Keir Starmer has declared that the current regulations about lobbying of government officials “obviously aren’t working” as the row involving the financial firm Greensill Capital and the Conservative Party continues.
In an interview this morning on Labour’s motion on Wednesday to introduce a parliament-led inquiry, the Labour leader told viewers that the government decision to whip against the proposal was “the wrong thing to do”.
Asked whether he can guarantee that his shadow cabinet team have declared all their meetings with business and trade union figures, he said: “We’ve got very strict rules in place for the shadow cabinet with declarations being made.
“What we’re talking about here is lobbying of government for massive procurement contracts involving millions and sometimes billions of pounds.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing a murkier and murkier picture – whether it’s the way contracts are handed out, the lack of due process or the lobbying, which is not a revolving door, it’s an open door now to government.”
Starmer told viewers that in his opinion it is “absolutely a sackable offence” not to declare meetings properly, adding: “If someone is not declaring what they’ve done, then they should be removed from office.”
His comments followed a meeting of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee this morning, which discussed lobbying amid the ongoing Greensill row with former Prime Minister David Cameron at its heart.
Lex Greensill, a businessman hired as an adviser by the then Prime Minister, employed Cameron when he left office. Cameron then lobbied on behalf of Greensill for taxpayer money and arranged access to cabinet officials and ministers.
Cameron released a statement after a Freedom of Information request last week revealed that he had repeatedly texted Rishi Sunak and that the Chancellor had replied to say he had “pushed the team” to accommodate Cameron’s wishes.
Reports also show that Matt Hancock took meetings with Greensill arranged by Cameron, and it was revealed on Tuesday that former head of procurement Bill Crothers joined the financial firm while still working as a civil servant.
Eric Pickles, head of the advisory committee on business appointments (ACOBA) tasked with considering new job applications made by former ministers, gave evidence to a cross-party parliamentary committee this morning.
ACOBA is responsible for reminding former ministers of the need to ask for advice on all applications during the first two years after their time in government, but it has no means to ensure they do so and limited investigatory powers.
“There is a misunderstanding, which I find deeply irritating,” Tory peer Pickles told the committee members this morning. “ACOBA is not a watchdog, not a regulator. It has a very limited and defined role.”
He told the committee that he has been warning of a scandal for some time but told members that “this is not where I expected it to come from”. He added: “Not for one moment did I anticipate anything like Greensill.”
"We've got lobbying rules that obviously aren't working."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for "stronger lobbying rules" following the Greensill Capital controversy, adding that lobbying is now an 'open door into government'.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 15, 2021
Starmer also commented today on the whether Covid jabs should be made mandatory for care home staff. He argued that it is possible to have higher levels of vaccination without doing so, highlighting the figures in Labour-run Wales.
He added: “We will look at what the government puts out in any consultation. But do we want people vaccinated? Yes, we do but I think the first and most important thing is to roll out the vaccination process fully.”
The Labour leader was asked for his views on reports this week that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that Covid vaccine passports would risk creating a “two-tier society” and may amount to unlawful indirect discrimination.
“I’m very worried about the discrimination that may be involved here,” he said. “There are clearly legal and ethical and practical issues with vaccine passports and that’s probably why the government is backing away from its own proposals.”
He urged the government to focus instead on rolling out the vaccine “as quickly and swiftly as possible”, and to “close the gap in the defences” by ensuring that people have the financial resources to self-isolate when told to do so.
“Statutory sick pay is too low,” Starmer told those watching this morning. “The £500 payment the government has got in place doesn’t apply to most people.”