Redwood presses ahead with challenge to Beckett

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The Independent Online
John Redwood today will ignore the threats of libel action by the Government and challenge ministers to come clean about the benefits that the trade minister, Lord Simon, will make on his pounds 2m BP shares in a Jersey trust.

He will challenge the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, over her assurances that Lord Simon would not benefit from having his shares in the trust. Mr Redwood said the trade minister would benefit because the company would gain from the arrangement.

Stepping up his campaign over the alleged conflict of interest between Lord Simon's shareholdings and his role as a trade minister, Mr Redwood also accused Mrs Beckett of misleading the Commons over her replies on Lord Simon's other non-BP shareholdings.

Misleading the House is a sackable offence under the revised ministerial code of practice issued by the Government. Mr Redwood accused Mrs Beckett of giving assurances on 23 July that Lord Simon had transferred the Grand Met holdings worth an estimated pounds 14,000 into a blind trust, but his name was still on the share holding last Friday.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry rejected the charge, insisting that Lord Simon had signed for the shares to be transferred into the blind trust, as Mrs Beckett had informed the House and there were delays in the procedure.

Mr Redwood is determined to keep up the pressure on the Government, in spite of misgivings among some senior Tory MPs and peers. One former Cabinet minister is upset at the style of the attack on Lord Simon, and there have been rumblings of discontent in the House of Lords among Tory peers at the pursuit of Lord Simon, one of Britain's top businessmen, by the Conservatives in the Commons.

But William Hague, the Tory leader, who led the attack in the House last Wednesday, is backing Mr Redwood and has ordered the Tory ranks in the Commons and the Lords to fall into line.

Lord Parkinson, chairman of the Conservative Party, also appeared uncomfortable when he joined in the attack on the former chairman of BP last week. Lord Parkinson denied he was joining a "witch hunt" against Lord Simon.

Lord Simon said he had a "thick skin" and will not resign, but the former chairman of BP may feel that in spite of the support he is getting from Tony Blair, the criticism is making his position untenable.

John Bercow, Tory MP for Buckingham, last night wrote to Peter Sutherland, chairman of the compensation committee at BP, questioning Lord Simon's eligibility for his pounds 2m shares.

"My understanding is that it is normal practice for staff who retire or who leave without going to another job to be eligible to participate in such plans.

"However, I did not think that it was normal for staff leaving to take another job still to receive benefits from their former company even if those benefits related to prior years."