A FORMER Westmorland and Lonsdale MP is at the centre of a parliamentary lobbying storm.

Tim Collins, now managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, was secretly taped claiming to have influential access to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

His comments, which included the claim that his company employed ‘all sorts of dark arts’, have led to demands that commercial lobbying of ministers should be curbed.

Mr Collins, who was Westmorland and Lonsdale MP from 1997 to 2005 until losing the seat to Liberal Democrat Tim Farron, was secretly recorded by reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

During the conversation, Mr Collins boasted that there was ‘not a problem getting messages through’ to David Cameron and George Osborne.

He reportedly claimed that his company, one of Britain’s biggest lobbying companies, had persuaded the Prime Minister to raise the question of copyright infringement when he met the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao during a state visit in June.

He also said his company was hired to improve the image of the Uzbekistan government, which has been severely criticised for alleged human rights abuses.

Roger Bingham, president of the Westmorland and Lonsdale Conservative Association, expressed surprise at the revelations.

“When Tim was MP, we worked very closely together but since he lost the seat I’ve lost touch.

"Back in 1995, when he was our prospective candidate, he told us he had worked in Downing Street, but I would judge that he had become something of a political has-been.

“When he left the area, we exchanged Christmas cards for a year or two but there’s been no contact since.

"As far as I’m aware, no one else from the association has heard from him either.”