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Monday, July 6, 1998 Published at 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK

UK Politics

Lobbyist at centre of row suspended

Draper: suspended as a lobbyist; sacked as a columnist

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

BBC Political Correspondent Robin Oakley says there could be "big danger for labour"
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 - currrently on holiday in Italy - and senior Downing Street aide Roger Liddle worked together to persuade US businessmen they could arrange for them to meet ministers.

Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude: 'You don't muck around with inside information like that'
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.

GPC Chairman Sir Ian Wrigglseworth said the comapny had been "deeply concerned" about aspects of the allegations.

Tories attack 'grossly improper' acts

[ image: Maude:
Maude: "grossly improper"
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.

The prime minister's official spokesman insisted Mr Liddle had been asked about the allegations, but had not been suspended and would not be.

He also said there would be no investigation into Mr Liddle's behaviour unless there was evidence of wrongdoing, which Mr Blair would take extremely seriously.

But the Tories, who were embroiled in the "cash-for-questions" scandal which helped lose them the last election, demanded 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'

He said claims that Chancellor Gordon Brown's Mansion House speech had been leaked by another lobbyist 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'

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.

Chairman of the Treasury select committee Giles Radice: 'We need a statutory code for lobbyists'
According to the allegations, several 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 Mr 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.

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.

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