Straw and Rifkind deny ‘cash for access’ wrongdoing
23 February 2015
Former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind say they have broken no rules after being secretly filmed apparently offering their services to a private company for cash.
Reporters for the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches posed as staff of a fake Chinese firm.
Mr Straw said he had fallen into a “very skilful trap” while Sir Malcolm said his comments had been “silly”.
The MPs have referred themselves to Parliament’s standards watchdog.
It is claimed that Mr Straw was recorded describing how he operated “under the radar” and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.
On the subject of payment, Mr Straw is heard saying: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge.”
Sir Malcolm is reported to have claimed he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.
The Conservative MP for Kensington and chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee was recorded saying: “I am self-employed – so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income.”
He said his usual fee for half a day’s work was “somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000”.
The Palace of Westminster
By Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent
Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have both referred themselves to Parliament’s commissioner for standards. A full investigation could take months.
But there the similarities end.
Mr Straw has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party at his own request. Ed Miliband is unlikely to feel much sympathy for the retiring MP.
Sir Malcolm is not facing any suspension.
He told me the allegations had no bearing on his very significant role as chairman of the parliamentary committee that oversees the work of MI5 and MI6.
Downing Street has not offered any view on that. A source said it is for the Commons and other members of that committee to decide.
Both men defended themselves on appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning.
Sir Malcolm said he had “nothing to be embarrassed about”. He said the allegations were “unfounded” and he vowed to fight them “with all my strength”.
He said he had never accepted an offer from the fake firm, saying it was a “preliminary” discussion “about what they had mind”.
Sir Malcolm is paid £67,000 a year and he said telling the company he was not paid a salary was a “silly thing to say”.
“Of course I receive a salary as a Member of Parliament but I was referring to my business interests, from none of which I receive a salary. I receive payment for services I provide,” he said.
About 200 MPs have business interests, he said, and everything he earns is detailed in the Register of Members’ Interests.
Sir Malcolm is due to meet the Conservative chief whip later on Monday. He said he would not stand down as security committee chairman, unless his committee colleagues wanted him to.
“One’s got nothing to do with the other,” he said. “None of the matters are remotely to do with intelligence or security.”
He said he had a letter from Channel 4, accepting he had not offered access to any privileged or secret information.
Mr Straw has suspended himself from the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the party said it was aware of the “disturbing allegations” against him.
The Blackburn MP, who had already announced his intention to stand down in May, said he was “mortified” that he had fallen into the reporters’ “trap” but that he had said nothing “improper”.
He told Today the language he used had been “not necessarily wrong but could be taken out of context”.
During his 36 years as an MP he had been “absolutely scrupulous” about observing the rules, he said, adding that the entire discussion had been around what he would do after leaving Parliament.
He acknowledged he should have postponed the conversation until after 7 May.
Earlier, Mr Straw said he had taken on one consultancy role since his ministerial career ended in 2010, with commodity suppliers, ED&F Man (Holdings) Ltd, saying it was done in accordance with the MPs’ Code of Conduct.
Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw both said they had requested copies of the recording transcripts, but that Channel 4 and the Telegraph had not provided them.
The undercover reporters had created a fictitious communications agency called PMR, which they said was based in Hong Kong.
A statement on Channel 4’s website said 12 MPs with “significant outside interests” were invited to apply for jobs with PMR, which had “plenty of money” and wanted to hire “influential British politicians to join its advisory board”.
“Not all politicians are for hire,” the statement added.
“Half of those approached didn’t respond. One said he wanted to check us out in Hong Kong so we took it no further. And another said he just wasn’t that interested. Of the others, two stood out – Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw.”
The documentary, called Politicians for Hire, will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 20:00 GMT.
Q. What do Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind have in common?
A. They are both former foreign secretaries.
This is just the latest example of MPs appearing to be too ready to make a trade of their profession. Even if they have neither broken any law nor breached the rules of parliament, the affair has the whiff of corruption about it.
MPs and peers, let alone Cabinet ministers, are very well remunerated for the work that they do. And as we know, they also have access to a very generous and far from stringent system of allowances and expenses. On top of that they receive gold-plated pensions on retirement which the great majority of us, their constituents, do not receive when we retire.
So they are not in the position of many of us in needing to rely upon the state pension, which they also receive.
What need, therefore, is there for them to seek to peddle their influence and contacts to foreign, or domestic, companies? Companies which may, in fact, operate partly as a front for foreign intelligence services?
Perhaps the journalists who conducted this sting operation regarded Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind as ‘easy meat’. It looks as if they may have been right.