Minister gives BP profits to private school

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The Independent Online
Lord Simon of Highbury and Canonbury is to donate profits from the sale of his BP shares to fund places at an independent school, just as the Government is abolishing state subsidies for private education.

The move will provide further ammunition for Conservatives keen to capitalise on damage caused to the Government by the shares controversy.

Though the donation is a personal decision, it exposes clear differences in attitudes to private education between a minister and the Government.

Lord Simon, the Minister for Trade, who announced last week he was selling his pounds 2m shares in BP following Opposition allegations of conflict of interest, is to divide an estimated profit of pounds 350,000 among a number of charities, including his old school, Christ's Hospital.

The West Sussex school, founded in 1552 to care for London's poor, uses income generated through its ancient investments and property holdings and donations from benefactors to subsidise education for bright children from poorer families.

The minister's gift, which will be used to provide more financial assistance for pupils, comes as legislation abolishing the assisted places scheme reaches the Statute Book.

The Government plans to use pounds 160m, saved by phasing out the scheme, to cut infant class sizes. It has pledged to keep classes for five, six and seven-year-olds to a maximum of thirty pupils.

When Tory peers attempted to overturn part of the plans, the Government dismissed their arguments as "privilege defending privilege".

Lord Simon declined to comment last night. The Department for Trade and Industry said the minister had given his wife full responsibility for selecting charities to benefit from the charitable trust fund being set up on his behalf by a London bank.

Lord Simon, 56, won a scholarship to Christ's Hospital in 1950, and was made head boy in 1958. He already gives financial support to two pupils at the school, where all 800 places are assisted to some degree and 38 per cent of parents pay no fees at all.

David Bridges, partnership director at Christ's Hospital, said the school had 62 places paid for by the Government under the assisted places scheme. The scheme is being phased out after this year.

Another charity chosen by Lord Simon's wife to benefit from the shares profits is the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Lord Simon's late father Roger was a spitfire pilot and veteran of hundreds of wartime missions.

Mr Bridges said yesterday he did not yet know the extent of Lord Simon's donation to Christ's Hospital. He added: "We surmise that it will be to fund places in the school for one or more pupils in the future."