Tories step up attack over Simon

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Margaret Beckett today will face allegations that she misled the House of Commons in an intensification of the attack by John Redwood over the shareholdings of Lord Simon of Highbury and Canonbury.

The decision by Mr Redwood to make one of the gravest charges against the President of the Board of Trade underlines his determination not to let the matter drop, in spite of Lord Simon's assurances that he has acted properly.

Mr Redwood's pursuit of Lord Simon, a former chairman of BP, is backed by William Hague, the Tory leader, who clashed with Tony Blair in the Commons on the issue last week.

The Conservative spokesman on trade and industry is insisting that there is a conflict of interests between Lord Simon's holding of BP shares worth pounds 2m in a Jersey trust, and his role a competition minister.

Mr Redwood's charge of misleading the House arises from the discovery that Lord Simon's holdings of 2,351 shares in Grand Met, worth pounds 14,000, were still in his own name last week, in spite assurances by Mrs Beckett that they were in a blind trust.

On 23 July Mr Redwood was told that Lord Simon, the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, had "completed the arrangements to place his non-BP share portfolio in a blind trust".

Mr Redwood said: "I am quite happy that people make money and put money in Jersey trusts but this is a government in which the Chancellor has said he is cracking down on tax loopholes like the Jersey fund."

The code of conduct issued by the Government for ministers last week says that misleading the House is a sackable offence. But government sources dismissed the charges against Mrs Beckett. "Lord Simon assigned all his shares into a blind trust. These things take time because you need broker's signatures. It just like any other minister, like Heseltine and Paul Channon, when they were ministers," said a source.