MP defends lobbyist claims

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A West Norfolk MP has defended himself over claims he approved the appointment of a peer as a paid lobbyist for a Caribbean government.

Documents which emerged last week suggested that North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham had approved the appointment of Lord Blencathra as director of the Cayman Islands government’s London office during his time as a junior minister.

The appointment has attracted controversy because parliamentary rules bar members of the House of Lords, such as Lord Blencathra, from accepting payments for parliamentary services.

A letter released by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists last week showed Mr Bellingham had written to the islands’ premier, McKeeva Bush in December of last year when he was a junior Foreign Office minister over the issue.

The letter stated: “We have given provisional approval for this appointment.”

The Bureau claimed that the Foreign Office had said it had played “no role” in the appointment.

But Mr Bellingham told the Lynn News that the department, which he left in last month’s government reshuffle in which he returned to the backbenches, did not have the power to either authorise or block the appointment.

He insisted his letter had simply meant the Foreign Office was prepared to accept Lord Blencathra in the role.

He said: “It was their decision, nothing to do with us. We took advice as to whether we had any say in the decision and the advice was no, we didn’t.

“When we ‘approved’ it, it wasn’t a technical approval. It doesn’t mean to say we had a say over the appointment.

“We approved it in the sense that we wanted to have a productive relationship with Lord Blencathra. We were basically neutral on it in a sense.”

Lord Blencathra’s lobbying activities have been referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards amid allegations of a possible breach of the House of Lords’ code of conduct.

The code forbids members from accepting any payments for parliamentary services. Lord Blencathra has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.