With permission, Sir David, I would like to make a statement about Beattie Media and the activities of professional lobbying firms.
I learned last Friday, 24 September, that there was to be a report in The Observer of the following Sunday about the activities of the public relations firm Beattie Media. The report duly appeared. It has been widely read and a matter of much comment.
The report was based on a conversation between two employees of Beattie Media and an employee of The Observer who was posing as a representative of clients who were seeking public relations and lobbying assistance. I think it is fair to describe the exchange as being essentially a sales pitch by Beattie Media. The circumstances raise sharply ethical issues. But my particular concern, which I will deal with in this statement, is the claims that were apparently made during the meeting about the conduct of Scottish ministers.
Although I was aware from newspaper reports of the principal allegations, the full text of the transcript was not made available to me until late yesterday afternoon. I am grateful to you, Sir David, for agreeing at short notice to allow me to make this statement.
The first major matter relating to the conduct of ministers concerns an invitation to Sam Galbraith as sports minister to attend the Glasgow Rangers v Beitar Jerusalem game on 1 October 1998. The representatives of Beattie Media claim privileged access to the minister and his diary and the ability to influence his thinking on policy matters. They are quoted as saying:
"We took the Sports Minister along to the Rangers game . . . we did it . . . we started the debate".
The Scottish Premier League issued a straightforward invitation to the minister to attend that match. There is no reason whatever why the sports minister should not have attended a football game, and indeed it would be extraordinary if he did not discuss the future of the game with his hosts. I am satisfied that there was no impropriety involved. Any involvement by Beattie Media had no influence on the handling of that invitation.
Secondly, Beattie Media representatives are quoted as saying:
"Yeah, we landed a major project"—
[Laughter.] I am quoting accurately. I might not be very good at the slang, but I am doing my best to pronounce it correctly.
Beattie Media representatives are quoted as saying, "Yeah". [Laughter.]