Proposed changes to the House of Lords code of conduct appear likely to leave the Cayman Islands bereft of its chief United Kingdom lobbyist and director of the local government’s London office, Lord Blencathra.
Changes approved by the Lords’ Privileges and Conduct Committee, made public Monday in the U.K., state that House of Lords members should decline all but “insignificant or incidental” gifts from lobbyists. Any gift, benefit or hospitality worth more than £140 would have to be registered.
In addition, peers would be banned from lobbying members of either houses of U.K. Parliament, ministers or government officials in return for payment or other reward under the planned code changes. Staff members who work for the Lords would be required to register all “third-party employment,” regardless of what that job entails.
The changes, if and when they are approved by the full House, are likely to require Lord Blencathra, whose consultancy firm Two Lions is paid £14,000 per month for services to the Cayman Islands, to leave his post as head of the Cayman Islands London Office.
Lord Blencathra was contacted for comment Monday by the Caymanian Compass, but the newspaper had received no statements by press time.
However, a statement from Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office Monday noted that local government was “taking into consideration a report that bans members of the House of Lords from lobbying ministers.”
“Changes to the Lords code of conduct were published Monday that said peers will be banned from lobbying members of either the [House of] Commons or [House of] Lords, ministers of government officials,” the statement read.
Lord Blencathra, whose given name is David MacLean, was appointed as director of the Cayman Islands London office in late 2011. His appointment caused a minor uproar both in the Cayman Islands, where some lawmakers felt the post should go to a Caymanian [the London office was formerly run by retired Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert], and in the U.K., where Labour Party MP’s cried foul over alleged conflicts of interests.
In 2012, the U.K. Commissioner for Standards dismissed a complaint lodged against Lord Blencathra in the House of Lords, indicating the peer had not breached the U.K.’s Parliamentary Code of Conduct. Commissioner Paul Kernaghan found in his review that Lord Blencathra had not been “providing parliamentary advice or services to the Cayman Islands government in the United Kingdom.”
Opponents of Lord Blencathra’s appointment argued that differentiating between lobbying government and lobbying parliament was too fine a distinction and represented a “loophole” that should be closed. The recommendations of the Lords committee Monday sought to do just that.
Cayman Finance, the Cayman Islands-based financial industry association, indicated its concern over the situation via a statement released Tuesday by the group’s Chief Executive Officer Gonzalo Jalles. Mr. Jalles said Lord Blencathra has “provided invaluable support to our industry and the Cayman Islands in general.”
“It is critical that we maintain an active and ongoing effort in London, beyond what the rest of the London office can provide,” Mr. Jalles said. “Our competitor jurisdictions have physical presence in several locations; Cayman cannot afford to take a passive role.
“I would encourage government to evaluate how to replace this key resource and consider expanding its remit beyond the U.K. Cayman Finance remains committed to working with government and we would gladly collaborate through this transition and beyond to ensure we retain an effective lobbying and public relations presence in our key markets.”
Former Premier McKeeva Bush was criticized by some local politicians, most fiercely by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, for his decision to appoint Lord Blencathra during 2011 and 2012.
Current Premier Alden McLaughlin, although he was asked about the subject as opposition leader, never made a formal statement to the Caymanian Compass about it. Mr. McLaughlin’s government had not removed Lord Blencathra from his post during its first eight months in office.
In addition, the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed in 2012, that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had signed off on Lord Blencathra’s appointment to the Cayman Islands London office.
According to correspondence obtained by the Bureau, Lord Blencathra wrote to then-Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham in November 2011 stating that Lord Blencathra would be representing the interests of the Cayman Islands government at a “strategic and political level.”
Lord Blencathra met with officials from the foreign office’s overseas territories directorate and officials noted the department was “considering the implications of a member of the House of Lords being appointed on contract to an overseas territories government.” Foreign office officials also noted there was “a question of [political] party allegiance to consider” in Lord Blencathra’s appointment, the Bureau revealed.
After that discussion, Mr. Bellingham wrote to then-Premier McKeeva Bush on Dec. 20, 2011 stating provisional approval of the appointment had been granted. The foreign office withheld further correspondence regarding the appointment from the Bureau’s open records request, stating that it could prejudice relations between the U.K. and the Cayman Islands.
Lord Blencathra is not the only peer in recent years to have questions raised about his lobbying duties.
Two peers, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate and Lord Laird, were suspended for relatively brief periods over lobbying issues.
Both men were also found to have demonstrated a “clear willingness” to negotiate agreements which involved providing parliamentary services in return for payment and to have breached their duty “to act always on their personal honor,” according to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.
Both lords were thrown out of their political parties as a result of the scandal.