Gummer told to register work done on pond

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The Independent Online
JOHN GUMMER, the Minister for Agriculture, should have registered more than pounds 2,000 worth of work refurbishing and replanting a silted-up pond at his Suffolk home, a cross-party committee of MPs said yesterday.

The Select Committee on Members' Interests rejected Mr Gummer's defence of his failure to register the gift. It called on him to register it 'now' - a call to which Mr Gummer last night bowed with reluctance.

The pond was refurbished as part of a show Mr Gummer and his wife Penny hosted for European agriculture ministers in September last year. Hillsdown Holdings - owners of Buxted Chickens - paid pounds 2,600 for the pond restoration and hire of a marquee.

Mr Gummer told the committee the show had left him 'clearly disadvantaged and out of pocket'. In a lengthy justification of his failure to declare the gift, Mr Gummer told the committee he had been left with a field 'rutted and damaged' with 'an ugly lorry park and gateway which will cost a great deal to return to the way it was'.

The pond was 'not done in the way we would have chosen' and was having to be maintained at his expense to provide up-dated photographs of its progress to his European counterparts, he said. He found the complaint against him 'hurtful', when the show had been such a successful occasion.

'I hate listing all this because we willingly accepted the cost, but we couldn't truthfully call it a benefit,' he told the committee. The sponsorship had not been concealed but listed in the show's programme.

The committee, accepting Mr Gummer was out of pocket and did not intend to conceal the work, ruled that the gift should still have been registered. It could not be exempted on grounds of being of no benefit, or because it had been publicised in other ways, the MPs declared.

Because ministers occupy positions of power, 'there are particular risks for them in any activity which overlaps the border between their public duties and private interests, however worthy the motives may be in any individual case'. Strict observance of the rules on members' interests could minimise that, the MPs said, and Mr Gummer should have registered it.

Second Report Session 1992-93 Select Committee on Members' Interests; HC 469; HMSO pounds 3.50.