THE Tory chairman of a Commons committee last night denied breaching lobbying rules, amid allegations that he offered to use his position to further business interests.
Tim Yeo, who heads the energy and climate change committee, said he “totally rejects” claims made after a sting by journalists from a Sunday newspaper. The MP said he had referred himself to the parliamentary standards commissioner to clear his name.
The reporters approached the MP posing as representatives of a solar energy company offering to hire him as a paid advocate to push for new laws to boost its business for a fee of £7,000 a day.
He apparently said he could not speak out publicly for the green energy firm they claimed to represent, because “people will say he’s saying this because of his commercial interest”.
However, he reportedly assured them: “What I say to people in private is another matter altogether.”
The newspaper’s footage showed Mr Yeo seemingly suggesting that he had coached a paying client on how to influence the committee. “I was able to tell him in advance what he should say,” he said.
The former environment minister apparently excused himself from asking questions at the committee hearing because of the conflict of interest.
The House of Commons code of conduct forbids members from acting as paid advocates, including by lobbying ministers.
Mr Yeo, the latest in a line of politicians caught up in lobbying stings, pulled out of broadcast interviews yesterday. But he later issued a detailed statement rebutting the claims.
“I want to make clear that I totally reject these allegations,” he said. “The Sunday Times has chosen to quote very selectively from a recording obtained clandestinely during a conversation of nearly an hour and a half in a restaurant with two undercover reporters who purported to be representing a client from South Korea.
“My lawyer requested the whole recording from which these extracts were obtained, but this has not been given.
“The whole recording would show the context of the conversation and demonstrate clearly that at no stage did I agree or offer to work for the fictitious company these undercover reporters claimed to be representing; still less did I commit to doing so for a day a month.”
Addressing the allegation that he coached a client, Mr Yeo said it was “totally untrue”.
“The person concerned is John Smith, managing director of GB Rail Freight, a subsidiary of Groupe Eurotunnel SA, of which I have been a director and shareholder since 2007,” he said.
“I travelled with John Smith and two other people in the cab of a freight train for three hours on 16 May, five days before he appeared before my committee.
“I did not ‘coach’ John Smith on this or any other occasion.
“Like many business executives giving evidence to select committees, he sought advice from the public affairs company retained for the purpose by GB Rail Freight.”
Mr Yeo said: “I am referring myself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, because I wish to have this matter thoroughly investigated. I am confident that I have acted in accordance with the MPs’ code of conduct at all times.”