UK Politics

Ministry of Defence to investigate Sunday Times lobbying story

The Ministry of Defence says it is to investigate claims retired military officials offered to influence MPs and civil servants on behalf of arms firms.

The offers were secretly filmed by the Sunday Times, which says they were in breach of Whitehall rules on lobbying.

Reporters posed as lobbyists for a defence manufacturer and approached four senior retired officers to ask if they would help them secure contracts.

The paper says all the officers involved have denied any wrongdoing.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, responding to the claims, told BBC News that former military officers wielded no influence on how the Ministry of Defence spent its money.

He said that all military equipment was "procured in the interests of the armed forces and not in the interests of retired personnel".

"Former military officers have no influence over what MoD contracts are awarded," he added.

On standing down, former members of the MoD have to serve a two-year period of "purdah" - when they are not allowed to work in the private sector.

The Sunday Times alleges that two retired officers - former Defence Academy head Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely and ex-MoD procurement chief Lt Gen Richard Applegate - admitted they had lobbied on multi-million pound deals while they were in purdah.

In a video, seen by BBC News, Sir John is shown saying he would be speaking to the prime minister, the defence secretary and the chief of the defence staff at a Remembrance Day event.

"You are standing there waiting for the Queen with nothing else to talk about," he is shown saying.

In another video, former naval fleet commander Adm Sir Trevor Soar is shown saying: "I have to be slightly careful of lobbying ministers.

"There's no reason I can't see them but there's again some criteria on that."

Asked if there is a way to get around the criteria, he replies: "Yeah, you just basically ignore it."

The paper also alleges that former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, said he could speak to the MoD's top civil servant, a former school friend.

In a statement, Lord Dannatt said he had "no inclination" to undertake any lobbying that would contravene the rules.

He said he listened to the ideas of the lobbyists and gave them initial advice, without being paid, because "they were purporting to be developing technologies that could save people's lives".

"I said I could facilitate conversations with people in the military - I did not offer to lobby anyone on their behalf."

The Sunday Times says the other three men have also denied any wrongdoing.

The MoD said it was investigating whether it was possible for anyone to secure "privileged access" and whether any rules had been broken.

Big issue

Curbs on commercial activities - based on government rules - are set individually for senior personnel when they leave public service by the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

A spokeswoman for the committee said it was urgently drawing the allegations to the attention of ministers, the head of the civil service and the permanent secretary at the MoD "for them to consider what action they might take".

The committee had "no role or powers to investigate or sanction individuals who do not abide by its advice", she added.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said lobbying was a big issue for the current government, as it had been for the last.

Two years ago, David Cameron said he feared lobbying would the next big scandal to taint Westminster.

The problem for all of the political classes, regardless of whether any rules had been broken, was that this kind of expose just did not look good, our correspondent added.

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