Letter: Minister and shares

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was surprised to see two articles about Nigel Griffiths, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, (10 October) which claimed that his having stood aside from three competition cases leaves him little to do.

As a former junior competition minister, John Redwood, the Conservative trade and industry spokesman, whom you quote in your report, is surely aware that these would be only a small minority of the cases with which Nigel has dealt. He has already been involved in over 100 competition decisions and issues.

Mr Redwood first asked about Nigel's involvement in the P&O-Stena merger on 1 September and was told the following day that Nigel's decision to stand aside from decisions on this merger was taken on the broad principle that he had a family interest in the shares of P&O. Since then Mr Redwood has written to either myself or Nigel on seven occasions and raised the matter in his party conference speech. He repeatedly alleges he has not had answers to his questions.

What I find as surprising as it is distasteful is that Mr Redwood has for some weeks been aware of the reasons why Nigel's family interest in these shares remained unresolved at the time of the election.

Nigel and his sister inherited the P&O shares from his father, who disappeared in 1994. His father's estate was not settled until this year, partly because his body was not found until 1996. Nigel acts not only as executor to his father's estate but as trustee of the financial affairs of his sister, who is mentally handicapped. This is the nature of his continuing family interest in these shares, on the basis of which he has stood aside from the P&O decision. The ICI shares similarly came from his father.

Mr Redwood's questions have been answered and I see no public interest in the insensitive manner in which he continues to rake over this ground.

MARGARET BECKETT

President of the Board of Trade

Department of Trade and Industry

London SW1

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