Multinational Chairmen's Group  Secrecy  Vodafone  Glaxo SmithKline Byers, Stephen

A year or so ago Sir Alasdair Breckenridge, Chairman of the UK drug Regulator the MHRA was making noises about possible criminal proceedings against individuals in GSK or GSK itself. There has been silence since. I wonder why.




The Big Issue

August 2005

Details of high-level meetings between the prime Minister and top executives of Britain's most powerful companies will remain secret, the government has ruled, despite widespread concern about big business' privileged access to senior politicians.

The Big Issue in the North  used the Freedom of Information Act to apply for details of Tony Blair's annual meetings with the Multinational Chairmen's Group - elite but little-known lobbying organisation made up of the most senior executives of Britain's largest companies.

Initially, Downing Street refused to release any information at all but, on appeal, published a list of the MCG's members and a vague description of the issues discussed with the PM. However, it still refuses to release agendas, minutes, correspondence or information about the purpose of the meetings.

A  Cabinet Office official said: "It is not in the public interest to release detailed information. Release of this information would have a deterrent effect on experts or stakeholders giving free and frank advice. This would lead to poorer decision­making... and have an adverse effect on the formulation of policy." The Big Issue in the North has since appealed to the Information Commissioner to overturn the decision.

The documents released reveal that Blair has met with the MCG every year since he was elected in 1997. Participants at the last meeting, in October 2004, included top executives from HSBC, Vodafone, Unilever, BP, the drinks giant Diageo, cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco, and mining company Rio Tinto. Women are noticeably absent from the meetings. It is unclear how membership of the group is decided.

They also state that since 1997 the matters raised at these meetings included "the European and UK economy, UK business environment and competitiveness, the world economy and globalisation sustainable development, Africa, trade, the Millennium Bug and corporate governance issues".

A spokesman for SpinWatch, an NGO that tracks government spin and corporate lobbying, said: “Tony Blair talks about accountability, transparency and a new style of politics, away from the sleaze of the past. But when he sits down with Britain's biggest companies, the public has no right to know what's being said. Until it does so, the suspicion is that New Labour is doing deals with these businessmen behind closed doors. It makes a mockery of their commitment to openness."

Last year, The Guardian newspaper revealed that the head of one of the world's largest tobacco companies, British American Tobacco, used an MCG meeting in March 2000 to put private pressure on the Prime Minister and the then trade secretary Stephen Byers.

BAT stood accused of facilitating large-scale tobacco smuggling, costing UK taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, and faced a possible public inquiry by the Department for Trade and Industry. But after the MCG meeting with Tony Blair and a second private meeting with Byers, plans for the inquiry were dropped and a DTI investigation was conducted in secret instead. The findings of that investigation have never been published, and the government turned down a second FOIA request from The Big Issue in the North for its release.

This is the list of who was at the meetings -

PM Meetings with Multinational Chairmen's Group
Date of meeting Attendees

12 October 2004

  Sir John Bond HSBC
  Lord Blythe of Rowington (Diageo)
  Mr Patrick Cescau (Unilever)
  Mr Jan du Plessis (BAT)
  Sir Christopher Hogg (Glaxo Smithkline)
  Mr Arun Sarin (Vodafone)
  Mr Paul Skinner (Rio Tinto)
  Mr Ivor Godfrey-Davies (HSBC)
  Lord Browne of Madingly (BP Amoco)

2 September 2003

  Niall Fitzgerald (Unilever)
  Martin Broughton (BAT)
  John Browne (BP Amoco)
  Lord Blyth (Diageo)
  Christopher Hogg (Glaxo Smithkline)
  John Bond (HSBC)
  Robert Wilson (RTZ)
  Phil Watts (Shell)
  Arun Sarin (Vodafone)
  The Right Honourable Patricia Hewitt MP

23 July 2002

  Niall Fitzgerald KBE (Unilever)
  John Browne (BP)
  Martin Broughton (BAT)
  Lord Blyth (Diageo)
  Sir Christopher Hogg (GSK)
  Lord Trotman (ICI)
  Sir Robert Wilson (Rio Tinto)
  Philip Watts (Shell)
  Cliff Grantham (Unilever)

14 March 2000

Sir John Browne (BP Amoco)
  Martin Broughton (BAT)
  Sir Anthony Greener (Diageo)
  Mark Moody-Stuart (Shell)
  Sir Richard Sykes (Glaxo Wellcome)
  The Right Honourable Stephen Byers MP

4 February 1999

  Sir Richard Sykes (GSK)
  Niall Fitzgerald (Unilever)
  John Bond {HSBC}
  Sir Ronald Hampel (ICI)
  Mark Moody-Stuart (Shell)
  Robert Wilson (RTZ)
  Anthony Weale (ICI)
  John Browne (BP)
  The Right Honourable Byers, Stephen  MP

I I December 1997

 John Browne (BP)
  Lord Cairns (BAT)
  Niall Fitzgerald (Unilever)
  Anthony Greener (Guinness)
  Sir Ronald Hampel (ICI)
  Mark Moody-Stuart (Shell)
  Sir William Purees (HSBC)
  Sit Richard Sykes (Glaxo Wellcome)
  Robert Wilson (Rio Tinto)
  Anthony Weale (ICI)