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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK

UK Politics

Labour in sleaze row

Maude: "Incredibly serious allegations"

Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude: 'You don't muck around with inside information like that'
The Conservatives are to press the government to investigate whether its political advisers have handed confidential information to large companies.

They are demanding an emergency statement in the Commons after a newspaper report alleged that aides had boasted that they could provide details in advance of a recent speech by the Chancellor.

The allegations surround offers of secret government information to businesses in return for cash.

Chairman of the Treasury select committee Giles Radice: 'We need a statutory code for lobbyists'
According to the allegations, the ex-aides, who now work as lobbyists, are being paid thousands of pounds a month and are promising access to senior ministers, early sight of embargoed reports and places on government policy-making bodies.

The issue is to be raised in the Commons by opposition MPs who claimed, if the allegations are true, they represent a clear abuse of parliamentary privilege.

According to The Observer newspaper, the advisors who previously worked for the Prime Minister, Chancellor Gordon Brown, and Minister without Portfolio Peter Mandelson, claimed to have passed confidential information on to large corporations.

The BBC's John Kampfner: 'There's no suggestion that ministers themselves have acted improperly'
They also allegedly told undercover journalists they had arranged meetings with ministers and won places for people on government task forces preparing policy.

They are also said to have boasted they had provided early sight of secret reports by select committees, and even an advance on Chancellor Gordon Brown_s keynote Mansion House speech.

The paper insists no ministers are accused of impropriety and that not all the lobbyists they approached offered privileged information or access.

It also stresses that none of the lobbyists_ clients sought inside information or acted improperly on any material handed over.


The Shadow Trade Secretary John Redwood said he would be raising the matter in the House of Commons.

"It's disgraceful if people are selling government secrets for private gain and pre-empting parliament."

The Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude MP joined in the attack, warning that if it was true that an advance copy of the Chancellor's Mansion House speech was effectively sold it could be "incredibly serious".

"The advance copy of a Chancellor's speech is gold dust. Now that's insider trading. If these allegations are made out, this is the sort of thing for which people go to prison.

"This is not just some transient breach of technical rules. This is deeply serious stuff," he said.

Liberal Democrat Paul Tyler said: "There appears to be a clear abuse of privilege going on.

"The whole thing leaves an unpleasant stench and we expected better of a New Labour government who promised openness and transparency.

"If these lobbyists are doing what they claim then they are, at the very least, breaking parliamentary rules.

"If they are not, then they are trying to pull a fast one which is breaking their professional code."

A Labour party spokeswoman rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing:

"This article makes clear no minister has acted with impropriety and it is evident from the story that, while lobbyists may boast about what they can offer, the truth about what their client actually gets does not in any way match that boast."

But there is no doubt the issue will embarrass the government which made attacks on government sleaze a central plank of their election manifesto.

The investigation also comes after the notorious "cash-for-questions" row which last year led to the demise of veteran lobbying form Ian Greer Associates.

There has been concern in parliament at the number of former aides who have either joined or set up lobbying groups.

It is widely accepted that one of their key selling points is their contact with ministers and access to parliament.

However, the allegations appear to fall short of proving that there was any wrongdoing by any of those involved in the newspaper investigation.

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