A former Conservative minister is being paid by private firms specifically to approach ministers on their behalf about possible government contracts, to attempt to influence policy, and to book House of Commons dining rooms for corporate entertainment.
The description of Sir Archie Hamilton's role, spelt out in letters from, amongst others, City investment bank Merrill Lynch and WS Atkins, a firm of consultant engineers, seems to come close to "paid advocacy", which was categorically banned under the new Commons rules voted in last November.
Under the new, post-Nolan rules, MPs must make publicly available any consultancy agreements relating to their work at Parliament. Sir Archie's agreements provide a rare insight into what MPs do for their money.
A study by the Independent shows that Sir Archie, the MP for Epsom and Ewell, has been the most forthright in setting out his duties. Unlike Sir Archie, most of the others contain generalities and have made a point of excluding paid advocacy.
Sir Archie, a former defence and transport minister, receives pounds 12,000 a year from Merrill Lynch, the US bank which is handling the overseas sale of shares in the Railtrack privatisation and has submitted a bid for surplus armed forces housing stock.
A letter from the bank to Sir Archie, a member of the executive of the Conservative 1922 Committee, has been placed on file at the Commons. Dated 29 March, 1996, it states: "We expect you to identify commercial opportunities for the company, sometimes these may be in the field of Private Finance Initiatives but also such other opportunities that you may find ..."
In another letter, from WS Atkins, Mr Hamilton is told: "We look to you for help and advice in methods of approaching ministers for the purpose of discussing policy in areas such as the Private Finance Initiative."
Similar letters are contained in Sir Archie's file from: Saladin, a private security firm, which says he is expected to make inquiries about possible government contracts and book dining rooms; Woodgate Dairies, which instructs him to use his "influence with government to ensure ministers are aware of how legislation affects the dairying industry"; and James Glass, a firm of independent financial advisers, which expects him to make inquiries about government policy. "We may also ask you to avail the company of the dining facilities in the House."
The Tory party's embarrassment over the publication of the new register is further increased by evidence that some MPs have reclassified their clients in what would appear to be an attempt to avoid declaring fees.
Nirj Deva, the MP for Brentford and Isleworth and a parliamentary private secretary to the Scottish Office, has changed the category under which he declares his consultancy work for three large companies. In last year's register, he disclosed he was a consultant to Rothmans, the cigarette company, Laing, the builders, and KHD, the power station equipment company, in his capacity as an MP.
But this year, he names the same companies under "remunerated employment", claiming that he does not have to declare his fees because they would employ him whether an MP or not.
In the 1995 register, they are classified as clients for whom he "provides services which depend essentially upon or arise out of membership of the House". Mr Deva said yesterday that he had acted for the companies before he became an MP in 1992.
Sir Archie was not available for comment yesterday.
Leading article, page 14
Andrew Marr, page 15
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