Former Tory party chairman facing House of Lords conflict claim

The former chairman of the Conservative party is the subject of a complaint to the House of Lords authorities over claims of a “conflict of interest” relating to his time working as an adviser to Boris Johnson’s government.

Andrew Feldman, who is managing partner of public relations and lobbying firm Tulchan, spent two months in the spring as an unpaid adviser to James Bethell, a health minister — from March 24 to May 15.

On April 21 — during his tenure working as an adviser to Lord Bethell — the government awarded a £28m contract to Oxford Nanopore, a testing company. Lord Feldman subsequently received a contract from the firm to provide public relations advice on June 25, a month after ending his advisory role to Lord Bethell.

On Friday Britain’s main public relations trade body on Friday submitted a complaint against Lord Feldman to the House of Lords’ commissioner for standards.

The Public Relations and Communications Association said it had submitted the complaint to the commissioner because Tulchan had not signed up to the industry’s own “Public Affairs Code”.

“It is entirely unacceptable for lobbyists to use influence and relationships gained through public-serving roles for commercial gain. The conflict of interest is undeniable,” said Liam Herbert, chair of the board of PRCA Public Affairs in a public statement.

“This behaviour brings the industry into disrepute and damages trust in our profession at a critical time for our country.”

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Tulchan resigned from the PRCA two years ago because — it says — it had “deep misgivings about PRCA’s ability to act as an effective self-regulatory body due to its inherent conflicts of interest, poor processes and governance”.

Tulchan said Lord Feldman applied for and was granted leave of absence from the House of Lords in June 2020, several weeks after ending his role advising Lord Bethell, raising a question over whether it will be a matter for the House of Lords authorities to investigate.

The company said: “There cannot have been any conflict of interest between his work as managing partner of Tulchan and his role in the House of Lords as he had, by that time, suspended his role as a working peer.” 

The company said that the peer “utterly refutes” any suggestion that he had failed to uphold ethical standards or was subject to a conflict of interest.

“On the contrary, he believes that he made a meaningful contribution to the early efforts to manage the pandemic and is proud of that contribution,” it said. 

Tulchan stressed that Lord Feldman was not involved in procurement decisions, which were made exclusively by officials. 

“Following the media reports relating to Oxford Nanopore, Tulchan has provided the Lobbying Regulator — the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists — with a full account of the events,” it said. 

The registrar subsequently found that Tulchan “did not conduct undeclared consultant lobbying in the period”, the company claimed.

The House of Lords’ commissioner for standards said the complaint was “at the initial assessment stage”. The ORCL was unavailable for comment on Friday. 

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