Minister in shares row urged to quit

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The Tories yesterday stepped up their campaign against Lord Simon of Highbury and Canonbury, the former BP chairman who has become a minister without divesting himself of his pounds 2m BP shareholding.

A Commons motion called for the resignation as Minister for Competitiveness in Europe, and the Cabinet Secretary was asked to rule whether Lord Simon was in breach of the government code of conduct.

John Redwood, shadow President of the Board of Trade, said the Opposition remained very unhappy that Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade and Lord Simon's boss at the Department of Trade and Industry, had not answered questions that had been put to her about the "apparent conflict of interest".

He said in a statement: "It looks as if a senior government minister has failed to live up to the high standards of openness required and the Government is now in a state of confusion over it."

In two separate developments, John Bercow, Conservative MP for Buckingham, tabled a Commons motion, supported by 28 Tory colleagues, calling for Lord Simon's resignation from the Government because he had neither sold his shares nor declared his interest for inclusion in the new Lords' Register of Members' Interests.

Mr Redwood also said that Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, would be writing to Sir Robin Butler, Secretary to the Cabinet, "drawing attention to apparent breaches in the rules laid down in Questions of Procedure for Ministers, arising from Lord Simon's failure to inform Mrs Beckett about his continuing to hold more than pounds 2m worth of shares in BP - a company whose interests could potentially conflict with his Treasury and DTI responsibilities".

The perceived conflict of interest was further underlined by Greenpeace yesterday, when Matthew Spencer, the pressure group's climate and energy campaigner, complained that subsidies of about pounds 17m were being paid out to the fossil fuel industry, and oil companies were also being given preferential tax treatment.

Mr Spencer said that a former Tory energy minister, Tim Eggar, was now "heading a company, Agip, which is taking the lead in exploring for oil on the Atlantic frontier.

"There is a revolving door between the oil industry and the Government," he said. "It does raise the spectre of cosy chats between friends who are either in oil or have been in it, about how, for example, the review of North Sea oil taxation, which the Chancellor has just announced, could affect their industry and what could be a suitable outcome."