Newspaper says Blair's government has leaked key information Copyright 1998 Nando.net Copyright 1998 Reuters News Service LONDON (July 5, 1998 00:09 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Britain's Conservative opposition said on Sunday it would press Prime Minister Tony Blair for an explanation after a newspaper report that lobbyists close to the ruling Labour party were offering advance access to secret government information. The Observer, in a front-page story Sunday headlined "New Labour insiders offer secrets for cash," said its undercover investigation showed former aides to Blair and other top Labour figures were offering advance texts of speeches and decisions, and access to ministers. The newspaper said its report was based on taped telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings with lobbyists conducted by Gregory Palast, a New York-based correspondent who said he was representing U.S. companies trying to enter the British market. One lobbyist was quoted in the article as boasting he gave a banking client advance word on government spending plans for the next three years, announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown last month. The client was identified by the Observer as U.S. investment bank Salomon Smith Barney, which declined to comment on the story. The newspaper said there was no suggestion the bank had sought inside information or acted upon it. The lobbyist was quoted as boasting he had been able to leak to the bank the fact that Brown was to set the growth of public spending at 2.75 percent a year rather than the 2.5 percent widely expected. If the bank had acted on the market-sensitive information, "they'd have made a fortune," the lobbyist was quoted as saying. Conservative Trade and Industry spokesman John Redwood challenged Blair to explain the allegations, saying in a press statement: "It is disgraceful if people are selling Government secrets for private gain and pre-empting parliament." He said his party would question the government on the story in parliament on Monday. The Observer said one lobbying firm had passed on to it an advance copy of a highly sensitive report by a parliamentary select committee into energy policy - something which would technically be contempt of parliament. Other lobbyists were quoted in the story as promising easy access to ministers and to influential senior advisers to Blair and Brown. Blair's government, which has prided itself on its close ties to business, has already ridden out one crisis over allegations of influence-peddling. The Labour party was forced to return 1 million pounds given it by Formula One motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone last year after the government softened its line against tobacco advertising. Blair had to go on television and deny there was any link between the donation and the decision. The government has frequently been criticized in parliament for leaking decisions before it announces them to the House of Commons.
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