UK Politics

MoD to investigate military lobbying claim

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Media captionAdm Sir Trevor Soar: "I have to be slightly careful of lobbying ministers" - footage from Sunday Times

Retired senior military officers could see their access to ministers and officials "shut down" if the system is found to have been abused, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

His comments come after several retired military leaders were secretly filmed by the Sunday Times offering to influence MPs on behalf of arms firms.

Ex-MoD official Sir Richard Mottram said he "can't be certain" that retired personnel have no say on procurement.

All the men involved denied wrongdoing.

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

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.

'Ignore it'

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

They alleged 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.

Sir John - president of the Royal British Legion - 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 said.

The Legion has launched an investigation into the Sunday Times allegations, the findings of which will be reported to the charity's trustees "for any necessary action".

In another video, former naval fleet commander Adm Sir Trevor Soar is shown saying he had "to be slightly careful of lobbying ministers" but said a way to get around the criteria was "basically [to] 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.

All four have denied any wrongdoing, and in a statement Lord Dannatt said he had "no inclination" to undertake any lobbying that would contravene the rules.

Mr Hammond told the BBC's Andrew Marr show the "revelations were deeply damaging to the individuals concerned and their reputations".

"There is no way that retired officers influence the way military equipment is procured. I'm satisfied that the system we have is completely robust.

"But there is an issue, firstly about whether any rules have been broken and clearly at least one, possibly more of the individuals named in the Sunday Times piece were still under the terms of the two-year restriction that applies after they have left the service," Mr Hammond said.

'Full disclosure'

The defence secretary went on to say that, despite "many reasons" for allowing the MoD to "maintain contact" with retired officers, the level of access should be investigated.

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Media captionPhilip Hammond: "No way retired officers influence the way military equipment is procured"

He added: "If they're abusing that access for commercial purposes, then we will have to tighten it up or maybe even shut it down. So that's something we will now look at."

Sir Richard Mottram, a former permanent secretary at the MoD, told BBC News that purchasing decisions were in the hands of serving service personnel, and there were often "close links" between them and retired staff.

He added that lobbyists' influence over procurement "was an issue when I was there", and said it could be combated by greater transparency between the two sides.

Shadow secretary of defence, Labour MP Jim Murphy, tweeted: "We need full disclosure on every detail and every meeting between those in Sunday Times video and those still serving in the MoD".

He later added in a statement: "Britain has a global reputation in defence procurement and it is essential that it is maintained.

"There has to be total clarity that not a single penny piece of defence spending has been influenced by this type of rule breaking lobbying."

Lord Stirrup, the former chief of the Defence Staff, said he was also secretly filmed by the newspaper about his contacts with ministers and the MoD.

He told Sky News he advised the undercover reporters there was a "very carefully protected process" for negotiating contracts with the MoD, and that lobbying ministers would not be an effective way to win business.

He also defended his interest in the approach from the journalists, saying it would be "strange" for a military man not to be interested in technology which could save the lives of British soldiers.

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