|Founder||Michael Anthony Wood|
Whitehall Advisers 'was formed in 1997 to offer specialist advice to companies operating in the aerospace industry and specifically to those with interests in the UK Defence sector.'
It claims to possess 'an unusual blend of military and commercial expertise and has been involved in the complete spectrum of the equipment procurement cycle both in the MOD and in Industry.' On the industrial and political fronts, 'the team' has played a 'key role' in several major UK equipment procurement campaigns, 'totalling around £10 billion'. They say their activities include 'responsibility for the bidding process, formulation of marketing strategies and detailed plans, government relations and the role of political lobbying, public relations, the industrial dimension and teaming issues, and finally contract negotiations - in short, the whole spectrum of a successful campaign.'
Commons passes for lobbyists
In 2004 it was revealed that Whitehall Advisers' Michael Wood had a commons pass although he was actually a lobbyist:
- Michael Howard's spokesman on defence has given a House of Commons pass to a lobbyist working for leading weapons firms, an Independent on Sunday investigation into MPs' staff has found. Gerald Howarth, a Tory shadow minister for defence, gave the pass to Michael Wood, the managing director of Whitehall Advisers, last year. Its clients, who include BAE, Airbus and MBDA, are together responsible for UK defence contracts worth billions of pounds.
- The arrangement, which allows Mr Wood to enter the House of Commons at will, runs counter to the voluntary code of conduct that regulates political consultants. It will also fuel fears that the current pass regime is too lax in the wake of repeated breaches of Westminster security. Mr Howarth lists Mr Wood as a member of his staff on the official register. Callers to the MP's Commons office, however, are directed to the offices of Whitehall Advisers.
- Contacted there, Mr Wood, a former RAF officer, vigorously defended his relationship with Mr Howarth. "Gerald Howarth and I have shared an interest in aerospace and defence for close on 25 years," he said. "I advise him informally without any payment on air force matters because I still retain close links with the Royal Air Force." Whitehall Advisers was set up in December last year and has yet to file a full set of accounts with Companies House. However, another firm of which Mr Wood is the sole director, European Business Strategies Ltd, made a post-tax profit of pounds 259,700 last year.
Cash for introductions
In October 2007 the Guardian reported:
- A Labour peer has admitted taking money to introduce an arms company lobbyist to the government minister in charge of weapons purchases. The case of "cash for access" in the House of Lords is likely to ignite fresh concern about ethical standards in parliament. The lobbyist paid cash for an introduction to Lord Drayson, the defence minister in charge of billions of pounds of military procurement, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian.
- Money changed hands with former Labour frontbencher Lord Hoyle, previously Doug Hoyle, an ex-government whip and former MP for Warrington. The lobbyist, Michael Wood, who trades as Whitehall Advisers, agreed to pay Lord Hoyle an undisclosed sum in June 2005. MoD documents released to the Guardian show that Lord Hoyle then engineered a private meeting between Mr Wood and the newly appointed defence minister.
- Mr Wood is a former RAF officer who works for BAE and other smaller arms companies to help get them contracts. He has free run of the palace of Westminster because he has a security pass as a "research assistant" to another MP. He operates his company from his nearby flat. Paying cash for ministerial introductions is a practice frowned on at the House of Lords, but not specifically outlawed. "Cash for introductions" is forbidden by the main lobbyists' trade body, the Association of Professional Political Consultants, but Mr Wood is not a member.
- Parliamentary registrar Brendan Keith, who administers the peers' code of conduct, says: "Facilitating meetings with ministers on behalf of a company that a member is employed by is not something that I would advise." He says it would "probably not violate the Lords code of conduct". However, he added: "Were a member nevertheless to go ahead, he would certainly have to declare to the minister his interest/relationship with the company."
- Under the code, a peer must specifically declare his financial interests to a minister if they have a meeting, so that the minister can form a rounded judgment of their arguments. Asked if he declared to the minister at the time that he was in the pay of a lobbyist, Lord Hoyle told the Guardian he "did not know" whether he had made the required declaration. The MoD says nothing was recorded about Lord Hoyle's position in the note taken at the time. Lord Drayson's office declined to comment when asked if the minister was aware of the financial link at the time.
- Lord Hoyle's solicitor said that the financial relationship with Mr Wood was "a matter of public record of which Lord Drayson, who is a friend and colleague of Lord Hoyle, would be fully aware". Lord Hoyle did report to the Lords registrar that Mr Wood had hired him as a "consultant", claiming it was for matters unconnected to parliament. But the public register had not been updated at the time of the Drayson meeting.
- Lord Hoyle now says he was not "specifically paid for [the] sole purpose" of introducing Mr Wood to the minister. But he could not identify any other services he provided. He said he had done "very little" for Mr Wood, who would ring up occasionally and talk "mainly about football". Accounts vary of exactly what happened in the Lords on June 23 2005. Lord Hoyle said it was an encounter in the bar, while the MoD said the meeting took place "over a cup of tea".
- Lord Hoyle accepts he was asked to arrange the lobbyist's introduction "to say hello to the new minister". He told the Guardian that Lord Drayson was asked to come for a drink. Mr Wood was already there. He says he told the minister: "Mike Wood of Whitehall Advisers would like to meet you."
- But Lord Hoyle's solicitor subsequently gave a fresh version of events. He said: "Lord Hoyle and Mr Wood were enjoying a social meeting in the bar. Lord Drayson was present in the bar although he was not sat with Lord Hoyle and Mr Wood. Lord Hoyle introduced the two to each other on a purely social basis ... The parties held only a brief conversation during which they exchanged pleasantries."
- Ministry of Defence officials say the meeting was arranged in advance "at the request of a member of the House of Lords" and involved one of Lord Drayson's private secretaries attending to take a note of "advice" to be received. A background briefing was prepared in advance for the minister about Whitehall Advisers.
- The MoD say Mr Wood used the ministerial encounter to describe his lobbying company and his clients, made "frank" remarks about other arms companies, and used his introduction to Lord Drayson to ring up the minister three days later and have a personal conversation, also minuted.
- Mr Wood refuses to comment about his payment to the Labour peer. He has now hired a recently retired senior civil servant at the MoD, Colin Balmer, to work for him. Mr Balmer has been required to promise a vetting committee not to personally lobby former ministry colleagues. Mr Wood's two companies, European Business Strategies and Whitehall Advisers, make him more than £200,000 a year. He holds a parliamentary pass as a "research assistant" to Aldershot Conservative MP Gerald Howarth. Before that he obtained a pass from the Labour MP for Derby, Bob Laxton. This behaviour is also banned by the Association of Professional Political Consultants.
- Lord Hoyle provides a "research assistant" pass of his own to Albert Poggio, who promotes the interests of the local regime in Gibraltar, a British dependent territory. He agrees that Mr Poggio does not carry out any research, but says he deserves to be allowed access to parliament as a quasi-diplomatic representative. As an MP, Lord Hoyle had minor links in the 1990s with another lobbyist, Ian Greer, disgraced in the wake of a "cash for questions" scandal. Mr Greer provided the MP with a research assistant at one point, and donated to his local election campaigns.
Information Commissioners rejection of request for documentation from MoD meeting with Whitehall Advisers: Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Section 50) Decision Notice Dated 25 July 2006 Public Authority: The Ministry of Defence Reference: FS50102714
- Defence Manufacturers Association, members Whitehall Advisers Ltd, accessed 27 October 2007.
- News Military merry go round, Socialist Worker, 26 August 2000 | issue 1711
- Francis Elliott 'Tory MP gave Commons pass to arms lobbyist' Independent on Sunday, Oct 10, 2004.
- David Leigh and Rob Evans, Peer was paid to introduce lobbyist to minister, The Guardian, 26 October 2007.
- Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants Contents SECTION 1: List of Staff Ungless - Zonneveld, accessed 27 October 2007