009 for the construction firm, AMEC, which operates in the nuclear industry. In a separate Commons document, the Register of Member’s Interest, Mr Caborn has disclosed that he received up to £25,000 in consultancy fees from AMEC last year. He also hosted two dinners in 2007 and 2008 for the Fitness Industry Association, which paid him up to £15,000 last year as a consultant.
Since stepping down from the Cabinet in 2007, the former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has booked rooms for a breakfast for BT and a dinner for BT. She is a non executive director of BT.
She has also hosted a ‘Voice of Pharmacy’ dinner, a ‘Primary care’ dinner and a ‘healthcare in the next decade’ lunch. She is a special consultant to Boots and senior adviser to Cinven, which has interest in the health sector.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, hosted a dinner in 2004 for 170 organised, by Westawaygillis, a consultancy firm that offers its services to the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry. There is no suggestion of personal financial gain.
John Denham, the Local Government Secretary, booked a breakfast for AXA “Debak” in June 2006, a year before his return to the government. He was paid a one-off fee of £5,000 by AXA to advise on a research project.
“The agreement to carry out the work, was made prior to, and entirely separate from, a second request to host a breakfast for the policy-making community, for which I was not paid. I was happy to agree, and to speak, as I was keen to encourage debate about the important issue of pension provision in the UK,” he said yesterday.
The shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hosted a reception on the terrace in 2006 for Hotcourses Ltd. This is a firm that he founded, which helps fund his parliamentary office and in July to December 2009 paid him £1,000 a month for two hours work as an adviser.
The shadow environment minister Richard Benyon hosted a lunch for 12 people in December 2006, described as the “Englefield Estate Christmas lunch”. In the register of members’ interests, Mr Benyon discloses that he is chairman of the directors of Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited, which is trustee of various family trusts “in all of which either I or members of my wider family have beneficial interests.”
Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, hosted a dinner for Michael Conn Goldsobel Solicitors in November 2004. Philip Goldenberg, a consultant with the firm and a Liberal Democrat councillor, donated £1,002 to the Liberal Democrats on 31 December 2004.
The Labour MP Colin Burgon hosted an event for the Venezuelan embassy in 2006. In 2007 and 2008 he visited Venezuela as guest of the government.
Neither Gordon Brown nor the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is listed as having made any bookings since 2004. The most prolific room-bookers included Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who made 89 in the five and a half years, and Labour's Barry Sheerman, with 88.
MPs are allowed to book the rooms to raise money for charity, for political functions, or for events aimed at pushing a political or social cause, so the Climate Change secretary, Ed Miliband, was within the rules when he hosted a dinner in February 2009 for oil and gas industry representatives – although there was some surprise yesterday that he should be entertaining people from industries that are major contributors to carbon emissions..
Weddings and parties are also allowed, including parties for old school friends, which provided a double opportunity for the left wing Labour MP Robert Marshall-Andrews, who was educated at Mill Hill, one of the country’s most expensive public schools, where fees are currently around £25,000 a year. Mr Marshall-Andrews hosted two dinners in 2005 for the Old Millhillians Club.
Diners' club: Who has used the rooms and why
Patricia Hewitt booked rooms for a breakfast for BT and a dinner for BT. She is a non executive director of BT. She also hosted a Voice of Pharmacy dinner and a Healthcare in the Next Decade lunch. She is a special consultant to Boots and adviser to Cinven.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, hosted a dinner for 170, which was organised by Westawaygillis, a consultancy firm that offers its services to the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.
John Denham booked an AXA Debak Breakfast in June 2006, a year before his return to the Cabinet. He has declared a "one-off consultancy with AXA to advise on a research project and publication on employer pension provision".
Charles Kennedy hosted a dinner for Michael Conn Goldsobel Solicitors in November 2004. Philip Goldenberg, a consultant with the firm and a Liberal Democrat councillor, donated £1,002 to the Liberal Democrats on 31 December 2004.
Jeremy Hunt hosted a reception on the terrace in 2006 for Hotcourses Ltd. This is a firm that he founded, which donates to fund his parliamentary office and from July to December 2009 paid him £1,000 a month for two hours' work as an adviser.