The Cash-for-Questions Affair: Lobbyist knows for whom the division bell tolls: Steve Boggan on the former Conservative Party agent Ian Greer, whose company boasts of an open line to the Government

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The Independent Online
ONCE, when being interviewed about his book, Right to be Heard, Ian Greer told his reviewer that he had a House of Commons division bell in his office. 'It makes life easier if we have ministers in,' he said.

Just how often ministers get to hear the bell is a matter for conjecture, but his proximity to power, or those who wield it, is a constant theme in the claims Ian Greer makes to prospective clients, or those he already represents, ranging from British Airways to Cadbury-Schweppes.

In a sting set up at last March by Central Television for a programme that was never broadcast, Mr Greer told researchers that he was a 'good friend' of John Major and could arrange meetings with Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He also produced a list of 14 Conservative MPs he could contact and promised to set up a meeting with Neil Hamilton, the minister at the centre of yesterday's controversy.

Mr Greer, 62, spent 13 years in the Conservative Party, mostly as an agent.

He set up his first consultancy in 1969 at a time when political lobbying was already established in America, but almost unheard of in Britain. At first, few were prepared to use his services; senior industrialists believed they could garner all the information they needed from their own contacts and from the media.

However, he came into his own in the 1980s when he acted for BA, Cadbury and Argyll in a number of vicious takeover battles.

His influence and the intelligence he was able to provide were considered vital weapons in his clients' armouries.

His lobbying company, Ian Greer Associates, situated near Buckingham Palace, is now the largest in Britain, with a staff of 50 - 43 with links to the Conservatives, 7 with Labour contacts. He recruits from the senior ranks of the Civil Service, but he once said he never drew from his employees' inside knowledge. 'They are young chaps who by and large have contacts in the Civil Service and have a jolly good grounding in how the system works,' he said.

'(But) they all signed the Official Secrets Act. There is no way I would ask them or they would be tempted to divulge anything.'

Summoned before the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1990, Mr Greer denied 'retaining' MPs or paying them for information. But he did say he had made six 'thank you' payments to three MPs who had introduced clients to him. He refused to name the MPs or to say how much he paid them.

In another interview, when asked about payments to MPs, he replied: 'It's hooey. There's so much suggested in the press. It does annoy me slightly. So you entertain MPs to lunch. The thought that MPs are so easily bribed with a couple of gin and tonics and a lamb cutlet is ridiculous.'

He does, however, like to do favours. He once paid pounds 5,000 to have the collected speeches of John Major published by the Conservative Political Centre and, during Mr Major's leadership campaign, he is reputed to have provided a chauffeur-driven Jaguar to ferry the Prime Minister-in-waiting between meetings.

(Photograph omitted)