Lord Blencathra tells House of Lords: ‘I was wrong and I apologise’

House of Lords by UK Parliament

Lord Blencathra today apologised to the House of Lords for signing a £12,000 per month contract in which he agreed to lobby his fellow peers, MPs and ministers on behalf of the Cayman Islands’ government.

“I was wrong and I apologise to the House for that misjudgement,” he said.

The apology followed the formal presentation of a report by the Lords Standards Commissioner into Lord Blencathra’s behaviour, which found that he had breached the Code of Conduct for peers and ordered him to say sorry.

A former Conservative Chief Whip and a minister in John Major’s government, Lord Blencathra says that despite signing the contract in 2011, he never had any intention of lobbying Parliament on behalf of Cayman.

“I misled myself into thinking that, since it was understood that I would not be making representations in reality, then the wording did not matter. But words do matter; I was wrong and I apologise to the House for that misjudgement,” he added.

The Standards Commissioner, Paul Kernaghan, accepted that the peer did not intend to lobby when he signed the contract, which is why a harsher punishment was not handed down.

This prompted Labour MP Paul Flynn to table an early day motion arguing that the Lords is not fit to discipline its members.

“The failure to suspend Lord Blencathra from the service of the Lords will further deepen public cynicism on the conduct of parliamentarian,” the motion says.

In 2012 the Bureau revealed that Lord Blencathra – formerly known as David Maclean – was being paid by the Cayman Islands to represent its interests in the UK and that he had written to George Osborne asking him to reduce air passenger taxes on flights to Cayman.

He  had also asked an MP critical of the Cayman’s tax arrangements to meet a delegation from the Overseas Territory.

Lord Blencathra admitted to the Bureau at that time that he lobbied the Government, but insisted that he did not lobby Parliament.

Related story:Lord Blencathra’s contract with Cayman Islands stated he would lobby MPs and Lords 

The Lords Standards Commissioner investigated following a complaint from Mr Flynn and concluded
in November 2012 that there was no breach of the Lords Code of Conduct. This was because the peer had been open about what he was doing on each occasion and had not been acting in his capacity as a member of the House of Lords when he made the approaches.

The investigation prompted a recommendation that the rules around lobbying ministers be clarified.

In February 2014 a rule change banned peers from lobbying ministers for financial gain.

A month later the Bureau obtained a copy of Lord Blencathra’s contract, signed when he first took up the job in 2011.

The contract obliged him to promote Cayman to MPs, peers and the ministers. A new contract, signed in November 2012 after the Standards Commissioner’s conclusion, removed the references to MPs and peers and required the peer to make representations to “governmental stakeholders”.

The Standards Commissioner was asked to look into whether the peer had breached the Code by signing either contract. News of the investigation prompted the Cayman Islands to terminate his £12,000 a month job.

This week the Standards Commissioner released the results of its enquiry, and ruled that Lord Blencathra must apologise to the House of Lords for signing the first contract with the Cayman Islands.

The Commissioner did not mention the second contract and accepted Lord Blencathra’s argument that while the first contract required him to lobby Parliament, he had not done so.