A senior Tory MP stood aside as chairman of an influential Commons select committee tonight after being caught in a lobbying sting.
Tim Yeo, who has chaired the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee since June 2010, told undercover reporters that he had coached a chief executive who appeared before it and allegedly offered to use his contacts to further the interests of private clients.
He has referred himself for investigation by the Parliamentary standards watchdog and today said he didn’t want this to serve as a “distraction” from the committee’s work.
Mr Yeo’s decision comes as it can be revealed that other MPs on the select committee, which is charged with scruitinising new energy laws, have also received hundreds of thousands of pounds from companies in the energy sector.
The Tory MP Peter Lilley, who joined the committee in November 2012, has received £23,500 from Tethys Petroleum Limited since that date and also has an interest in a “power generating subsidiary” of Ferro Alloys Corporation.
Mr Lilley said neither company operated within the UK and that he would give up the interest or his position on the committee if they began to do so.
Dan Byles, Conservative MP for North Warwickshire, registered a donation worth more than £1,600 from The Premier Group, a liquid fuel storage company which sponsored a constituency job fair. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Another member, Sir Robert Smith, has declared shareholdings in Rio Tinto, the mining corporation, and the oil and gas company Shell. Last year he was given a men’s gymnastics ticket and meal at the Royal Opera House by BP worth £750.
Sir Robert said: “My financial interests are entered in the register and are open to public inspection. During any inquiry or evidence session that the select committee holds, I regularly remind the committee of my relevant interests.”
Dr Lee has registered donations totalling £10,000 from John Nike since September 2011. Mr Nike runs two petrol stations and owns an artificial-snow manufacturer, although Dr Lee said the funds were used by his constituency association to pay for local election costs.
Tory MP Christopher Pincher has been paid tens of thousands of pounds for consultancy work by JT Leavesley, a vehicle and equipment disposal firm which lists oil supply chain companies among its major clients. Mr Pincher said he had never given them advice on energy matters.
There is no suggestion any of the MPs have broken parliamentary rules, which simply require MPs to declare financial interests.
Since taking up his post three years ago, Mr Yeo has received more than £235,000 from two companies which develop biofuels and other alternative energies. He also has shares and options in low-carbon companies worth £583,000, while colleagues have fiancnial interests in oil and gas firms.
In a statement he said that he will use a private meeting today to recommend that he should “temporarily stand aside” as chairman.
“I am doing so solely to ensure the smooth running of the Committee during the next few weeks,” he said.
“I firmly believe that I have not breached the MPs’ code of conduct in any respect and therefore await the outcome of the Commissioner’s investigation with confidence. In particular I absolutely and unreservedly deny the allegation that I coached a witness with whom I have a business connection before that person gave evidence to the committee.”
Committee members, including Tory colleagues, had indicated that they intended to use the meeting to ask “robust” questions of Mr Yeo.
Dr Philip Lee said: “Allegations have been made [and], if they are actually true, that wouldn’t be appropriate behaviour.”
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