Open for business. House of Lords can be hired for functions.
A water industry lobby group offered firms a meeting with the minister responsible for water if they paid up to £4,500 to sponsor the group’s House of Lords reception.
British Water offered ‘participation in 20 minute group meeting with keynote speaker Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, prior to the start of the 2012 reception’, to ‘platinum’ and ‘gold’ sponsors of the event, held this February in the Cholmondeley Room.
Sponsors were also offered a ‘1m display banner alongside the stage in the main event area’.
The event will raise questions about organisations’ use of the Lords to raise funds. Only charities are permitted to use events in the Palace of Westminster for fundraising. Other organisations are not supposed to benefit financially, even indirectly.
British Water CEO David Neil-Gallacher said in a statement: ‘As a not-for-profit association, British Water has to defray the cost of such events through, for example, sponsorship by its member companies.
‘British Water’s sponsorship agreements did not, however, provide any sponsor companies with direct and exclusive access to the Minister “for the purposes of direct or indirect financial or material gain”. The Minister met sponsors collectively, in the presence of his own adviser and our host, and this was followed by extensive discussions with many of the other companies attending the reception.’
He added that there was also a ‘safeguard to provide the House of Lords with the reassurance that correct procedures were being observed and that there was thus no potential impropriety’.
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In the event, Benyon was unable to attend the meeting and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, parliamentary under-secretary, did so in his place. The reception was hosted by Lord Selborne, treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Water, which has no financial relationship with British Water and had no involvement in the sponsorship arrangements.
More recently, the Bar Council cited a charge of £20,000 for sponsoring a drinks reception for the World Bar Conference in the Lords on June 29. ‘Sponsoring this prestigious event will showcase your organisation on the opening night of the conference’, promised the Conference’s sponsorship brochure.
The Bar Council removed the brochure from its website after it was contacted by the Bureau. ‘This was an oversight and the package was immediately withdrawn as soon as the oversight came to the Bar Council’s attention,’ a spokesman said. ‘At no point was any agreement formed with a commercial sponsor and accordingly there was no material breach of the House of Lords guidance.’
Baroness Deech, who is hosting the function, was not aware of the proposal, the spokesman added.
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