Jeremy Hunt gets blasted by lobbying transparency campaigners

Written by David Singleton on 22 February 2018 in News

The health secretary has turned to a Tory peer who once broke of Lords anti-sleaze rules to lead a major government review

Jeremy Hunt has courted controversy by asking a Tory peer who runs a political networking consultancy to conduct a major government review.

The move was announced by Theresa May at Prime Minister's Questions this week and has since been slammed by MPs and transparency campaigners.

"Baroness Cumberlege is the director of a company that specialises in advising pharmaceutical companies on how they can most effectively lobby Parliament," said the Labour MP Ivan Lewis. "What will that do for victims who are already incredibly suspicious of us in this House and of the NHS establishment?"

A spokesperson for Spinwatch, which campaigns for greater transparency in lobbying, told PAN: "Julia Cumberlege owns a commercial lobbying business serving, among others the pharmaceutical industry. Why on earth would Hunt think that she would be the best person to lead this review? Surely the health secretary knows people other than private health lobbyists?"

Baroness Cumberlege, a former minister in John Major's government, could not be reached for comment but she has previously argued that her firm, Cumberlege Connections, is not involved in lobbying.

"This is not a lobbying company. It puts on training courses, for example, for young doctors, to tell them about parliament and politicians. Many people in the NHS are naive about politics, not realising that the boards of their heath trusts are run by politicians," she said.

The Tory peer previously hit the headlines in 2009 when she admitted twice breaking the House of Lords anti-sleaze rules. She apologised for failing to declare her outside interests at all times, but a disciplinary panel decided to drop the matter after she promised to observe the rules more closely in future.

Speaking in the Commons, Hunt brushed off concerns about the suitability of Baroness Cumberlege to lead the review. The health secretary said: “I do not think that anyone has a better track record than Baroness Cumberlege on campaigning for women’s health issues.

“In her career, she has shown an absolute willingness to take on the medical and scientific establishments when she thinks that that is the right thing to do… so I have every confidence that she will do a good job.”

The review will look at the pregnancy test Primodos, vaginal mesh implants and epilepsy drug sodium valproate cases. All three have been in the news in recent months with campaigners unhappy at the official response to each.

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