Lord Deben Accused Of Misleading Parliament

  • Date: 13/01/13
  • David Rose, Daily Mail

‘If Lord Deben is found to have misled the Select Committee, he should be sacked or forced to resign,’ Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, said

A former Cabinet Minister who plays a key role in deciding the future size of energy bills is chairman of a company that stands to benefit directly from his Government work, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed.

Lord Deben is better known as John Selwyn Gummer, who was once Margaret Thatcher’s Environment Secretary. He was appointed last September as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, which gives the Government formal advice about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and replacing fossil fuel with ‘renewable’ energy.

When quizzed by MPs before his appointment was confirmed, he was asked about his chairmanship of the £500 million company Veolia Water UK. Lord Deben insisted it did no energy-related business and only dealt with water. If it had ‘even a remote connection’ with the environment or climate change, he promised, he would step down.

Key role: John Gummer who helps decide the future size of energy bills iis chairman of a company that stands to benefit from his Government work

Key role: John Gummer who helps decide the future size of energy bills iis chairman of a company that stands to benefit from his Government work. Here he is pictured with his daughter Cordelia, then four, in 19990 at the height of the BSE crisis

In fact, Veolia – of which Lord Deben remains chairman – boasts on its website of supplying ‘large electrical grid connections for renewable energy producers’, and illustrates this with a large photograph of wind farms.

The firm also publishes a ‘case study’ of how its engineers ‘braved the Scottish gales’ to install 12 miles of high-voltage cable to connect the national grid to the Dalswinton windfarm near Dumfries.

As Committee on Climate Change chief, Lord Deben issued a report last month claiming generating power from natural gas would in the long run prove much more expensive than wind farms – despite the multi-billion pound subsidies wind receives from consumers and taxpayers.

His committee advises the Government on energy levies and subsidies under the 2008 Climate Change Act. Thanks in part to its recommendations, the number of onshore wind farms like that at Dalswinton is set at least to double by 2020 – a potentially lucrative source of business.

However, last night Lord Deben maintained ‘there is clearly no conflict of interest’. He said Veolia’s core business was water, while Veolia’s grid connection division would be just as happy to connect a coal-fired power station as a wind farm. He said when the Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change ratified his appointment: ‘I was fully able to satisfy it on the points raised .  .  . All these issues have been very carefully considered by me, by No 10 and by the Select Committee.’

But Albert Owen, Labour MP for Ynys Mon, who questioned Lord Deben about his Veolia interests at the confirmation hearing, said he would be raising the apparent conflict with his colleagues next week.

Mr Owen said he had not seen Lord Deben mention Veolia’s energy business in writing, and it is plain from the hearing transcript that he said nothing in his oral evidence. ‘I’d be very disappointed if he has misled the committee, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Energy and Climate Change [DECC],’ he said.

Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, said the whole field of energy and environmental policy seemed to be dominated by individuals who had commercial interests – for example, Tim Yeo, the Select Committee chairman, is a director of several renewable energy firms.

‘They all seem to have major interests in renewables and declaring them is not enough,’ said Mr Stringer. ‘Some of these people, such as Lord Deben, have more influence over policy than Ministers: either they should not have those jobs, or they should resign from those interests.

‘If Lord Deben is found to have misled the Select Committee, he should be sacked or forced to resign.’

The Mail on Sunday has established that yet another person with a key role in energy policy has commercial interests in renewables.

Professor Bernie Bulkin is chairman of the DECC’s Office of Renewable Energy Development, which works closely with wind farm and other renewable suppliers to ‘accelerate development’ through financial incentives and ‘unlocking barriers to delivery’ such as obtaining planning permission. He is also paid an undisclosed sum by a giant renewable energy investment fund. Prof Bulkin is a ‘senior adviser’ to Vantage Point Capital Partners, whose £3 billion holdings include large stakes in some of the world’s biggest wind, solar and biomass firms.

Pictured is a case study page from Veolia's website. Lord Deben said Veolia's grid connection division would be happy to connect a coal-fired power station as a wind farm

Pictured is a case study page from Veolia’s website. Lord Deben said Veolia’s grid connection division would be happy to connect a coal-fired power station as a wind farm

A DECC spokesman said that his government job, for which he is paid £54,000 a year, ‘requires a high level of understanding and involvement with the renewables industry. As such, it is not surprising Prof Bulkin has commercial interests in this sector. He does not have any conflicts of interest and, in line with Cabinet Office requirements, he has fully disclosed his interests in Vantage Point Capital Partners.’

As Environment Secretary, Lord Deben was filmed in 1990 feeding his daughter Cordelia, then four, a hamburger at the height of the BSE crisis, in an effort to prove British beef was safe. She is now one of several family members who serves as a director in his Sancroft environmental consultancy.

Lord Deben, who lives in a substantial grange in Suffolk, has been chairman of Veolia Water since 2004. Before he left the Commons in 2010 he had to disclose his pay in the register of members’ interests.

In some months, his salary was impressive: £3,562 a month for what was sometimes only two hours’ work, or even in some months, nothing at all. He refused yesterday to disclose how much he is paid now.

Before he was nominated to head the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben  stood down as chairman of a firm aiming to build a power-generating barrage in the Severn Estuary and, as he had promised the Select Committee, he has resigned as chairman of Forewinds, which is trying to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm on the Dogger Bank in the  North Sea.

However, he seems determined to stay at Veolia. Questioned by Mr Owen at the Select Committee, he said: ‘I am chairman of a water company, but the major job of the water company is putting in meters for other water companies .  . . If you look at what it does, it really has no connection at all. And if I thought it even had a remote connection, I would make that change.

‘I think this job is too important to jeopardise in that way, but I can assure you that I have been through that very carefully.’

Just three weeks after the hearing, Lord Deben wrote and signed the foreword to Veolia’s annual report. In this he spoke of the integration taking place between the company and its three sister firms, also owned by holding company Veolia Environnement. Among these sisters is Dalkia, a renewable energy company.

Lord Deben wrote of ‘convergence’ with it, which would then give  customers ‘multi-divisional environmental service offerings combining group expertise in water, waste  and energy.’

Mail On Sunday, 13 January 2013