Commons misled over minister's BP shares

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The Commons was misled by Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, when she said that Lord Simon's non-BP investments had been placed in blind trusts beyond his control.

Lord Simon of Highbury, the former chairman of BP and the new Minister for Competitiveness in Europe, has been under strong attack from John Redwood, the shadow spokesman, for not divesting himself of more than pounds 2m worth of BP shares - raising questions about a possible conflict of interest.

Mrs Beckett wrote to Mr Redwood on 4 July to say that not only was Lord Simon being kept away from any Trade and Industry business which covered BP activity, and had promised not to trade his BP shares, he had also "placed the generality of his investments in blind trusts".

That letter was put on record, in Hansard, following another Commons question last Thursday. However, Mrs Beckett told Mr Redwood in a written Commons reply last night: "The legal structure of this transfer was proposed on 18 June. Legal finalisation is now proceeding.

"Lord Simon refrained from giving any trading instructions to his bank in respect of any of these investments following his appointment."

Mr Redwood told The Independent last night: "I am very disturbed to learn that having been told Lord Simon had placed all his non-BP investments in a discretionary trust, that this has still not been completed.

"It is possible to do this in 24 hours, yet it is taking Lord Simon more than two months."

Mrs Beckett also told Mr Redwood that she had "sought confirmation" about the arrangements Lord Simon had made for his investments on the afternoon of 3 July, after Mr Redwood and Tory colleagues had raised Commons questions about the potential conflict of interest.

Mr Redwood said last night he was worried that Mrs Beckett seemed to be claiming ignorance of the arrangements that had been made before 3 July.

"Is she trying to distance herself?" he asked.