MPs attack 'dirty' tactics in Energy bid

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The Independent Online
MPs are set to attack "nasty and dirty" tactics used in the takeover battle for an English electricity firm in a Commons debate today.

Labour backbenchers will call for closer regulation of utility takeovers after intensive lobbying by US companies in the battle for Energy Group, owner of Eastern Electricity.

It is believed that Texas Utilities is about to bid pounds 4.2bn for Energy Group. Pacificorp, its US rival, has already bid pounds 4.05bn

Texas Utilities wrote to MPs who signed a Commons motion critical of its safety record claiming it had "no history of safety or environmental difficulties". In fact it was fined more than $500,000 (pounds 300,000) between 1986 and 1992 for breaches of safety rules at its Comanche Peak nuclear plant in Texas.

It has also been claimed that cancer deaths in four counties near the plant were 27 per cent higher between 1990 and 1994 than they were between 1986 and 1990. The first part of the plant opened in 1990.

Jarrell Gibbs, the firm's vice chairman, contacted MPs who signed the critical motion inviting them to meet. On a trip to Britain he is also reported to have met a member of Tony Blair's policy unit, Geoffrey Norris, and the electricity regulator, Professor Stephen Littlechild.

Ian Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich North, has put down a motion criticising Texas and Nomura, the Japanese bank which has now pulled out of the bidding for Energy Group.

"It's a nasty, dirty process and it isn't something I am particularly happy about. Texas Utilities got its vice president to me within a couple of hours of the motion going down. All this lobbying is rather disgusting and strange," he said.

He said he would call on the government to ensure that any firm buying a public utility had a good environmental record.

Last night a spokesman for Texas Utilities said information attacking its record was being used by Pacificorp, through its lobbying firm GJW. "It's pretty desperate stuff. The best they can do is to come up with violations which happened at least five and a half years ago. Comanche Peak was one of only four nuclear plants in the US which had the top safety rating from regulators in every category," he added.

GJW said: "It is up to MPs to form their own views about any concerns regarding Texas, not us."

GJW has worked for Pacificorp since last summer, when it made an earlier bid for Energy Group. A spokesman for the firm said he had spoken to a number of MPs, but the firm had not approached anyone to ask them to sign a critical motion about Texas Utilities.

Texas executives have been in Britain to meet Energy Group officials, and have also been lobbying to try and avert a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.