Share inquiry call refused

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Indy Politics
Tory suggestions of impropriety over the appointment of the former BP chairman, Lord Simon of Highbury and Canonbury, as Minister for Competitiveness in Europe have been dismissed by Sir Robin Butler, Secretary to the Cabinet.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said Sir Robin had decided to reject a Conservative call for an inquiry into Lord Simon's compliance with the ministerial code of conduct, Questions of Procedure for Ministers. "He is content with the arrangements for ensuring there is no conflict of interest," she said.

The Cabinet Secretary's formal blessing for the fact that Lord Simon has not sold his pounds 2m shareholding in the company - while putting other shares into a "blind trust", over which he has no control, while being kept from all Whitehall decision and discussion about BP - will anger Tory MPs who have been demanding his resignation.

John Redwood, the shadow President of the Board of Trade, said yesterday that he would be asking whether Lord Simon had severed all links with a rolling performance scheme for senior BP executives; a tax-efficient scheme under which shares were put into trust in Jersey. A BP spokesman said that the peer no longer had any connection with the scheme, but that will not stop Opposition questions.

There were signs of a concerted fightback in Lord Simon's defence yesterday. Barbara Roche, a ministerial colleague at the DTI, accused the Tories of muck-raking, and 25 new Labour MPs put down an amendment to a Commons motion tabled by John Bercow, Conservative MP for Buckingham, in which they suggested that the real Tory gripe was one of sour grapes at Labour's recruitment of such a high-profile businessman.