Tuesday 4 December 2012

The case of Baroness Cumberlege: Why the Lords Rules Need Changing

Disappointingly since joining the alliance Cumberlege Connections has not earned any income through the alliance.’ Baroness Cumberlege  26th November 2012

Rules that fail to prevent our Peers from voting when they have a financial interest are not fit for purpose. There were many such culprits who helped pass the Health and Social bill into Act, however, there was one Baroness in particular, who exploited this deficiency in democracy more than most.

On 26 June 2012, I made a complaint against Baroness Cumberlege, to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, Sir Paul Kernaghan. Research had revealed that while debating, voting and making amendments on the Health and Social Care bill, the former Conservative Secretary of State for Health, moved her company into an alliance led by PricewaterhouseCoopers that were tendering for and winning contracts for commissioning the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

The rules are such that my complaint had to follow the narrow remit of the non-declaration of her interests in the alliance during the debate, an alleged breach under paragraph 10(b) of the Code of Conduct.

Baroness Cumberlege is the sole owner, chairman and managing director of a company called Cumberlege Connections. The company runs training programmes across the NHS spectrum for consultants, GPs, NHS managers, Directors and chief executives. In addition to this service, part of their training programme covers 'Politics, Power and Persuasion', a tailored two-day programme which includes topics such as: 'Managing the markets, the challenges of commissioning', 'who's who', and 'brokering deals with other independent sector providers'.

Mr Kernaghan wrote in the privileges Committee Second Report: 

'I am clear that Baroness Cumberlege has properly registered her interest in Cumberlege Communications in the Register of Lords' Interests. Anyone reading the Register would see that she has an interest in Cumberlege Connections.’  


‘She has not registered the involvement of that company with a wider "alliance" led by PwC and I see no reason why she should do so.’

In addition, his investigation did reveal that on occasions he could ’find no evidence that she declared her (company’s) interest during the report or third reading debates on the Bill’, though she participated in them…However, these omissions were not the subject of the complaint so ‘I am not required to make a ruling on them.’

In other words, Baroness Cumberlege or any other Peer for that matter can work for or own a company that can move itself into a position that can make money from a bill they are able to vote on. They do not have to declare any alliance or group that that company has joined, just that their company itself is registered and declared during debates.
Baroness Cumberlege, responded to Mr Kernaghan with this:

‘In my case the complainant Mr. Andrew Robertson (of whom I have no knowledge), alleges that I should have declared an interest in joining an alliance for work commissioned by the NHS. The alliance in question is formed by a number of companies PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Kings Fund, Common Purpose, Practive, Wragge and Co and my company Cumberlege Connections. Mr. Robertson does not complain about four of the five companies involved, only PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Disappointingly since joining the alliance Cumberlege Connections has not earned any income through the alliance.’

They do not care, or at least the Baroness is less concerned at her manipulation of the democratic system for a potential personal gain than the fact that she failed to make money from it.

If we are to prevent the blatant abuse of position that takes place in the House of Lords, then we must prevent behaviour like that of Baroness Cumberlege in the future. They themselves will not change their behaviour and so we must change it for them. The Lords are an Open House for corporations to sit in the chamber and vote on bills that they will benefit from. Indeed, over 140 Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies that are involved in private healthcare. They were all able to vote on the Heath an Social Care bill.

A petition has been set up to stop Lords from voting when they have a financial interest to a company that will potentially benefit from the bill.

Sign the petition here.

Further reading:
Read Baroness Cumberlege’s full report here.
Background article on Baroness Cumberlege here.
Spinwatch – previous complaint on Baroness Cumberlege here.

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