Gummer to face rebuke over pond

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Indy Politics
JOHN GUMMER, the Minister of Agriculture, is to be reprimanded by a powerful Commons committee for failing to register an interest after a food company undertook more than pounds 2,000 of work last year clearing a silted pond at his Suffolk home.

The cross-party Select Committee on Members' Interests has agreed in private this week that the work, paid for by Hillsdown Holdings as part of a two-day show for European farm ministers last September, should have been registered. It did so despite Mr Gummer's protests that overall he ended up out of pocket in hosting the show.

A draft report on his failure to declare the interest is due to be agreed by the committee next week. The reprimand will be seized on by Labour as a further example of the arrogance of power among ministers after 14 years in government - the central theme of a speech last week by John Smith, the Labour leader, to which he intends to return.

The finding will be an added embarrassment for the Government after the committee last month found that Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, broke 'a fundamental maxim' over MPs' interests - 'if in doubt register, or at least consult the registrar' - over the pounds 18,000 he received for legal fees from anonymous Conservative party sources. In that report the committee went out of its way to underline that ministers are just as much subject to the rules as other MPs. The rules require members to declare any material benefit 'which a member may receive which might be thought to affect his conduct as a member or influence his actions, speeches or vote in Parliament'.

The work on the pond was undertaken by Hillsdown Holdings, owners of Buxted Chickens and one of Britain's biggest food companies, as an example of environmental restoration. Adas, the farm advisory service, reportedly drew up the specifications for the work but did not charge Hillsdown. Parliamentary answers show Hillsdown spent pounds 2,600 on a marquee and on the landscaping and restoration of the pond.

Both Mr Gummer and the Prime Minister's office vigorously defended the improvements when they became public knowledge in December, insisting there had been no impropriety.

Mr Gummer is understood to have entered a lengthy defence to the committee, insisting he did not obtain any advantage from the visit by EC colleagues, for which he made his home and an adjoining field available at no charge.

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