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7-Misc: Monsanto's lobby firm pays key MP in UK

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TITLE:  Monsanto's lobby firm pays key MP
        Chair of Commons food watchdog paid pounds 10,000 by
        advisers to GM giant
SOURCE: The Observer, by Antony Barnett
DATE:   July 4, 1999

----------------- archive: ------------------

Monsanto's lobby firm pays key MP
Chair of Commons food watchdog paid pounds 10,000 by advisers to
GM giant

The lobbying firm acting for Monsanto, the company behind
genetically modified crops, is paying thousands of pounds to the
MP in charge of the influential House of Commons committee
policing Government food policy. Peter Luff, the Tory chairman of
the Agriculture Select Committee, has been earning up to pounds
10,000 a year from Bell Pottinger - the company run by
controversial lobbyist Sir Tim Bell - which states in a letter
obtained by The Observer that it works for 'Monsanto and genetic
engineering of food'. The lobbying firm also states that it can
exploit the contacts of Cathy McGlynn - 'who previously worked
with Jack Cunningham, as his special adviser, when he was
Agriculture Minister', and David Hill, former 'chief spokesperson
for the Labour Party'. The latest revelations come exactly a year
after The Observer exposed how some lobbying firms had hired
former aides to Labour Ministers in order to get favours from the
Government for their corporate clients.

There are strict rules placed on Select Committee members,
particularly chairmen, over payment from outside groups. A member
must declare interests to other committee members, witnesses and
the public before any hearing if there could be any appearance of
a potential conflict of interest. Yet several members of the
Agriculture Select Committee contacted by The Observer had no
idea Luff had been paid by a lobbying firm, despite him declaring
his earnings in the Register of Members' Interest. Norman Baker,
Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: 'If lobbying firms are
paying MP's, particularly chairs of Select Committees, then the
rules need to be changed to outlaw this. How can the chair of the
Agriculture Select Committee be seen to be neutral in an
investigation into GM food when he is paid by a company which
services Monsanto?'

Lord Nolan's sleaze-busting report advised MPs against taking
money from lobbying firms following the cash-for-questions
scandal. Despite a number of members pushing for a full
investigation into GM foods, the agriculture committee spent just
one day on the issue and produced a scant report which came to no
'firm conclusions'.

Luff last night denied any wrongdoing and said he has never had
any contact with Monsanto. He said he had heard on the radio that
Monsanto was a client of Bell Pottinger and immediately sought
advice from the parliamentary standards commissioner, Elizabeth
Filkin. She told him he did not have to declare any further
interest. Luff, who worked for Bell's company for several years
before he was elected, fiercely defended his right to continue to
work there. He argued that it kept him in touch with the
commercial world and that as a backbench MP he wanted to keep a
channel open to resume his former career should he lose his seat.

The Select Committee has also spent much time and public money on
overseas trips investigating the state of the fishing industry.
Luff's key client at Bell Pottinger has been the Chamber of
Shipping. Two members of the Chamber of Shipping - Denholm Ship
Management and Marr Vessel Management - are part of companies
that have interests in the fishing industry. Another member is
Cefas, an agency that monitors fish stocks in British waters.
While Luff lists the Chamber of Shipping in the register of
interests he has not declared it at hearings of the Select
Committee. The parliamentary standards commissioner said: 'If
Luff is a consultant to the Chamber of Shipping and if the
Chamber has interests in the fishing industry, then if in his
judgment anyone could reasonably assume it might lead to a
conflict of interest he should declare it.'

Luff says his work for the chamber has nothing to do with
fishing. He also says he was unaware that any members of the
chamber had interests in the industry. He said: 'At all times I
have been utterly scrupulous in taking advice from the
Commissioner of Standards over what is the proper and right thing
for me to do. And at all times I followed that advice.'

The Observer has also learnt that Bell Pottinger is boasting to
potential clients that it can offer special 'access' to
newspapers and TV stations owned by Rupert Murdoch such as the
Sunday Times, the Times and the Sun. In a leaked page from a
document Bell Pottinger gave to the Meat and Livestock Commission
in an attempt to win a lucrative media and lobbying contract, the
firm boasts: 'Clients include News International and BSKyB which
gives us particular knowledge of some of the key people and how
best to access them.'

Bell Pottinger also pays pounds 10,000 a year to Labour MP Stuart
Bell for 'parliamentary services'. Bell, the member for
Middlesbrough, refused to discuss what services he provides. Once
tipped for a ministerial job in the Department of Trade and
Industry, he is currently the Government's representative on the
Church Commissioners. Bell Pottinger has refused to join the
APPC, the trade body attempting to improve the image of
lobbyists. Members are forbidden to pay serving politicians, a
practice which is illegal in the US. Bell denied the firm was
acting improperly. 'Peter Luff is a long-time friend and
colleague. He is a man of utmost integrity as is Stuart Bell.
There is nothing secret or sinister about these arrangements . .
. all they do is give us advice on various areas of activity
where we consider them qualified experts and where we think it is
in our interests to pay them fees for that advice.'

The Neill Committee on standards in public life is currently
investigating the role of lobbyists and is considering calling
for statutory regulation.

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