POLITICS
25/07/2013 09:42 BST | Updated 25/07/2013 10:15 BST

Lynton Crosby Should Be 'Sent Back To Australia', Says Peer

PA
General view of the Melbourne Cricket Ground

David Cameron's top election strategist, who has been engulfed in a row over whether he lobbied the prime minister to drop plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, should be "sent back to Australia" - according to one peer.

Lynton Crosby has been under pressure to prove there is a not a conflict of interest between his role as an adviser to the Conservative Party and the fact his lobbying company advises the tobacco company Philip Morris International.

Speaking in the House of Lords today, Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury said: "For Mr Crosby to have any dealings whatsoever with government departments and to exercise a malign influence in the background is harmful to the public health in the United Kingdom ... he should be got rid of and sent back to Australia."

Health minister Lord Howe responded: "That matter is not one in which I would have any influence and nor do I wish to."

He added: "I don’t think I can do more than I’ve already said, Mr Crosby has had no dealings with ministers or indeed the DoH on the issue of tobacco."

Crosby, who was the mastermind behind former Australian prime minister John Howard's election victories, has denied ever having even spoken to Cameron about tobacco.

"At no time have I had any conversation with or lobbied the prime minister, or indeed the health secretary or the health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues," he insisted in a statement.

"Indeed, any claim that I have sought to improperly use my position as campaign adviser to the Conservative party is simply false."

Labour has urged the country's top civil servant to ensure the publication of the full list of Crosby's clients.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said yesterday that unless the identities of clients paying Crosby's lobbying firm are known, assurances that he will not seek to influence government policy on their behalf will be "unenforceable and worthless".

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood yesterday rejected Labour calls for an official inquiry into possible conflicts of interest as a result of the Conservative Party hiring Crosby, whose clients have reportedly included Philip Morris as well as companies with interests in private healthcare, alcohol and fracking for shale gas.

Sir Jeremy said that the Australian elections guru did not lobby or advise the government on issues such as the regulation of cigarette packaging or fracking. And he took the unusual step of publishing a document setting out the "principles of engagement" agreed between Crosby and the Conservative Party to ensure that there was no conflict of interest.

In a letter to Sir Jeremy today, Trickett said it appeared that the "principles of engagement" document was not drawn up by civil servants at the time of the contract with Mr Crosby last November, but was "hastily cobbled together" in the last few days after the lobbyist became a "political embarrassment" to the Tories.

And he said: "Clearly, if the prime minister and the Conservative Party are unaware of who Mr Crosby's clients are - which is what the Chairman of the Conservative Party says is the case - then you will agree that the principles of engagement are unenforceable and worthless. In the interests of transparency Mr Crosby's company's full client list should be published immediately."

Trickett asked Sir Jeremy to confirm whether any civil servants were involved in drawing up the principles of engagement, when he became aware of them and whether he had evidence that they had been followed.

He also pressed the senior civil servant to say whether he was "personally satisfied" that Crosby has had no discussions with Mr Cameron or other ministers about policy on tobacco, alcohol, fracking or the NHS and that there was "no possibility of a conflict of interests between Mr Crosby's roles as an adviser to the Conservative Party and an adviser to commercial organisations".