Chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog under investigation for alleged breach of transparency rules

Lord Eric Pickles
Lord Eric Pickles, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

  • The chair of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation for alleged breaches of transparency rules.
  • Eric Pickles, a Tory peer, declared he is the director of Oakworth Services, a consultancy firm.
  • House of Lords rules require peers to describe the company’s business, which Pickles did not.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The chairman of Westminster’s lobbying watchdog is under investigation over an allegation he breached transparency rules when disclosing ties to a consultancy firm he runs.

Eric Pickles, a member of the House of Lords and a former Tory minister, is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).

ACOBA is responsible for applying rules that forbid former ministers, senior civil servants and senior special advisers from lobbying after they leave the government.

Pickles, along with his wife, is a director of Oakworth Services Ltd. The firm’s entry on Companies House describes Pickles’s occupation as a “Consultant”.

Pickles’s entry on the House of Lords register of interests says only that Oakworth Services Ltd is a “consultancy”, providing no further details on its work, openDemocracy reported on Thursday.

On Friday, the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards announced that Pickles’s registration of an interest was the subject of an inquiry.

The rules of the House of Lords require peers to “give a broad indication of the company’s business, where this is not self-evident from its name”.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and former chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee told openDemocracy: “There is a problematic lack of transparency in the Lords”.

Pickles told Insider that the company had not received any income since he became chair of ACOBA.

He also said that he had given up all paid outside interests since becoming chair and that all previous clients were declared separately.

Pickles, along with the other peer on ACOBA, also gives notably less forthcoming disclosures as part of his work on the committee.

In ACOBA’s register of interests, both Pickles and Labour peer Larry Whitty, refer to their entries on the House of Lords register of interests, which deal only with their personal affairs.

Meanwhile the seven other members of ACOBA also disclose the interests of close family members, such as the jobs of their spouses and children, as well as their past paid work.

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Boris Johnson’s peerage to disgraced donor who gave the Conservatives £500,000 after the PM forced through his nomination, faces legal challenge

conservative lord peter Cruddas
Peter Cruddas

  • EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson’s nomination of disgraced Tory donor Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge.
  • The Good Law Project is challenging Johnson’s decision, saying it was unlawful.
  • Cruddas gave £500,000 to the Conservatives just days after Johnson overruled official advice not to do so.
  • “Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy,” the Good Law Project’s Jolyon Maugham tells Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boris Johnson’s decision to overrule a move to block his nomination of a disgraced Conservative Party donor to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge, Insider can reveal.

Johnson forced through the nomination of Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HoLAC).

Cruddas then handed Johnson’s party a further £500,000 just days after Johnson forced through his peerage.

Now that decision is being challenged by the Good Law Project, who have instructed the solicitors Bindmans to send a letter before claim as part of a proposal for a judicial review of Johnson’s decision to nominate Cruddas to the peerage.

Jo Maugham, a barrister and director of the Good Law Project, told Insider: “Despite the House of Lords Appointments Commission advising against it, Boris Johnson made Peter Cruddas a Lord. Just days later, Peter Cruddas donated half a million pounds to the Conservative Party. He threw his money around and now gets to shape laws that affect all of our lives.

“Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy. We can’t allow it to continue.”

In their letter, seen by Insider, the Good Law Project say that the nomination “was unlawful because of apparent bias. A fair-minded and informed observer, presented with the facts of the matter, would conclude that there was a real possibility or danger of bias in the Defendant’s decision making.

“Of particular significance in this regard is the timing of major donations by Peter Cruddas. In particular, in January 2020, one month before it became public knowledge that he was to be nominated, he made a £250,000 donation. Three days after he became a peer, he made a further £500,000 donation, the single largest donation he has made to date.”

Johnson accused of unlawfully rewarding disgraced peer

Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The Good Law Project, which has won a series of victories against the government in recent months, says that when vetting nominees, HoLAC takes into consideration “the credibility of individuals who have made significant political donations, loans or credit arrangements”.

They say the “obvious inference is that the past donations and the prospects of future donations were taken into account when [the Prime Minister] decided to grant the peerage. A decision taken in whole or in part on the basis of such a consideration is unlawful.”

Should the case go ahead, the Good Law Project “will be seeking a declaration that the decision to nominate Peter Cruddas for a peerage was unlawful.”

They will be seeking Johnson to recognize this, and then to “undertake to consider what steps should flow from that confirmation”.

Rather than challenging Johnson’s exercise of the prerogative power to grant honours, the Good Law Project say they are seeking a judicial review of his use of a power under the Life Peerages Act 1958.

Prerogative powers have recently been the subject of judicial review, including a case against Johnson’s government and his advice in 2019 to the Queen which led to the prorogation of Parliament, which was found by the UK Supreme Court to be “null and of no effect” – as if it had never happened.

The man winning legal victories against the UK government

Jolyon Maugham
Jo Maugham QC

Maugham and the Good Law Project have become a “target” for government ministers, due to their string of successful legal challenges against the UK government, the Mail on Sunday reported.

On Wednesday, legal action brought by the Good Law Project against senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove led to the High Court ruling Gove acted unlawfully in handing a £560,000 contract to the firm Public First for market research.

The High Court said there was “apparent bias” in the decision by the Cabinet Office.

Public First’s owners had both worked with Gove and Dominic Cummings, a former senior aide to both Johnson and Gove.

The advice of HoLAC has not been published, but some of their objections to Cruddas’s nominations are apparent in the letter sent by Johnson to the chair of HoLAC, Lord Bew, when he explained why he was overruling their advice and nominating Cruddas to the peerage.

While co-treasurer of the Conservative Party in March 2012, the Sunday Times published an investigation carried out by undercover reporters alleging that Cruddas had offered them access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in return for £250,000 of donations.

Cruddas resigned as co-treasurer in the wake of the story, and would go on to sue the paper successfully for libel, winning £180,000 in damages.

However, the Sunday Times appealed, with damages being reduced to £50,000, and the judges finding that the central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other politicians was accurate. The judges said Cruddas’s actions were “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

In his letter to Lord Bew, Johnson described these concerns as “historic” and stated that “an internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part”.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “All individuals are nominated in recognition of their contribution to society and their public and political service.

“Lord Cruddas has a broad range of experiences and insights across the charitable, business and political sectors which allow him to make a hugely valuable contribution to the work of the Lords.”

A spokesperson for Lord Cruddas was contacted for comment.

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A disgraced Conservative Lord whose peerage was forced through by Boris Johnson against official advice hands the party £500,000

conservative lord peter Cruddas
Conservative Party donor Peter Cruddas is sworn in to the House of Lords at a ceremony of introduction at the House of Lords, London. Picture date: Tuesday February 2, 2021

  • Disgraced Conservative Lord Peter Cruddas has donated more than £500,000 to Boris Johnson’s party after becoming a peer.
  • Cruddas resigned as party co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.
  • He was subsequently nominated for a peerage by Boris Johnson despite the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Conservative member of the House of Lords, whose peerage was forced through last year by Boris Johnson despite his role in a cash-for-access scandal, has handed the prime minister’s party half a million pounds.

Lord Peter Cruddas donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party’s central office on 5 February 2021, only three days after he was introduced into the House of Lords where he now sits as a Conservative peer, the latest Electoral Commission records show.

Cruddas was nominated to become a member of the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in December 2020, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission, an independent group that vets nominations.

The Appointments Commission was unable to support the nomination owing to concerns over allegations made following an investigation by undercover reporters from the Sunday Times after he offered them access to the then Prime Minister David Cameron in exchange for £250,000 in donations.

Following the Sunday Times’s story, Cruddas stepped down as co-treasurer of the Conservative Party. He would go on to sue the Sunday Times for libel, initially winning £180,000 in damages. The Sunday Times then appealed the judgment, with judges in the court of appeal reducing the damages to £50,000, after they ruled that the paper’s central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other senior politicians were accurate.

The judges described Cruddas’s actions as “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

A letter from Boris Johnson to Lord Bew, the chair of the Appointments Commission, published by Downing Street in December along with the announcement of Cruddas’s peerage dismissed the Commission’s refusal to support the nomination.

He described the concerns as “historic” and assured Bew “that I see this case a clear and rare exception.” Johnson’s decision to overrule the Appointments Commission was the first time their advice had been overruled.

Johnson wrote: “The most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous. In order to avoid any ongoing concern, Mr Cruddas resigned from his post, and offered an apology for any impression of impropriety, and reflecting his particular concern for integrity in public life.

“An internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part.”

Cruddas, a British businessman and philanthropist, donated a further £10,000 to the local Conservative association of Nickie Aitken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, a constituency which has voted for the Conservatives since its creation in 1950. He has given more than £3 million to the Conservatives since 2009.

Cruddas also gave £10,000 to Conservative Voice, which describes itself as “an exciting and dynamic group set up to unite all generations of the centre-Right of the party […] a place for the grassroots to make themselves heard”.

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