Scotland Yard is under pressure to launch a ‘cash for honours’ probe after it was revealed yesterday that more than a dozen major Tory donors have been given peerages.
Opposition MPs called on the Metropolitan Police to investigate allegations that all former Conservative treasurers in recent decades – apart from the most recent – have been offered seats in the House of Lords after donating millions to the party.
One former Tory chairman is said to have claimed: ‘Once you pay your £3million, you get your peerage.’
It is a crime to buy or sell an honour. Previous allegations about peers who had made large loans to Labour led to several arrests, although no charges were brought.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said last night: ‘It’s beyond all doubt that the honours system has been abused by the Tories. The Metropolitan Police should launch a fresh cash for honours investigation.’
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner (pictured) is among those who have accused the Conservative Party of corruption while the SNP’s Peter Wishart (left) has said the Metropolitan Police should launch a fresh cash for honours investigation
Electoral Commission figures analysed by The Sunday Times and Open Democracy found all those who had recently served as Tory treasurer had donated millions of pounds to the party and individual MPs. Pictured: Boris Johnson and Priti Patel
And Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the allegations show that ‘Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is corrupt, dodgy, sleazy and on the take’.
Prominent barrister Jolyon Maugham QC asked: ‘Why are the police not investigating this? Why is Boris Johnson above the law?’
Electoral Commission figures analysed by The Sunday Times and Open Democracy found all those who had recently served as Tory treasurer had donated millions of pounds to the party and individual MPs. And all but one of the 16 most recent treasurers have been offered peerages.
The research also showed that the last six treasurers-turned-peers gave far less money once they were elevated to Parliament.
The probe suggests treasurers are rewarded if they donate more than £3m. Pictured: Lord Lupton (L) and Lord Spencer (R)
Pictured: Lord Fraser (left) and Lord Cruddas (right) are among the lords embroiled in the cash for honours scandal
And they have rarely made speeches in the Lords despite claims that they deserved their places because of their expertise.
The former treasurers who donated millions and were given peerages include Lord Lupton, Lord Fraser, Lord Cruddas and Lord Spencer.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday that they were given a seat in the House of Lords due to their ‘expertise’.
Lord Lupton declined to comment and Lord Cruddas did not respond.
Lord Spencer’s lawyers said that the allegations were not true.
New storm over Paterson: Ex-MP can keep his Commons pass as ministers are told ‘You still don’t get it’
BY JOHN STEVENS, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Disgraced Owen Paterson will be entitled to a parliamentary pass so he can continue roaming the corridors of power even though he is no longer an MP.
Anger over the Westminster sleaze row grew yesterday as ministers faced furious claims that they ‘still don’t get it’ after trying to dismiss the scandal as a ‘storm in a teacup’.
In an emergency three-hour Commons debate today, MPs will ramp up pressure on Boris Johnson to rule out a peerage for Mr Paterson and to launch an investigation into £600million of Covid contracts awarded to one of the firms he worked for.
It is thought Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle could announce a review of standards later today.
And the Commons standards committee said it could conclude its own inquiry into the disciplinary process and MPs’ second jobs within the next four weeks.
Mr Paterson stepped down as an MP last week after ministers were forced to abandon efforts to save him. In a humiliating U-turn, Mr Johnson dropped a bid to prevent Mr Paterson being suspended from Parliament for lobbying on behalf of two firms which paid him more than £500,000.
He resigned hours later, saying he wanted to leave behind the ‘cruel world of politics’.
MANDARIN’S ‘UNFAIR’ EDGE IN NEW ROLE
The former mandarin in charge of the UK’s net zero strategy may have an ‘unfair advantage’ in his new private job advising major companies on the topic, a watchdog has warned.
It ordered Julian Critchlow to wait six months between leaving the civil service and starting as a senior adviser with consultancy Bain & Co.
The ruling was from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which monitors the revolving door between Whitehall and big business.
It has set out conditions for his new role, such as limiting the subjects he can advise on.
The committee warned: ‘He seeks to advise Bain on the matters he had responsibility for in office. There is a risk his access to information while in government could offer an unfair advantage to Bain.’
Mr Critchlow spent 30 years working for Bain before moving to the business department in 2018. But in March, he left and applied to the committee to return to his former employer.
But it has emerged Mr Paterson, a former Cabinet minister, will be able to retain access to the Commons as he is entitled to apply for a so-called ‘category X’ pass for former parliamentarians.
Some 283 ex-MPs possess the cards which give them continued entry, including to Parliament’s restaurants and bars, without being required to register their financial interests as sitting MPs and peers must. But they are barred from lobbying under Commons rules.
Current passholders include Sir Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary who is deputy chairman of an oil firm, Michael Dugher, a former Labour MP who is chief executive of the gambling industry body the Betting and Gaming Council, and Sir Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister who works at Facebook.
It comes as Mr Johnson faced fresh anger from Tory MPs last night after Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed on Sky News that the row over Mr Paterson was a ‘storm in a teacup’.
The minister’s comments were branded ‘unhelpful’ and ‘complete nonsense’ in a sign of the anger on the Conservative Party benches. Tory former minister Tobias Ellwood also underlined how serious the row was, telling the BBC: ‘We should not deny that this was a dark week for British democracy.’
And Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘Even after this past week Boris Johnson and his ministers still don’t get it.
‘They are so out of touch they still don’t think they’ve done anything wrong and they still think the rules don’t apply to them.’
Ahead of today’s Commons debate, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last night called on Mr Johnson to ‘answer, apologise and act’ over the scandal – and to confirm that Mr Paterson won’t be given a peerage.
He will also call for Mr Johnson to ‘commit to a full, transparent investigation into the more than £600million of taxpayer money handed without competition or tender to Randox’, one of the firms Mr Paterson worked for.
A Downing Street source last night said a peerage was ‘not on the cards’ for Mr Paterson, after Mr Eustice earlier insisted it was ‘highly unlikely’.
And a close friend of Mr Paterson said last night a peerage had not been ‘mentioned, offered or sought’. They insisted that he did not plan to apply for a Commons pass.
Tory peer in £90m Covid deals affair changes his story…again
EXCLUSIVE BY DAVID ROSE FOR THE DAILY MAIL
A former health minister has admitted he deleted text and WhatsApp messages about Covid testing contracts from his phone because he wrongly believed there would be back-up copies.
Lord Bethell also said three apparently contradictory explanations he gave to government lawyers as to why the messages could not be produced were all mistaken because they related to a phone he stopped using before the pandemic began.
He set out the account in a witness statement for a High Court hearing over a legal challenge relating to deals for Covid tests worth £87.5million.
Lord Bethell, who was sacked in last month’s reshuffle, is said to have used his private email address thousands of times in relation to official business.
Last night he said he had done nothing wrong and insisted that using ‘modern technology’ to try to save lives was ‘appropriate’.
Lord Bethell’s use of his personal phone and private email has emerged as a result of a judicial review brought by the Good Law Project.
Former health minister Lord Bethell (pictured in Parliament) has admitted he deleted text and WhatsApp messages about Covid testing contracts from his phone because he wrongly believed there would be back-up copies in his latest explanation
WHITEHALL ‘MUST END JOBS FOR THE BOYS’
Mandarins must be banned from giving top Whitehall jobs to their personal favourites, a think-tank report backed by ministers urges today.
The Centre for Policy Studies calls for major reforms to open up the ‘closed shop’ of senior civil service appointments.
Many posts are not advertised to outsiders and important changes demanded more than 150 years ago have still not been implemented, it warns.
The study says the scandal over David Cameron’s banker boss Lex Greensill – who was given a Downing Street pass and a CBE by the head of the civil service at the time – raised serious questions about the power of ‘personal patronage’.
Last night Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay promised to study the report ‘carefully’.
He said: ‘We must ensure that all civil service appointments are on merit and ensure that we attract the best outside talent.’
In a foreword to the think-tank paper, former Treasury mandarin Lord Macpherson says the role of officials demands more scrutiny and ‘self-regulation has failed’. He added that tougher powers are needed to safeguard against conflicts of interest.
The paper points out the principle of civil servants being chosen on the basis of open competition and merit was established by the landmark Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854.
But its recommendation that internal promotions should be regulated by law has never been implemented.
It is challenging a series of contracts to devise, make and supply antibody tests, signed in April 2020 between the Department of Health and Social Care and a consortium led by York-based Abingdon Health.
The firm, which had recorded losses of £1.5million the previous year, received at least £19million of public money. But, as the Daily Mail revealed in February, the main contract was cancelled because the tests were not accurate enough.
Official guidance says ministers should use Whitehall systems to conduct government business, and if they do not, should ensure they copy private emails and other communications to departmental computers so a full record is preserved.
The use of private emails to conduct official business is being investigated by information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.
The controversy over Lord Bethell’s phone emerged in August, when letters from the Government’s legal department said that after he confirmed he had sent the texts and messages relating to the deal from his phone, he first said he could not produce them because the handset had been ‘lost’.
A few days later, Lord Bethell said instead his phone was ‘broken’ or ‘defective’. Finally, in a meeting with the lawyers, he said that too was wrong, and he had given the phone to a member of his family.
But now his signed witness statement says he realises that he bought a new phone in November 2019, which he still uses.
The explanations he gave earlier related to his old one, which had a cracked screen and a defective battery, and had been used by a family member.
His explanation as to why text and WhatsApp messages relating to government business have been lost is complicated.
His statement says his phone became ‘overloaded with data’, and so he often cleared messages to free up storage space.
Lord Bethell says: ‘I had activated the “back-up” function on WhatsApp. I assumed that it had a robust archive and back-up system. However, I am informed that this may not be the case and that not all of my WhatsApp messages will necessarily be stored.’
It comes after it emerged that scandal-hit Owen Paterson (pictured right), who was forced to stand down as a Tory MP last week, had contact with Lord Bethell at the start of the pandemic
The former minister’s statement says the problem was exacerbated by having two phones, his personal and a government one, and transferring messages between them.
He said after discussing this with government IT experts ‘I now understand that this may mean that not all of my WhatsApp messages will necessarily have been backed up. It may also be possible that messages have been lost and threads broken when swapping my WhatsApp between phones’.
Some of these messages, the statement says, involved former health secretary Matt Hancock and Sir John Bell, who put the Abingdon test consortium together.
It adds that he ‘cannot recall for certain’ whether any concerned the antibody home testing contracts.
It comes after it emerged that scandal-hit Owen Paterson, who was forced to stand down as a Tory MP last week, had contact with Lord Bethell at the start of the pandemic.
Mr Paterson was party to a call with Lord Bethell and health firm Randox in April last year, shortly after the company won its first contract to provide Covid tests.
Government sources said at the time it was merely a ‘courtesy call’. Last autumn Randox was awarded a £347million contract for Covid testing services.
A recent sleaze inquiry looking at Mr Paterson’s paid consultancy work for Randox did not consider this contact with Lord Bethell.
Jolyon Maugham QC, the Good Law Project’s director, said: ‘I make no allegations about what was or wasn’t on Lord Bethell’s phone.
‘But what I do know is that if there is incriminating evidence on private channels ministers have every reason – and because they are private channels every opportunity – to destroy it. Given the size of the spend on PPE and test and trace – almost £50billion – that is very worrying indeed.’
Lord Bethell said: ‘The Good Law Project’s opposition to the use of modern communications to collaborate on the national response to a global emergency of unprecedented proportions is utterly baffling.
‘It’s appropriate for modern technology to be used in government, underlining the importance of using all tools at your disposal.’
The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.
Searches carried out by government lawyers suggest that Lord Bethell exchanged between 8,400 and 33,000 emails relating to Covid deals from his private account.
The 54-year-old peer, who is a married father of four, managed the Ministry of Sound nightclub before founding a PR firm.
He donated £5,000 to Mr Hancock’s leadership bid in 2019 and became a health minister nine months later. He also sponsored a parliamentary pass for Gina Coladangelo, the aide who had an affair with Mr Hancock.
He was sacked in September amid the row over his use of the private email account to discuss Covid contracts.
Senior Tory facing calls to quit after bid to save shamed MP: Bernard Jenkin is under pressure to resign as Commons liaison committee chairman for trying to get Owen Paterson off the hook over lobbying scandal, writes SIMON WALTERS
BY SIMON WALTERS FOR THE DAILY MAIL
A Tory grandee faces the threat of the sack for trying to get Owen Paterson off the hook for breaking lobbying rules.
Bernard Jenkin is under pressure from fellow senior Conservatives to resign as paid chairman of the Commons liaison committee.
He is accused of being a ‘stooge’ for Boris Johnson, who ordered the botched attempt to save Mr Paterson.
Bernard Jenkin is under pressure from senior Conservatives to resign as paid chairman of the Commons liaison committee
Sir Bernard’s Tory foes claim he ‘betrayed his duty’ to protect all Commons committees, including the standards committee, which proposed that the former minister should be suspended from parliament for 30 days.
The move to fire Sir Bernard, the MP for Harwich and North Essex, emerged after his wife, Baroness Jenkin, became embroiled in the Paterson scandal.
It emerged yesterday that she exchanged emails with Mr Paterson’s wife, Rose, hours before her suicide last year. Mrs Paterson reportedly wrote: ‘Sometimes I just feel like I should go into the garden and never come back.’
Baroness Jenkin’s email referred to an obscure blog linking Mrs Paterson to Randox, the company at the centre of her husband’s lobbying controversy.
Mr Paterson is understood to have said he believed the email ‘pushed Rose over the edge’. The revolt against Sir Bernard comes from the chairmen of 35 Commons committees, who make up the membership of the liaison committee, which in turn oversees the rest.
He is paid £15,000 a year on top of his £81,000 MP’s salary to run the group.
Sir Bernard’s Tory foes claim he ‘betrayed his duty’ to protect all Commons committees, including the standards committee, which proposed that the former minister Owen Paterson (pictured above) should be suspended from parliament for 30 days
Several fellow members are furious at Sir Bernard’s prominent part in the vote to sabotage the decision by the standards committee to punish Mr Paterson.
There is particular anger over the fact that it came after Sir Bernard, who also sits on the standards committee, ‘recused’ himself from its sleaze inquiry into Mr Paterson on the grounds that they are friends.
The Daily Mail has learned that liaison committee members who want Sir Bernard to step down include Simon Hoare, who heads the Commons Northern Ireland committee.
The Dorset North MP, one of 13 Tories who voted against last week’s Commons bid by Mr Johnson to reprieve Mr Paterson, has told friends he is ‘appalled’ by Sir Bernard’s behaviour.
The move to fire Sir Bernard, the MP for Harwich and North Essex, emerged after his wife, Baroness Jenkin (pictured together), became embroiled in the Paterson scandal
Mr Hoare told the Mail: ‘It is not unreasonable to expect the chairman to protect other parliamentary committees.’
Karen Bradley, another liaison committee member and former minister, has privately questioned Sir Bernard’s fitness to be chairman.
Sir Bernard is also accused of trying to ‘neuter’ the liaison committee’s role of scrutinising the Prime Minister in his regular appearances before the panel.
This newspaper has been told he angered its members at a private meeting by saying they should give in to a demand by Mr Johnson to have advance notice of their questions.
‘It was an outrageous suggestion,’ said a member of the committee. ‘Our job is to hold the PM to account – Bernard wants to turn it into a cheerleading group.
‘We were forced to accept him as chairman by Downing Street because they thought he would be soft on Boris. He has not disappointed them but it cannot go on. It is an abuse of Parliament.’
Sir Bernard, the son of Patrick Jenkin, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, and his well-connected wife Anne make up one of the most influential Tory power couples.
Sir Bernard said last night: ‘No one has raised any concerns with me. I always try to act in the best interests of the committee.’