Wednesday 14 March 2012

Baroness Barker avoids conflict of interest in email correspondence

The Lords have been exposed as having large amounts of connections to companies involved in Private Health companies, who potentially may benefit from the new Health and Social Care bill, which they have voted on. Latest research revealed over a quarter of Conservative Lords as having financial links to companies in private healthcare.

When the list of Lords and MPs was originally put together, Social Investigations with some help sent the list to all the Lords and MPs. They have this list, they are aware of it; a list that has grown almost double in size since we first sent it to them.

One Baroness in particular, Baroness Barker, seemed to take offence at this list and has been in correspondence with us: Below is a timeline of our interaction. The first email we sent out was the list of Lords and MPs:
An e-petition has been set up which is here - - if you can please sign it to stop Lords voting on their own interests, this would go some way to prevent their behaviour.
STARTS --------

I am sending you this information on behalf of Social Investigations who would be grateful if you could take a look at the following list of politicians with links to private health interests/organisations which we feel is something that should be noted and taken into consideration when voting takes place with any connection to the debate on the National Health Service. It is obvious that with these vested interests there is a conflict of interest and many who have seen this list are quite frankly shocked that this situation exists whereby those with vested interests can and are voting in favour of policies which could benefit those interests through the promotion of the further privatisation of the NHS.
She replied:

Dear xxxx
Please supply your evidence that any of the people named below who have taken part in the Health and Social Care Bill have failed to declare their interests as they are required to do.

Please supply your evidence that the individuals named below have furthered their own interests. Please supply as much detail as you have. Thank you, Liz Barker

We felt this missed the point and so replied: 

Dear Baroness Barker

As you can see in the introductory paragraph and closing one it has not been stated that anyone has furthered their own interests but there is the possibility that this could happen seeing as there is an obvious conflict of interest.
Also it has been stated that no complaint is being made whether or not these interests have been declared as most of them have been, it is this conflict of interest that worries many and simply registering ones interest is not enough, and is something we feel should be addressed.

Hope that helps.

Baroness Barker’s reply:
Dear xxxxxx
Have you read the Code of Conduct which all members have to agree to abide by in writing before they can take their seat?
Liz Barker

Then she nudged us a few days later:

Dear xxxx, 
In case this e-mail didn’t reach you I am resending it. I look forward to your response.
Liz Barker


She still hasn't got it. 

Thank you for your email.

Yes we have read the rules of conduct, it is not for us to decide whether the standards of a Lord's behaviour have been in keeping with these rules, that is for the commissioner.

It is of our opinion that it is simply not sufficient for a Lord to simply register their interest, and be allowed to influence a bill with which they have potential financial interest. Lord's business interests as long as they are declared are not a barrier to voting on an issue, or indeed speaking if the peer has declared the interest. This is not the same at local level.

We would be very interested on your thoughts on this matter as there are a lot of Lords who have financial interests in private healthcare companies to varying degrees who are able to influence the bills outcome.



She didn’t reply, so we nudged her.

Dear Baroness Barker,

In light of the latest revelation that over a quarter of your coalition partners peers have financial links to private healthcare companies - I wonder if you would be so kind to respond to the email we sent regarding the matter of potential conflicts of interests, and give us your views.


Her latest reply read:

If you have evidence that any peers have not observed the code of conduct you should say so. 
Liz Barker

Although we appreciate Baroness Barker taking the time to reply, she has entirely missed the point. The issue is not whether they registered their interests, which I assume they have; it is that they have these conflicts of interests in the first place, and are still allowed to vote. After all if you are a councillor at local government level with financial interest or a partner with financial interest, then they must declare a prejudicial interest, then they must leave the room and take no further part in discussions or voting. 

There is a reason for this. With conflicts of interest, comes the potential for corruption, insider dealing, and the weakening of our democracy. Two in-depth looks into peers Baroness Bottomley and Lord Chadlington, revealed just why anyone with a vested interest, should not be allowed to vote. (Update) Indeed now the bill has been passed, companies with MPs and Lords on their books have gained revenue as a direct cause of their vote and the changes imposed due to the Health and Social care Act.

As for her final email asking us whether we have any evidence that any peers have ‘not observed the rules of conduct’, the answer to that is yes. Two complaints have gone in to the commissioner for standards, one of which is here, and we await the verdict. In the meantime, perhaps Baroness Barker would be better off questioning the conflict of interest rather than demanding evidence on a technicality. 

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