The Westminster lobbying scandal heads towards Bilderberg as Tom Watson MP challenges Cameron over Ken Clarke’s involvement in the group.
Bilderberg and lobbying
The annual Bilderberg conference is an influential high-finance and big-business lobbying event: featuring senior politicians, policymakers, corporate CEOs, billionaire industrialists and the heads of giant private equity holdings. It is an intense three-day conference, that takes place behind closed doors, with zero press oversight. It was attended in 2013 by two serving UK ministers: Kenneth Clarke and George Osborne.
Nick Clegg has called for “better regulation of the lobbying industry through a statutory register of lobbyists” and said that “greater transparency is a key part of the antidote” against the abuse of access to politicians by lobbyists. As Clegg says: Our political system has long been crying out for head-to-toe reform.” Tom Watson is one of those pushing for this reform: starting with a cleaning up of the lobbying mess that is Bilderberg.
Taking the Bilderberg conference seriously as a major international policy summit and lobbying opportunity is vital, in light of the recent lobbying scandal – and given the seniority of the politicians and executives involved. This is what Tom Watson MP is doing in writing to the Prime Minister about Kenneth Clarke MP’s involvement with the group – and the charity behind it, which has been taking substantial regular payments from BP and Goldman Sachs.
Letter from Tom Watson MP to Prime Minister David Cameron
Below is a copy of a letter sent by Tom Watson MP (West Bromwich East) to the Prime Minister, on June 11, raising questions about Kenneth Clarke’s relationship to the Bilderberg Group and the Bilderberg Association (a registered UK charity).
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
Dear Mr Cameron
Yesterday, in the House of Commons, I questioned Mr Kenneth Clarke MP regarding his trusteeship of the body that funds the Bilderberg Group Conference, the Bilderberg Association, and whether he had declared that trusteeship to his permanent secretary when he was appointed by you to the government. Mr Clarke’s reply was unconvincing as to whether he had done so, and he stated that he would have to check his records.
As you will know, under the terms of the Ministerial Code, Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their Ministerial position and their private interests, financial or otherwise. On appointment to each new office, Ministers must provide their Permanent Secretary with a list in writing of all relevant interests known to them which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. As set out in the Ministerial Code, where appropriate, the Permanent Secretary will meet the Minister to agree the handling of interests.
As a former Minister, it is my understanding that individual declarations, and a note of any action taken in respect of individual interests, are then passed to the Cabinet Office Propriety and Ethics team and the Independent Adviser on Ministers‟ Interests to confirm they are content with the action taken or to provide further advice as appropriate.
I would be grateful if you could respond to the following questions, and requests for information, in respect of Mr Clarke, as soon as possible:
– Whether he did declare his trusteeship, on what date and with which department;
– Copies of all letters between Mr Clarke, his private office and the relevant Permanent Secretary on this matter;
– Copies of all letters between the Cabinet Office Propriety and Ethics Team and the Independent Adviser on Minister’s interests on this matter;
– Copies of all internal emails, memos and correspondence regarding the Guardian article of 2nd June in which it was revealed Mr Clarke was a trustee;
– A list of the financial transactions that were conducted by the charity of which he was a trustee;
– A copy of Mr Clarke’s diary that shows when he met other trustees;
– Copies of any internal notes that show whether Mr Clarke was ever advised to relinquish any charities or trusts in guidance issued from civil servants in the departments for which he has served as a minister; and
– Copies of any written guidance given to ministers regarding their role as trustees or members of charities.
If Mr Clarke has failed to register this interest, and there are no records to show that he has sought advice on the matter, then clearly I would expect you to urgently investigate, as the Prime Minister, what may be a breach of the Ministerial Code.
The charity concerned holds hundreds of thousands of pounds in its accounts and we do not know where the source of the funding comes from. Were it to be that Mr Clarke had held meetings with funders in his capacity as a Minister, this might also constitute a breach. It is, therefore, important that that you publish a full list of funders in the interests of transparency, accountability and good government.
Thank you in advance for your assistance. I look forward to hearing from you.
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East
Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary
Mr Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office
Hansard: Official Report
10 June 2013: Column 29
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that he declared his trusteeship of the body that funds the conference to his permanent secretary when he was appointed by the Prime Minister?
Mr Clarke: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I am looking that up, because I had forgotten. Actually, I am a member of the steering committee. When we were hosting at Watford, I discovered that I am, among other things, a trustee of the British steering group, so I am checking, with the aid of my constituency office, whether I ever put that in. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I had completely forgotten that it was set up on that basis, long before the rules were established. The trustees have never met as trustees. All I actually do is sit as a member of a committee and play my part in helping with the organisation of a meeting, and that is all I have ever done.