Statement to the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards from Baroness Turner of Camden
1. My name is Muriel Turner. In 1985 I was
created Baroness Turner of Camden Until October 1996, I
was Front Bench Spokesperson on Employment for the Labour Opposition
in the House of Lords. My background is as follows. I was until
1987 Assistant General Secretary of a Trade Union (ASTMS now
MSF). I was for eight years a member of the General Council of
the Trades Union Congress. For six years I was a member of the
Council of the Equal Opportunities Commission and of the Occupational
Pensions Board for 17 years. I am currently Chair of the PIA
Ombudsman Council and a member of the Occupational Pensions Advisory
Service Council. I am a member of the Council of the Industrial
Society. I am a lay member of the Professional Standards Committee
of the General Council of the Bar.
2. In 1991, I became a non-exective director
of IGA Ltd. I had known Mr Ian Greer, its Chairman, for some
years during the period that I was a union official. I was aware
that IGA was a lobbying/public relations company. I was interested
in taking the appointment, but before doing so I thought that
in view of the nature of the enterprise I should seek the advice
of the Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton.
I therefore did so; however, he saw no reason why I should not
take up the appointment. IGA was well known as was its Chairman
and the reputation of both was good.
3. I should perhaps explain that since becoming
a Parliamentarian I had had experience of lobbying in the sense
of being on the receiving end. Not only did I not object to it
- I felt that in many cases it was helpful. It is the job of
the lobbyist to represent the interest of charities, companies,
organisations etc., who may be affected by legislative decisions
and whose voices might not otherwise be heard. In order to do
this effectively, he/she must seek to brief and keep briefed
those Parliamentarians who display an interest in receiving this
information. All lobbying firms do this - indeed their publicity
makes claims as to the nature of such contacts and their ability
to "influence" legislation.
4. At the time I became a non-executive director
of IGA it was extremely successful, so much so that it became
possible to divide the company and to establish separate companies
for European and international work.
5. However, in late 1993, problems began.
The press commenced a campaign against "sleaze" in politics
which eventually culminated in the establishment of a Commission
under Lord Nolan and his subsequent recommendations. Lobbying
firms in particular came under scrutiny, it being felt in some
sections of the press that they had too much influence. IGA participated
in the founding of the Association of Professional Political
Consultants (APPC) which was established in response to requests
from the Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests that
the lobbying profession should establish a self-regulatory system.
6. After a time, the media interest in all lobbying
firms diminished - with the exception of IGA. The Guardian
newspaper continued to focus particularly on IGA. In mid-1994,
the Board received a report from its Chairman of a "sting"
operation which had been set up to try to get him and the Company
incriminated in dubious dealing. Two so-called businessmen had
invited IGA to make a presentation. Mr Greer and a colleague
went to a flat in London (in a block which later turned out to
belong to Mr Al-Fayed). The interview was taped. At the interview,
Mr Greer and his colleague insisted that the source of the funding
of the two "businessmen" would have to be revealed.
It had apparently been intended that the taped interview would
be part of a "Cook Report" television programme, but
it did not go out, presumably because it was not felt to be enough
of an "exposure".
7. Nothing daunted, however, The Guardian's
Parliamentary correspondent began to put about the story that
there had been "suppression" of this vital "evidence"
and a number of MPs in the Commons put down an Early Day Motion
in protest. It made no progress, but it all helped to create the
impression of a firm of doubtful probity.
8. At around the same time, an article appeared
in The Guardian stating that I had been "lobbying"
for IGA on House of Lords notepaper and this had caused a "row"
in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The story was wrong, but The
Guardian refused to publish a letter from me. Eventually,
following a reference to the Press Complaints Commission - and
a number of weeks later - The Guardian agreed to publish
9. In October 1994 The Guardian published
the allegation against IGA that it had acted as a conduit for
funds used to "bribe" Parliamentarians - in particular
Mr Neil Hamilton MP. The allegation emanated from Mr Mohamed
Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. Apparently Mr Al-Fayed, who at
one time did have a contract with IGA in 1987-8 claimed to have
paid sums of money via IGA to get Mr Hamilton to ask Questions
in Parliament on his behalf. Other allegations were made with
regard to Mr Hamilton, but the "cash for questions"
issue is the one directly involving IGA.
10. The Board of Directors had made no such
arrangement. It questioned Mr Greer, who strongly denied the
allegation - and indeed continues to do so to this day. The campaign
conducted by The Guardian - which constantly concentrated
on IGA - was harmful to the company's business. It was decided
to sue for libel. I supported the decision. I went immediately
to see my Leader in the Lords and the Chief Whip. I told them
that it was not the policy of IGA to pay cash for questions and
never had been. For that reason it had been decided to sue. I
assured them that if it did transpire that money had been paid
for Questions to be asked in the Commons, as alleged in The
Guardian, I would sever my relations with the Company. I did
not however think this would be necessary because I felt sure
that the stories were untrue. Both thanked me for having told
them and asked to be kept informed. This I continued to do.
11. When the Writ was issued, things began to
calm down. Business was still badly affected, however, and the
Company had to make some staff redundant. I decided to discontinue
accepting a fee then, since I did not want to do so while we
were having to dismiss staff.
12. Mr Hamilton also decided to sue in regard
to the stories about him in The Guardian. The decisions
were taken separately, but a Judge decided that the cases had
to be consolidated. When eventually they came before the Courts,
The Guardian's plea was accepted that the Bill of Rights
meant that they could not be heard because it would have meant
encroaching on Parliamentary privilege. When the Defamation Bill
was before both Houses, however, an amendment was accepted which
allowed the cases to proceed.
13. They were due to be heard early in October
1996, at the time of the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool.
When I got to my hotel in Blackpool on the Sunday evening, I learned
from television news - much to my consternation, that the cases
had been dropped.
I immediately contacted IGA to ascertain what
14. I was informed that fresh allegations had
been made on the previous day (Saturday) which were "bizarre"
and included unpleasant allegations about Ian Greer's private
life, as well as some quite new allegations about the acceptance
by Mr Hamilton of brown paper envelopes containing £50 notes
from Mr Al-Fayed's staff.
The charges were denied, but the lawyers indicated
that it would be necessary to apply for an adjournment to deal
with the new allegations, involving more legal work and a further
£80,000 "up front". The case had already cost
IGA around £200,000 which the Company was having difficulty
in meeting because of loss of business. It was therefore decided
to cut losses and to try to get out as easily as possible. This
in no way meant that the allegations were accepted as true -
indeed both Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer continue vigorously to deny
15. However, the news caused the media present
in large numbers at Conference to become absolutely frenzied.
The assumption was that the withdrawal of the actions meant that
the charges were true. A determined attempt was made by The
Guardian in particular to "demonise" IGA and anyone
remotely connected with it. Stories giving a distorted account
of IGA's activities were printed. One in particular was headed
"24 MP's had IGA cash". In the atmosphere generated
it looked as though they had received personal bribes. In fact,
all that had happened was that small amounts of money had been
paid at General Election times to the election funds of a number
of MP's. The MP's often did not even know that it had been paid,
since it would have been handled by their constituency parties
or their agents. It has been the custom for many years for organisations,
companies, unions and so on to make payments to election funds
of MP's with whom there were connections - sometimes personal
friendships. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this - indeed
some newspapers were honest enough to say so. Not The Guardian,
16. Included in the MP's so named was Mr Doug
Hoyle MP - Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a long-time
friend of Ian Greer - and also of mine. He was deeply distressed
by the report.
Other stories were printed - which had nothing
to do with the "cash for questions" issue. They were
distorted versions of the way in which all lobbyists go about
17. Of course, it is true that IGA had "relations"
with a number of Parliamentarians. It was customary to hold receptions
and to invite a number of MP's. Briefings were held, in advance
of the 1992 General Election to which clients were invited, when
members of Labour's Shadow Cabinet could talk about what a future
Labour Government would do. I was instrumental in arranging some
of these briefings and it never occurred to me that there was
anything remotely wrong with this kind of activity. However, such
was the press campaign that any function arranged by IGA automatically
18. On the Thursday morning of the Conference,
the newspapers were carrying the story that I was involved. The
Daily Telegraph carried a photograph of me under the heading
of "Labour Peer is on IGA Payroll". After that, I had
no peace from journalists. I was approached by Jon Snow and persuaded
by him to give a short interview. I was reluctant to do so, but
he seemed friendly and said it would not be a "hostile"
interview. In front of the cameras, his attitude changed and
I was asked a series of questions all based on the assumption
that The Guardian stories were true.
19. When I asked why IGA, of all lobbying companies,
was being singled out, he said as if it were a proven fact "Yours
is the only company that pays cash for questions." I denied
it and said I believed Ian Greer when he said he had not done
so and would continue to support him until the allegations were
proven to be true. I said there should be an inquiry. I did not
believe what I read in the press. I was asked whether I thought
my position was compatible with my being a Front Bench Spokesperson
in the Lords for the Labour Party and I said that since I had
done nothing wrong, I saw no problem.
20. When I returned to my hotel room that
afternoon I received a telephone call from the Party Leader's
office telling me to stay there for the next 45 minutes. During
that time Lord Richard, the Labour Leader in the Lords, telephoned
me. I told him about the interview which he had not then seen.
He said that in all the circumstances it would be better if I
stood down from the Front Bench - at least until it had all blown
over. If I resigned, the Party would make a statement to the
effect that there was no suggestion that I had acted improperly
in my capacity as an IGA director, but that in present circumstances
it would be better if I stood down. With some reluctance, I agreed
and the Labour Press Office did issue such a statement.
21. I was then advised by the Party Press Office
to stay in my room to avoid the hordes of waiting journalists.
Lord Richard advised me to make no statement to the press.
I got up early next morning (I had been intending
to leave Blackpool on Friday morning anyway). I managed to avoid
the journalists at the Station, but was not so lucky at Euston.
However, I was accompanied by two members of IGA staff who had
been in Blackpool. They protected me to some extent as I was mobbed
by journalists. I decided not to go home and went instead to
IGA offices in Catherine Place, where more of them seemed to
have taken up permanent residence outside. After a few hours,
when some had gone, I ventured outside. A number of them were
still there - shouting at me "If you've done nothing wrong
why did you have to resign?" I felt I was being hounded
by them. IGA's driver managed to shake them off and I ultimately
reached home. When the stories appeared they were awful - "Disgraced
Peeress slinks out of Blackpool" was one - and there were
others in the same strain.
22. In accordance with the advice I received
I have made no statements to the press. I turned down an offer
from the programme Panorama. Lord Richard's view - and I think
it was right - was that any interview would simply prolong the
story. However, press interest continued for a while. The PIA
issued a statement which was supportive, since journalists asked
whether they intended to retain my services because of what had
happened. They confirmed that they would do so.
23. Somewhat to my surprise, I received a very
large mail. Almost all of it was supportive. It appears that
many people think it honourable to refuse to join in general condemnation
of someone when there has been no independent scrutiny of the
allegations against him. In other words, many people firmly hold
to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty".
That is still my position. I am, however, convinced
that there has been a campaign by a particular newspaper to destroy
one individual and the company he created - and also to make it
as difficult as possible for anyone who refuses to join in the
I do not know the reason for this, but I am
not alone in thinking that there has been such a campaign and
that it goes beyond normal investigative journalism.
24. This view has also been voiced by Mr
Matthew Parris - The Times Parliamentary Correspondent
- in the Spectator. The consequence of this has been that
the firm has gone out of business and innocent people have been
I deeply resent that this has occurred. I resent
it - not because of my own financial interest - which has ceased
to exist and in any case was fairly small - but because it is
unjust and unfair. The firm has acted in no way differently from
its rivals in the same industry. If anything, it has been rather
more ethical. For example, it turned down a public relations
contract for the Libyan Government, which one of its main rivals
immediately accepted. It was a founder member of the APPC. It
has consistently argued that the industry should be regulated.
25. I believe that there should be a system
of regulation which could involve licensing so that a firm would
not be able to operate if it breached the Code. The Guardian's
campaign, however, has been quite disgraceful - a travesty of
what good investigative journalism should be. Unfortunately, libel
action is prohibitively costly.
If, however, the present inquiry results in
a system of regulation so that everyone knows what is and what
is not acceptable, that will be a great advance.
25 November 1996