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Buying and Selling Members of Parliament - Truth about Westminster: Chapter 2 - Page 2

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Another lobbying company to hit the headlines was Decision Makers, partly because one of the directors was no less than Dame Angela Rumbold, Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. On Friday 28 October 1994, at the height of media frenzy over Mohammed Al-Fayed's allegations against senior party figures, she suddenly resigned from Decision Makers.

Earlier in the week there had been a report in the Evening Standard alleging that Decision Makers had played a key role in the location of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link station. The decision to choose Ebbsfleet had been announced six weeks earlier. 45

Massive commercial interests were tied up in the final decision which lay between a tiny, almost unknown place in Kent, and densely populated Stratford in East London. One of the biggest potential winners was Blue Circle cement company, which owned the land where the Ebbsfleet station might be built. The site was once Europe's largest cement works but without a new development the land was almost worthless. 46

It was Blue Circle, rather than local community associations, that hired Decision Makers to try and persuade the. government to use their land. The decision was said to be worth around one billion pounds and would lead to building 40,000 new homes as well as the station. 47

The timing of Dame Angela's resignation was highly significant, as she confirmed during the Nolan Committee hearings. The Evening Standard had obtained a leaked document allegedly written by Decision Makers for Blue Circle. Marked confidential, the contents were 'astonishing'. The editor of the Evening Standard told the Nolan Committee that he had been shocked 'to see the extent of the claims' about meetings with senior Ministers and even the Prime Minister himself. The question was whether the contents of the document were true.

Lord Nolan heard evidence on 18 January 1995 from Maureen Tomison, Chairman of Decision Makers, from Dame Angela Rumbold, and from Stewart Steven, editor of the Evening Standard. This was part of his in-depth inquiry into various legitimate parliamentary activities in the context of his later report on integrity in public life. Their evidence reveals the inside story when it comes to lobbying power, or the public perception of it. What follows is extracted from the transcripts of the hearings.

As Maureen Tomison of Decision Makers confirmed, Dame Angela Rumbold had not been engaged in directly lobbying MPs or Ministers and she had acted with the utmost probity. Her role had been to provide political and governmental experience, not to exercise influence. The Decision Makers campaign had been huge. She explained that they had first campaigned over the route of the rail link.

'During our campaign for the route, we met 360 all-party Members of Parliament, including all the relevant Ministers and Shadow Ministers, with tremendous support from John Prescott and Joan Ruddock, the Labour transport team. We also wrote to every Member of Parliament three times, and I topped and tailed to each one of them with the specific paragraph about each one.

'It was a huge job but this massive weight of informed discussion eventually succeeded in overturning government thinking. In October 1991 our route was adopted and at that stage most politicians had been convinced of the merits also of locating the intermediate station at Dartford.

'At this stage Dame Angela Rumbold was still a government Minister and therefore had not worked for Decision Makers and I had not even met Blue Circle. Blue Circle asked us as late as March 1993 to work with them to conclude our task and locate the intermediate station at Ebbsfleet on the Dartford Gravesham borders. This was for a small fee and there was no success bonus. To our minds the major part of the lobbying had already been done.'

She went on to explain: 'At the height of the media controversy about sleaze, the Evening Standard published a report on 24 October 1994 based on a leaked document, dated 20 May 1993, and this had been written for our client only - and bear in mind our client understood what was going on.', She said that 'totally inaccurate conclusions [had been drawn] about a certain meeting which had led to a Kafkaesque experience in which the reputation of Dame Angela and my company was threatened by a whole series of unrelated accusations'.

Diana Warwick (part of the Committee) asked: 'Did you distinguish in seeking to influence [ministerial] decisions between official meetings, unofficial meetings, hospitality and so on?' Maureen Tomison replied: 'Yes of course. There is a huge difference between formal meetings and informal meetings. I am in the House of Commons a very large percentage of the time but I do not simply bang into a Minister and say I would like a station; that is not how it happens. I would go to a meeting with a Minister and explain the arguments about the station.

'As far as entertaining is concerned, one of the great problems is that because lobbyists do not have a registration or a real entity - they are not recognised - you actually have a difficulty in meeting people and one of the better places to meet people is actually over lunch...'
'How did you actually approach Ministers to obtain those meetings?...'
'I phoned up the Minister's Private Office, I think in almost every instance, explained . . . what it was all about, then I would send them a note which they would show to the Minister, asking for a meeting . . .' She added later: 'Everybody knew that Dame Angela worked for us; they knew that she did not ask questions; she did not intervene in debate; she did not lobby on their behalf . . .'
'Given your experience and you may have many friends in Parliament and among Ministers, is it not a little ingenuous to say that somebody in the sort of influential position that Dame Angela was, would not be providing a considerable service? If she was doing what you yourself are capable of doing so eminently, obviously, why was she on your books?'
'Well I do not have the monopoly of wisdom ... I have never been a Member of Parliament. I have not taken a Bill through Parliament.'




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