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Monday, July 6, 1998 Published at 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK

UK Politics

Lobbyist at centre of row suspended

Maude: "Incredibly serious allegations"

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

The BBC's John Pienaar: 'Labour MPs are keen to head off any damaging suggestion that influence can be bought or sold'
The man at the centre of the latest Labour sleaze allegations has been suspended from his job as a lobbyist and sacked as a columnist for a national newspaper.

Derek Draper, who previously worked for the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson, is accused of offering clients privileged access to ministers.

The "cash-for-access" row erupted after newspaper reports that Mr Draper and senior Downing Street aide Roger Liddle worked together to persuade US businessmen they could arrange for them to meet ministers.

BBC Political Editor Robin Oakley: 'The government will resist a high level enquiry into this'
The newspaper also said Mr Draper had told an undercover reporter he had passed on details of the government's spending plans before they were officially announced.

He has now been suspended pending an investigation by his company GPC Market Access and sacked as a columnist for the Daily Express.

Tories on attack over 'grossly improper' acts

The decision led to renewed demands for Mr Liddle to be suspended from his job as European affairs advisor to Tony Blair, for a full Commons statement and an investigation into the claims.

Mr Liddle has denied any wrongdoing and the newspaper insisted it did not accuse him of leaking any information.

But the Tories, who were embroiled in the "cash-for-questions" scandal which helped lose them the last election, were the first to demand an explanation from the government.

Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude said it was "grossly improper" for former aides to leak "stolen" information to their clients.

'Cronyism and insider dealing'

Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude: 'You don't muck around with inside information like that'
He said claims that Chancellor Gordon Brown's Mansion House speech had been leaked in advance amounted to "insider dealing."

"That's a very serious matter. We are just beginning to see a pattern of what New Labour and the Third Way is about.

"It's about cronyism. It's about special favours to friends. It's about politicising the higher reaches of the civil service.

"What is improper is for people with intimate government connections to trade on that, to use it to get inside information, to give preferential advantage to their own clients, by sliding them under-the-counter information, advance copies of speeches, which are stolen.

"That is grossly improper. If Mr Blair really wants to say he is about a new type of clean politics, he needs to suspend or sack Mr Liddle immediately and have a high-level inquiry into this gross impropriety," he said.

Lobbyists 'need code of conduct'

Chairman of the Treasury select committee Giles Radice: 'We need a statutory code for lobbyists'
Labour MP Giles Radice, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said there was no evidence The Observer's story was correct.

But he called for Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life to consider a statutory code for lobbyists.

"If the stories are true in The Observer, there are some rather foolish, boastful and it appears greedy young men who were not given jobs in the Labour government and are hoping to cash in on their previous connections with the Government," he said.

Paying for access

According to the allegations, ex-Labour 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 Observer says that the advisers, 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.

Chairman of the Treasury select committee Giles Radice: 'We need a statutory code for lobbyists'
They also allegedly told undercover journalists they had arranged meetings with ministers and won places for people on government task forces preparing policy.

Ministers not involved

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.

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.

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