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Call for watchdog to reinvestigate Tory peer over possible PPE lobbying breach

Aug 10, 2023

Lord Chadlington may have misled inquiry over introduction of firm awarded £50m in PPE contracts, Labour peer suggests

The House of Lords conduct watchdog has been asked to reopen an investigation into whether the Conservative peer Lord Chadlington may have breached lobbying rules when he introduced a company that was awarded PPE contracts worth £50m.

The Labour peer George Foulkes has called for the reinvestigation, suggesting the commissioner appears to have been misled by Chadlington, whose real name is Peter Gummer, after the Guardian reported new details about the introduction of the healthcare agency SG Recruitment.

The agency gained its first Covid contract days after it was put into the high-priority “VIP lane” for companies with political connections. Chadlington was a shareholder and paid director of the agency’s parent company, Sumner Group Holdings (SGH).

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) stated in November 2021 that Chadlington was the “source of referral” of SG Recruitment, meaning he had identified the company to the government.

Last year, the Lords commissioner for standards cleared Chadlington of breaching the rules against peers lobbying the government to benefit companies in which they have a financial interest. The commissioner concluded that Chadlington’s “only involvement” had been to provide SG Recruitment’s chief executive, David Sumner, with the email address of another Tory peer, Andrew Feldman, who was advising the DHSC on PPE procurement.

The commissioner said: “The evidence shows that Lord Chadlington’s only involvement in this matter was to provide Mr Sumner with Lord Feldman of Elstree’s departmental email address, which would doubtless have been obtainable from other sources. He does not appear to have ‘referred’ SGH [sic] to the department, nor did he facilitate introductions or seek to leverage his influence as a member of the House of Lords.”

Lawyers representing Chadlington have now told the Guardian that he had a conversation with Feldman first, that he suggested SG Recruitment as “a potential candidate” for PPE contracts, and that Feldman gave him his email address to pass on to Sumner.

Chadlington’s lawyers said: “Upon the secretary of state for health’s national call for help at the outset of the pandemic, our client spoke to Lord Feldman, who was assisting the government’s efforts to secure PPE from industry sectors. Our client explained that SG Recruitment Limited (SGR), which he had been informed by Mr Sumner had contractual relationships with the NHS, may be a potential candidate. Lord Feldman suggested that Mr Sumner email him at his DHSC email address, which Lord Feldman provided to our client for that purpose.”

In an account Chadlington provided to the commissioner’s inquiry last year, he did not mention that initial conversation, or that Feldman gave him his DHSC email address to pass on to Sumner, or that he had any contact with Feldman at all.

Chadlington wrote to the commissioner:“I was then chairman of a holding company which, through a subsidiary, had expertise in healthcare and I suggested that this company might be of assistance. After making the introduction, I left the negotiation to the executive team to take matters forward.”

Chadlington did not explain to whom he had suggested SG Recruitment, nor how he made the introduction. He said in his account:“I did not refer SG Recruitment Ltd to a VIP lane or otherwise. I simply passed Lord Feldman’s contact details to Mr David Sumner.”

Foulkes, who made the original complaint to the commissioner that Chadlington may have breached lobbying rules, said in response to the new detail: “It appears that the commissioner has been misled in his inquiry. Lord Chadlington’s own lawyers have now revealed that a conversation took place, which was not disclosed to the commissioner last year. On that basis, I have written to the commissioner asking him to reopen his inquiry into my complaint. The commissioner also needs to take into account, and look into, whether he was misled.”

The Guardian asked Chadlington’s lawyers about their account of his initial conversation with Feldman, and why Chadlington had apparently not told the commissioner for standards about it. In their reply, they provided an explanation of the conversation, saying that it had been necessary for Chadlington to contact Feldman to obtain his DHSC email address rather than using a private email, and “if only out of courtesy”, he had to tell Feldman why he wanted it.

“The fact of our client’s conversation with Lord Feldman, the purpose of which was to obtain his departmental email address by the most expedient means, has no bearing on his evidence to the Lords commissioner ... He did not mislead the commissioner.”

Invited to comment about Foulkes asking the commissioner to reopen his inquiry, Chadlington’s lawyers said: “Our client has always acted with full transparency in respect of his dealings in the House of Lords, including in responding to the Lords commissioner’s inquiry, and will continue to do so as necessary.”

A House of Lords spokesperson said: “The Lords standards commissioner has received a complaint from Lord Foulkes which is currently being considered.”