A former Conservative Environment Secretary is facing calls to reveal the source of several private donations which paid for him to take a series of trips last year.
Owen Paterson, who was Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary from 2010 until 2014, disclosed trips to the US, Australia, Northern Ireland and South Africa in 2015 in his declaration on the Register of Members’ Interests.
All of them are listed as having been paid for by UK 2020, a think-tank set up by Mr Patterson when he was sacked from the Cabinet which says it specialises in “generating robust, optimistic, common-sense policies”.
Mr Paterson is both the current chairman of the think-tank and is also one of two directors listed in the Companies House records.
But the think-tank has not disclosed who its donors are, so the person or company that ultimately financed Mr Paterson’s trips is not included on the parliamentary register.
Although there is no suggestion the former minister has broken any parliamentary rules, environment and transparency groups say this loophole could be used to let individuals or corporations donate to politicians without having to declare it.
Mr Paterson has used funds provided by UK 2020 to travel to give speeches on controversial issues, such as in March last year at the Heritage Foundation where he argued for the UK to leave the EU.
He said EU politicians were “shockingly corrupt” and had a “lack of accountability [that] would make a dictator blush”.
Policy director for Greenpeace, Dr Doug Parr told BuzzFeed News that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) should look at Mr Paterson’s declaration.
He said: “It looks like Mr Paterson could have discovered a loophole that allows him to accept donations from individuals and corporations without having to declare it to the public.
“Given his repeated defence of big polluters on issues such as the plight of bees and climate change, and the Government’s repeated promises to make donations and lobbying much more transparent, it is high time the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner stepped in to investigate.”
BuzzFeed News contact Mr Paterson’s office for details about UK 2020’s fundings and the identity of the donors to the think-tank.
A spokeswoman for Mr Paterson said: “In response to your questions, I refer you to the Register of Members’ Interests.”
The Independent has also contacted Mr Patterson’s office for comment.
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