Simon in chemicals conflict

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The Independent Online
Lord Simon of Highbury and Canonbury, the former BP chairman now a junior minister, answered a question in the House of Lords relating to chemicals, despite the fact that he is supposed to avoid matters that might relate to his former company.

Lord Simon has refused to give up his pounds 2.15m shareholding in BP despite pressure from the Conservatives, who argue that it contravenes procedures governing conflicts of interest over ministers. While the newly created peer has put his other shareholdings in a blind trust,he has refused to do so with his BP holding.

Last month, Lord Simon was asked by the Countess of Mar about the purposes of various chemicals and he refused to provide a full answer, saying that "to provide the detailed information required ... would require extensive research and agreement of commercial parties and would incur disproportionate costs". BP has a large involvement in the chemicals industry.

In an answer to Michael Fallon, Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, has conceded that Lord Simon will continue to see papers dealing with the energy industry. She told Mr Fallon that while Lord Simon does not routinely attend meetings concerning energy issues, "he is only barred from seeing papers, including papers on energy issues (or attending meetings) which have a bearing on BP".

John Redwood, the shadow President of the Board of Trade, said: "This seems to be rather like saying that you're going to read Hamlet but not the bits about the Prince. The more answers we get about this issue, the more inconsistencies they show up."

Mrs Beckett has also explained to Mr Redwood that when she was first asked about Lord Simon's position in Parliament, she had been confused. She said: "While I was aware that my noble friend had taken action to preclude any potential conflict of interest, I was unable on the spur of the moment to recall whether any detailed aspects of these steps remained to be completed."

In a separate development, Nigel Griffiths, the consumer affairs ministers, has had to step down from any involvement in the inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the travel industry. This follows Mr Griffiths' stated view that Lunn Poly, the Thomson-owned travel agency, should be forced to change its name to Thomson.

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