TWO peers who were accused of using their influence within the Ministry of Defence to lobby on behalf of commercial interests have been cleared of breaching the House of Lords Code of Conduct.
The independent Lord Commissioner for Standards launched an inquiry into the conduct of former head of the army, Lord Dannatt, and former chief of the defence staff, Lord Stirrup, after claims they had boasted about lobbying top officials to secure contracts for private firms, in breach of Whitehall rules.
Paul Kernaghan’s report dismissed the complaints against both men, but makes clear that his investigation was limited to whether they had breached the code.
The investigation followed a report by a Sunday newspaper which claimed the former forces chiefs suggested they had influence in military procurement.
Lord Dannatt had “candidly talked about side-stepping a ban on discussion of a £400 million contract by ‘targeting’ the MoD’s top civil servant, with whom he went to school”, according to the newspaper.
The peer, who was an adviser to David Cameron before the 2010 election, said that he offered to “facilitate conversations” but had rejected an £8,000 monthly fee offer.
The commissioner said: “I have not found any evidence that Lord Dannatt breached the Code of Conduct.
“Lord Dannatt made no claims of using his position as a member to exercise parliamentary influence for personal gain. Nor did he offer to provide parliamentary advice or services.
“He entered into no relationship which gave rise to an interest which had to be registered. Equally, there is no evidence that he had failed to register any other defence-related interest. Thus, I dismiss this complaint against Lord Dannatt.”
Lord Stirrup, who was said to be able to call on “old friends and powerful contacts” to help in a lobbying campaign, dismissed the claims as a “totally false picture”.
The commissioner said: “I have not found any evidence that Lord Stirrup breached the Code of Conduct.
“Indeed, he volunteers to the journalists that an interest of the type they were discussing would have to be entered in the Register of Lords’ Interests.
“Lord Stirrup made no claims about using his position as a member to exercise parliamentary influence for personal gain.”
In both cases the commissioner added: “I reiterate that my role is to investigate allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct and not to police members’ non-parliamentary activities.”
Undercover journalists employed by the paper posed as “strategic consultants” working for a company called Heller Lightfoot, which was acting on behalf of a South Korean technology company. They met Lord Dannatt at his official residence in the Tower of London and covertly recorded the discussions.
In a statement to the commissioner, Lord Dannatt said the paper had been on a “fishing trip” and had drawn “mischievous and wrong” implications from the investigation.
“I firmly believe that I have done nothing to compromise the standards of the House of Lords or my own personal integrity, although I have caused embarrassment to myself and damage to my own reputation.”
Lord Stirrup said the newspaper investigation was an “episode of deceitful and dishonest media manipulation”.