Labour is urging MPs to vote through a proposal to establish a parliamentary inquiry into David Cameron’s lobbying – but the Tories will be whipped to vote it down.
The opposition wants to create an anti-sleaze committee to investigate lobbying, including the former prime minister’s activities, which would be able to summon witnesses to answer questions in public.
Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If it is the case that Cameron didn’t break the rules, then I think it says something about the rules and that those rules need to change so there is proper transparency so we can see what former ministers and prime ministers are doing.
“This is much wider than just about what David Cameron has done – this is about what is happening at the heart of government today. This really matters, we need answers, and MPs have a chance to vote for a proper inquiry today.”
Opposition day motions are not usually binding on the government, but because Wednesday’s proposition is calling for Parliament rather than ministers to establish an inquiry, it would lead to the creation of the committee.
If MPs approve the motion, the cross-party committee would investigate whether current laws are sufficient to prevent “inappropriate lobbying” of ministers and officials.
‘Don’t jump on the bandwagon’
But the government says it will vote against it, making it unlikely to pass. Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood hinted that those on the Tory backbenches have not been swayed by Labour’s arguments, meaning the vote is unlikely to pass.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee said a review commissioned by Downing Street into the Greensill affair and led by lawyer Nigel Boardman should be “allowed to take their course”.
“The idea suddenly that we all, with the limited knowledge that we have, can make a judgment on this – it is political opportunism,” Ellwood told Times Radio.
He urged MPs not to “jump on this bandwagon”, and wait instead for a government-ordered review to be completed.
Labour’s calls for an inquiry intensified after it emerged that the former head of Whitehall procurement became an adviser to Greensill Capital while still working as a civil servant, in a move approved by the Cabinet Office.
Bill Crothers began working for the firm as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 and did not leave his role as government chief commercial officer until November that year.
Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at UK In A Changing Europe, said the revelation suggests the current rules governing second jobs for public servants are not working.
The former civil servant told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Bill Crothers wasn’t just any civil servant, he was the head of a thing called the Crown Commercial Service which oversees all that government buying activity.
“You’d have thought that if anyone was in a sensitive role, and anyone is looking for them to advise them, he is in a very difficult position to take a role with an external company and manage to avoid the conflicts of interest.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said the “wide-ranging” independent review into the financial firm, announced on Monday, will also consider the situation of Crothers, who later became a director at Greensill.
‘Rules aren’t working’
Crothers was still working as a civil servant when he took up the advisory role at Greensill, a move which he said was approved by a conflicts of interest policy and “supported by the Cabinet Office leadership”.
Rutter said he seemed to have exploited a “loophole” in the rules which were an “obvious place for tightening up” in that he did not need Cabinet Office approval to take a job with Greensill as he had already been doing work for them while in the Civil Service.
“It doesn’t look like the rules are working very well,” she added.
Despite Wednesday’s vote being unlikely to carry due to a lack of Tory support, the afternoon’s debate will continue to exert pressure on ministers over the Greensill controversy.
The proposed committee would have the power to “send for persons, papers and records” – giving it the ability to summon Cameron and ministers – such as Chancellor Rishi Sunak – to give evidence and answer questions from MPs.
Cameron sent text messages to Sunak as part of his unsuccessful attempt to acquire government support for specialist bank Greensill, which has since collapsed, and organised for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to attend a “private drink” with his employer, Lex Greensill.