1. ITV Report

Defence probe could block MoD access for ex-military chiefs

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he would shut down access to ministers and officials where he found retired officers had abused access to the Ministry of Defence for commercial purposes.

An investigation has been launched by the MoD after former military chiefs were reported to have boasted about lobbying top officials to secure contracts for private firms in breach of Whitehall rules.

Mr Hammond said: "If we find that people are not taking that advice [of the Cabinet Office Committee], we will look at steps to shut down their access to ministers and officials.

"Clearly at least one, possibly more of the individuals named in The Sunday Times piece were still under the terms of the two year restriction that applies after they have left the service."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insisted the retired personnel wielded "no influence" over procurement but the body which restricts the commercial activity of departing civil servants said the allegations were serious.

Senior generals were among several ex-military figures recorded by undercover Sunday Times (£) reporters posing as weapons manufacturers seeking to secure a multimillion-pound deal to sell hardware to the UK.

This is a report by Alex Forrest

Among those named are:

  • Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, ex-head of the Defence Academy and now president of the Royal British Legion
  • Former MoD procurement chief Lieutenant General Richard Applegate
  • Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, Commander-in-Chief Fleet of the Royal Navy until earlier this year
  • Ex-head of the Army Lord Dannatt
Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, who is one of those named. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The newspaper said its three-month investigation exposed claims of having pushed the interests of private arms firms despite being barred from doing so and of being able to push clients' interests to the Prime Minister and senior officials.

Curbs on the commercial activities of senior personnel when they leave public service are set in each individual case by the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, based on rules set down by government.

A spokeswoman for the committee said:

We are drawing them urgently to the attention of ministers, the head of the civil service and the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence for them to consider what action they might take.

The committee has "no role or powers to investigate or sanction individuals who do not abide by its advice", she said.

The MoD said it was already looking into whether any rules had been broken and acting to ensure it was not possible for anyone to secure "privileged access".

It is the latest in a string of cash for access scandals to have rocked Westminster over recent years.

In a statement Mr Hammond said:

Equipment is procured in the interests of our armed forces and not in the interests of retired personnel. Former military officers have no influence over what MoD contracts are awarded.

An investigation has been launched by the Ministry of Defence into the Sunday Times story. Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire/Press Association Images

It is clear that former chiefs acting in a commercial capacity should not have any privileged access to the MoD and we will be putting in place measures to ensure this.

A rigorous process is used for the approval of all equipment projects which involves non-advocate scrutiny of all major investment decisions by an investment approvals committee which provides advice to ministers and the accounting officer.

We will be looking to see if any of these individuals have broken any rules.

– MoD statement

Lord Dannatt, who was an adviser to David Cameron before the 2010 election, said he offered to "facilitate conversations" but had rejected an £8,000 monthly fee offer.

The Sunday Times said he "candidly talked about sidestepping a ban on discussion of a £400 million contract by 'targeting' the MoD's top civil servant, with whom he went to school."

The former chief of the general staff told the Sunday Telegraph that was a "totally false picture."

He said:

I was interested because they were purporting to be developing technologies that could save people's lives. I said I could facilitate conversations with people in the military. I did not offer to lobby anyone on their behalf.