Greens call on Cunningham to quit over business links

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The new Minister of Agriculture, Jack Cunningham, has been "fatally compromised" by conflicts of interest, and should resign, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was told yesterday.

The charge, based on "paid and other pecuniary" links with the agrochemical and nuclear industries - declared in the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests - comes days after Mr Blair told his MPs to "uphold the highest standards in public life."

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, yesterday wrote to Mr Blair urging him to "act decisively to guarantee your Government's integrity" and move Dr Cunningham.

He says he believes that Dr Cunningham's independence and impartiality have been fatally compromised because of his relationships "with companies operating in sectors which he is supposed to regulate".

Dr Cunningham, a former chemistry research fellow, was for more than 10 years - until his appointment last week - a paid adviser to Albright and Wilson (UK) Ltd, which makes food additives and ingredients for pesticides. He was also a paid adviser for years to Hays Chemicals, one of whose subsidiaries is a leading producer of ingredients of animal foods. Last year, the Register records, he earned between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000 from both companies.

Last summer, he received "financial support for travel and accommodation in the USA" from British Nuclear Fuels Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BNFL, which operates the controversial Sellafield plant in his constituency. He also received "additional support and hospitality" from BNFL and one of its customers on a trip to Japan. On both occasions he was accompanied by his wife.

The Minister of Agriculture is legally one of the final arbiters on radioactive discharges from Sellafield. Two controversial applications on its emissions are at present before the Environment Agency and could be called in for decision by Dr Cunningham and John Prescott, the Transport, Environment and Regions Secretary, at any time.

Mr Secrett's letter says: "The associations, payments and gifts raise very serious issues of propriety and the ability to impartially carry out ministerial duties in the public interest at a time when the nation as a whole is anxious to clean up politics, and leave the era of sleaze behind."

A Downing Street spokesman said last night that the Prime Minister was not impressed by "a preposterous attempt to gain publicity" and that Dr Cunningham had resigned the consultancies on being appointed.

But he refused to say whether Mr Blair knew about the links when he gave Dr Cunningham the job. Mr Secrett retorted last night: "If Mr Blair knew of these links, Dr Cunningham should never have been appointed. If he did not - and Dr Cunningham did not tell him - the minister should resign."