Plum job? Lord Plumb omits business interests from the official register.
A senior Conservative peer has been acting as an adviser to a European lobbying firm for five years without declaring it to Parliament, an investigation by the Bureau with the Independent has found.
But despite sitting on the Lords’ EU select committee until May – which scrutinises draft EU law and suggests improvements – Lord Plumb does not declare his involvement with the firm in his entry on the Lords Register of Interests.
He is one of a number of senior members of the House of Lords not disclosing apparent outside interests.
They include Lord St John of Bletso, one of the 92 hereditary peers currently sitting in the House of Lords, who last year joined the ‘special advisory board’ of Mooter Media, an Australian digital media and online advertising firm. Lord St John sits on the House of Lords communications committee, which is currently looking into the need for superfast broadband and has previously scrutinised TV advertising.
Under the House of Lords rules members are required to declare all their relevant interests – both financial and non-financial.
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‘The key consideration in determining relevance in respect of both registration and declaration of an interest is that the interest might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to influence the way in which a member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties,’ the code says.
On his entry in the register of interests Lord Plumb lists his only remunerated employment/profession as ‘farming’.
But inquiries by the Bureau reveal that the former head of the National Farmers Union, who went into politics in the 1980s as a Tory MEP, has a more relevant interest which is not declared in the register.
He is named as a ‘team member’ on the Alber & Geiger website, which describes the firm as a ‘political lobbying powerhouse’.
The peer contributed to the EU Lobbying Handbook written by Andreas Geiger and published in 2007. In 2008 Geiger described him in an interview as a partner in the new firm. In March this year the legal press reported he had been appointed head of Alber & Geiger’s new London office.
Members of the House of Lords are required to declare all their relevant interests – both financial and non-financial
Between 2007 and May 2012 the peer sat on the Lords’ EU select committee, which scrutinises draft EU law and suggests improvements, since 2007. He currently sits on its sub-committee on the internal market, energy and transport, which has also reported on roaming mobile phone charges.
The firm describes its clients as ‘large companies, NGOs, and states that need our support in Brussels and in the European Member States’. Its entry on the European Commisson’s transparency register says it lobbies on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco, Bulgarian telecoms company Vivacom, German packaging firm Mettler and the Port of Belgrade.
But when contacted by the Independent, Lord Plumb said he did not head up the London office and it was ‘misleading to regard me as being or, having been, a senior partner’ in the firm.
He ‘did not object’ to Alber & Geiger using his name to ‘drum up business’ but insisted he did not need to register his involvement because he had ‘never been in employment, paid or unpaid’ by the firm.
However despite numerous requests to both Lord Plumb and Alber & Geiger neither would say whether he had been paid for his work.
Andreas Geiger said: ‘Lord Plumb has of course no fulltime engagement with our firm. He helps us in his professional capacity in an advisory role on Brussels related matters.’
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Another peer with undeclared interests is Lord St John of Bletso, one of the 92 hereditary peers currently sitting in the House of Lords.
In November 2011 Lord St John, who is also an Extra Lord in Waiting to the Queen, joined the ‘special advisory board’ of Mooter Media, an Australian digital media and on-line advertising firm.
He has also advised technology marketing agency Mcdonald Butler Associates.
Detailed investigation of the interests of current members of the House of Lords suggests there is significant room for ambiguity in what must be registered and what is not compulsory to list.
Lord St John sits on the House of Lords communications committee which is currently looking into the need for superfast broadband and has previously scrutinised TV advertising.
Lord St John said both positions were unpaid but he had asked for his name to be removed from the website of McDonald Butler. He added that he would speak to the Clerk of Parliaments to see if they required him to place the interests in the register.
Despite House of Lords rules the Bureau’s investigation of the interests of current members of the House of Lords suggests there is significant room for ambiguity in what must be registered and what is not compulsory to list – particularly in regard to what a reasonable member of the public would think may influence the manner in which a member of the Lords would act.
Lord Boateng, the former Labour minister and high commissioner to South Africa, acts as international legal counsel to consultancy DaMina Advisors. The firm claims to draw on ‘high-level political, legislative and government contacts’ in order to advise companies with investments in Africa. Lord Boateng does not declare his interest in DaMina despite frequently asking questions on Africa in Parliament.Lord Boateng, who acts as international legal counsel to DaMina Advisors, said he declared his profession as a barrister and legal consultant on his entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. He does not, however, state the company.
He added: ‘I am not currently required by the House rules to list my professional clients. My role with DaMina Advisors is as legal counsel advising them on legal and regulatory matters in relation to their African business.’
He added that ‘any work for them is completely separate from my work in the House’ and that he is ‘careful to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest’.
The Bureau’s findings come at a time when the future of the House of Lords is under intense scrutiny. The coalition government has put forward ambitious proposals to reform the Lords to make it a predominantly elected second chamber. Opponents of the plan say such changes would undermine the unique qualities of the current unelected house – with a variety of outside interests represented.
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A spokesman for the House of Lord said: ‘The House of Lords is committed to the highest standards of openness, transparency and accountability in regard to Members’ interests.
Members have an obligation to keep their entry in the Register of Interests accurate and up to date.
To enable members to comply with the requirements of the House’s code of conduct there is a Registrar of Lords’ Interests to advise members of their duties under the Code, and an independent Lords Commissioner of Standards to investigate complaints of non compliance with the rules.’