Downing Street Denies Lobbying Claim
Allegations that lobbying firm Bell Pottinger influenced British government policy are "simply untrue", Downing Street has said.
As reported in the Independent, executives from the firm were secretly taped by the Bureau Investigative Journalism claiming they had access an the ability to influence the prime minister and other senior British politicians.
Number 10 said on Tuesday: "It simply is not true to say that Bell Pottinger or indeed any other lobbying company has influenced Government policy. If companies have issues then that can come and talk to the government. We have a department for Business who speak to companies all of the time."
Last night Downing Street sources said the claims were "outrageous" and "a load of rubbish".
Undercover journalists from the bureau posed as representatives of Uzbekistan looking to secure a more favourable reputation in the UK.
Bell Pottinger pitched to win their business and their managing director Tim Collins, a former MP, told them that his past life working in the Conservative Party gave him privileged access.
"I've been working with people like Steve Hilton, David Cameron, George Osborne for 20 years-plus. There is not a problem getting the messages through," he said.
Collins also claimed that the firm had persuaded the prime minister to raise the issue of copyright breaches of Dyson products with the Chinese leader Wen Jiabao.
"He (Cameron) was doing it because we asked him to do it," Collins told them.
The prime minister's spokesman has denied the embarrassing allegation that Cameron only raised the subject because a lobbying firm asked him to.
The spokesman said it was "wholly unsurprising that in a conversation with the Chinese we might talk to them about intellectual property rights".
And he suggested that Bell Pottinger were simply exaggerating their influence in order to win business.
"Clearly it is in their interests to tell their clients that they can provide them with a service and that is what they appear to be doing," he said.
Bell Pottinger have also acted on behalf of the governments of Russia, Belarus, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett accused the government of being "too close to corporate interests". Labour has called for a minister to make a statement to MPs in the Commons this afternoon on the subject.
"These are very serious allegations involving a former member of the Conservative frontbench as well as some of David Cameron's closest confidants inside Downing Street and his cheerleaders in the media," he said.
"We have been calling on the government to implement a statutory register of lobbyists. We need reform to ensure that there is no question of the rich and powerful buying access to the Prime Minister and his advisers."
This afternoon in the Commons Labour MP John Cryer will urge MPs to back his call for a statutory register of lobbyists. Writing on Politics Home today, Cryer said current arrangements meant it was "legal to bribe an MP".
"The prime minister’s weak-kneed pleas for a register of lobbyists will do very little. Trying to influence politics by argument and persuasion is fine. Trying to do it through money is just wrong – but big companies and banks are up to it all the time," he said.