It was a real blast from the past this morning, hearing Jonathan Aitken, the ex-con Conservative, who is apparently being considered as an advisor on prisoner conditions. I know we are supposed to be a bit forgiving he has, after all, "paid his debt to society", but there was still just a whisper of the old arrogance in his interview on Radio 4. It was hard to avoid the contrast with another disgraced ex-minister John Profumo, who genuinely did serve a penance for his behaviour. Of course the political opponents of the Conservatives will make hay- it is a misjudgement by Iain Duncan Smith that only serves to remind us of the sleaze of the last Conservative administration. As Lord Ashcroft struggles to answer questions about the assurances that he is alleged to have given concerning his tax status upon being ennobled, the old taint fills the air once more.
I have three questions about the behaviour of other previous members of the cabinet.
As regular readers here will know, I have expressed astonishment and considerable concern at the fact that the Conservatives are formally allied to the Putinist "United Russia" faction in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I found it inconceivable that any democratic party could be associated with United Russia, least of all in the Council of Europe, which is an organisation founded upon a commitment to Human Rights.
Perhaps the link might be more understandable when one considers that several Conservative Peers receive remuneration for their work with companies that are wholly or largely deriving their business in Russia. If you go through the register of Lords' interests, a pattern begins to emerge:
Lord Howe is the President of The Russian Enterprise Trust.
Lord Howell is a member of the advisory board of Hermitage Capital, a Russian Investment Company
Lord Hurd is a consultant to Alfa Bank,
So is Lord Powell of Bayswater, (a cross bencher, but strongly associated with the Conservatives)
Lord Lamont is a consultant to Hermitage, but also serves on the board of Rotch Property, whose sister company is Rotch Energy which appears to have acted as a front for potential Russian acquisitions in Poland.
Lord Lang is paid by Charlemagne Capital, which derives most of its income from Central Europe and Russia.
Lord Lawson is a member of Central European Trust.
Lady Neville Jones has yet to declare her interests, but she has previously had interests in firms active in Russia.
Thus several senior members of the Conservative Party are receiving substantial amounts of income from companies that have major interests in Russia.
Several others have incomes derived from companies where Russia is a significant but not dominant source of revenue.
The questions are:
Whether the views of these peers are moderated or influenced by the income that they receive.
Has any of these peers expressed an opinion on the continuing alliance in PACE with United Russia?
If so, what was it?