Minister fails to register interest in shares

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Lord Simon, Minister for Competitiveness in Europe, has failed to declare his pounds 2m shareholding in BP in the Lords Register of Members' Interests.

The former chairman of BP, who joined the Government and took a peerage in May, has come under strong Opposition attack for a possible conflict of interest between his continuing stake in the oil giant and his new responsibilities at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Maintaining the attack yesterday, John Redwood, shadow President of the Board of Trade, said: "The judicial office of the House of Lords has today confirmed that on 20 May, Lord Simon returned his form to the Register of Members' Interests with no entries. Why did Lord Simon judge it unnecessary to register his pounds 2m of BP shares?"

Mr Redwood was told at the weekend by Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, that Lord Simon had put the generality of his share portfolio into a "blind trust", the formal means used by ministers to divest themselves of direct control over, or active interest in, their shareholdings

It was also disclosed that Whitehall had erected an internal exclusion zone, to keep Lord Simon away from any decisions or papers relating to the oil industry - but he was keeping his pounds 2m shareholding in BP while undertaking not to trade in them before the end of the year.

Ministers were unable to provide answers to Mr Redwood's Commons questions about Lord Simon's position last week, and the shadow spokesman said yesterday: "The chaos at the DTI over Lord Simon's financial interests needs to be cleared up now."

He has tabled further Commons questions, asking when it was decided to block Lord Simon's involvement in matters relating to BP; when Mrs Beckett first knew of that block; and when the DTI was informed.

The attack on Lord Simon was broadened yesterday by Greenpeace, who wrote to the new minister asking him whether he believed - as Minister for Competitiveness in Europe - that subsidies to the oil industry should be wound up.

Chris Rose, deputy executive director of Greenpeace, wrote: "There is a contradiction at the heart of Government policy - exploring for more oil while calling for less emissions from fossil fuels. We hope that there is not also a personal contradiction, with a government minister having a major personal stake in the oil industry, and relevant governmental responsibilities."

Mr Rose told The Independent that when Lord Simon had been appointed, Greenpeace had been given the impression that it was all "squeaky clean". He added that the minister "obviously does have a continuing interest".

"In terms of public trust, the Government is sailing close to the wind when it makes an appointment like that."