By Jim Murphy - 17th October 2012
Labour's Jim Murphy proposes a tough new code of conduct for ex-military personnel working in the commercial sector.
We will all have been shocked at the nonchalance of former senior military figures who, when recorded by the Sunday Times, appeared to suggest exercising undue influence on defence equipment contracts in return for thousands of pounds. And we all would have been unsettled at the suggestion that moments of remembrance at the Cenotaph were an appropriate time to conduct such lobbying. Some have rightly lost their positions and the Government has rightly launched an investigation.
The principal task now, however, is not just to find out what wrongdoing has taken place and by whom, it is to change the rules to ensure it can never again happen. That is why we are proposing a new tough code of conduct for military personnel who seek work in the commercial sector, the defence companies that employ them and senior MoD civil servants.
The aim of the code is to ensure all military figures and defence companies abide by the rules set by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) and that informal networks cannot be used to either influence billion pound procurement contracts or deliver personal commercial gain.
If someone breaks the rules there should be sanctions; if a company employ or act as a lobbyist this should be done with total transparency.
We are proposing new sanctions for military figures who break the rules of appointments. They should, for example, not be eligible for public appointments and could be suspended or stripped from existing public posts. The ‘purdah’ period in which they are unable to work in defence after having left could also be extended or reinstated if they are found to have gone against the advice of the Advisory Committee.
Our defence companies are world leaders and a crucial part of our manufacturing base. But in future if a defence companies uses lobbyists who break the rules they should be liable for fines. The MoD should also take this in to consideration in the bidding process for any future contract.
It is also important to instil greater transparency, not just to make it harder to ‘ignore’ the rules, as some arrogantly think, but to alter the perception of an important industry. Advocacy is an essential element of politics and the actions of a few should not prevent those who bring industry and lawmakers closer together from making government’s decision-making processes better informed.
As part of our new code, therefore, companies bidding for MoD contracts would have to publicly disclose the lobbyists they hire. As a condition for seeking an MOD contract companies would also be asked to confirm that they have made no payment to anyone who is in breach of the rules on appointments.
The Advisory Committee would also be asked to publish a full list of all those in the ‘purdah’ period after having left the military. This would be available on the MoD website, meaning there would be no excuse for a company hiring them and very little chance of someone claiming to be able to work in defence when they were in fact in ‘purdah’.
We would also ask senior civil servants and senior military figures to publish information on hospitality, gifts, meetings and gifted overseas travel. It can often be the case that relationships established in the MoD can lead to personal commercial gain later on and we should end any notion that any ‘deal’ could be made in secret.
Finally, our code would limit the role former military figures could play if they do become lobbyists.
They should be confined to advising on military matters only and not be able to ‘pitch’ for new work where personal connections can drive commercial decisions which should be based on facts and, ultimately, national interest.
These changes would strengthen the existing set of rules some have sought to flout. They would also send a signal of intent from government that causal disregard for due process and exploitation of informal influence are characteristics that will not be accepted in defence procurement. Philip Hammond has been rightly angered by this episode. He now needs to act.
My initial response to the Sunday Times recordings was disappointment. Not at the newspaper for surreptitiously recording the views of former senior military figures, but that men who we all respected could think and behave in this way. Disappointment, however, is an inadequate response.
Determination is the better reply – a determination that things must now change.
In all of this we want industry and the expertise that comes from military Service to play a positive role in procurement policy and practice. This package I am proposing cam help achieve that.