Richard North, 09/06/2013  
 

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One of the few things the legacy media seems to be capable of doing is trapping greedy MPs, as they have now done with Tim Yeo. He has been caught boasting about how he can use his chairmanship of the Energy and Climate Change committee to push his private business interests.

Tim Yeo, a man already under fire, told undercover reporters — posing as representatives of a firm offering to hire him — that he was close to "really all the key players in the UK in government" and could introduce them to "almost everyone you needed to get hold of in this country".

Smashing through the paywall, the Daily Mail gives in-depth treatment to the story, while the BBC also airs some of the incriminating video – and what a truly repulsive individual Yeo shows himself to be.

He was filmed revealing how he had advised John Smith, managing director of GB Railfreight, before the executive gave evidence to the committee last month. Yeo is a paid director and shareholder of Eurotunnel — the firm's parent company.

Yeo publicly excused himself from asking questions because of the conflict of interest. However, he did not tell his fellow MPs that he had coached the executive. "I was able to tell him in advance what he should say", Yeo confided to the reporters.

The former environment minister has earned about £530,000 from private firms since taking over the committee in 2010, and has shares and options worth about £585,000 in "low-carbon" companies that have employed him.

Yeo, while denying allegations (all of the) has referred himself to the Parliamentary standards commissioner, and an investigation will follow. One hopes then that some light will be shed on the murky world of parliamentary select committees, where it is all to easy (and common) to rig the evidence to achieve a desired result.

Apart from anything else, MPs really need to take a hard look at select committee chairmen - who get paid an extra £20,000 a year for their efforts – and whether they should be permitted to take fees from external interests where there is clearly potential for conflict of interest.

At the very least, Yeo demonstrates quite how easy it is to circumvent the spirit of the rules. He told Sunday Tines journalists that he could not speak out for clients publicly in the Commons because "people will say he's saying this because of his commercial interest". But he assured them: "What I say to people in private is another matter altogether".

The journalists had approached Yeo 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 told them he could commit to at least one day a month, despite the fact that he already held four private jobs and was in negotiations to take a further two.

Setting out what he could offer, the MP said: "If you want to meet the right people, I can facilitate all those introductions and I can use the knowledge I get from what is quite an active network of connections". Asked if that extended to government figures, Yeo replied: "Yes". The House of Commons code of conduct forbids members from acting as paid advocates, including by lobbying ministers.

Those who know how politics works are conscious that access to people in power is half the battle. It is for access to the private (some might say secret) network of influence for which commercial companies are prepared to pay real money. And it is that in which Yeo is trading, to his own considerable profit.

Arguably, the whole select committee system needs to be cleaned out – including removing ex-ministers from chairmanships – their own roles often being to block investigations into matters for which they have been previously held responsibility.

If parliament is to carry out even a halfway effective scrutiny role, the select committees themselves must be above reproach, and they must be accessible to all when it comes to presenting evidence and having it heard.

As long as there a people such as "trougher" Yeo around, that clearly is not the case.

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