The helmsman of privatisation runs into turbulent waters

DAVID HELLIER

Lord Walker, the former Cabinet minister and one of the British Gas non-executives under fire for the way the company has failed its shareholders, is no stranger to controversy.

A Cabinet minister until 1990, Lord Walker partnered Jim Slater at the Slater Walker property company in the 1960s and agreed to work alongside Robert Maxwell in the months before the tycoon's empire fell apart.

Lord Walker joined British Gas in 1990, shortly after leaving his Cabinet post as Welsh Secretary. He had been the minister responsible for privatising British Gas in the first place.

In November 1990 he entered into discussions with the late Robert Maxwell with a view to becoming a non-executive chairman of the tycoon's publicly quoted company, MCC, which was primarily a publishing company.

He was introduced to Mr Maxwell by Sir Michael Richardson, the then-chairman of Smith New Court who was advising on the flotation of Mirror Group Newspapers. Sir Michael felt it would be better if the City and the public saw that Mr Maxwell was concentrating on his newspaper interests while finding respectable figures to look after some of his other main interests.

However, the relationship between Lord Walker and the late tycoon broke down quickly as the two men quarrelled over precisely what the former politician's role should be.

Lord Walker left MCC in September 1991 after six months' work as a non- executive director, with a pounds 150,000 pay-off and a Mercedes car.

In the recent trial of the Maxwell brothers, Kevin Maxwell told the jury that his father had said to him about Lord Walker that "he was damned if he was to hand over the stewardship of the company to an outsider who had not contributed to its growth and had no publishing background".

At British Gas Lord Walker, who is also listed as being a director of Dalgety and Tate and Lyle, has been criticised, along with the other directors, for not being more proactive. One shareholder said yesterday: "The non- executives appear to have been unable to stand up to their own chairman. They have been seen to have been weak and ineffective."

Lord Walker was unavailable for comment yesterday. Friends of his, however, said the comments ascribed to him on Tuesday on the break-up plans were inaccurate.

He was quoted in the Financial Times as having in the past described break-up proposals as "lunacy".

Yesterday his friends said that he supported the plans and had never made any such comment in the context of the present proposals.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you looking to take your ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Exciting career prospect for ...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935