Lib Dem MP Sir Robert Smith takes Yeo’s place as Energy and Climate Change Committee chair

sir Robert SmithSir Robert Smith, Lib Dem MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, has been named today as interim chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee following Tim Yeo’s decision to step down while allegations he used the role to help a private company influence Parliament are being investigated. Here’s the committee statement issued this morning:

The committee has unanimously accepted the chair’s recommendation that he absent himself from committee business for the duration of the investigation of the parliamentary commissioner for standards, following his self-referral at the weekend.

The committee expressed confidence in Mr Yeo’s chairmanship of the committee, but accepted the recommendation in order to ensure the continued effective and evidence-based work of the Committee.

It the interim period the committee has unanimously agreed that Sir Robert Smith acts as the interim chair. Mr Tim Yeo will not be drawing a chair’s salary during this time.

(Hat-tip to the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow for the text: it’s not yet live on the Committee’s web-page.)

Sir Robert’s elevation (however temporary) will result in a light being shone on his own interests, as noted in today’s Times (£):

Sir Robert Smith, a Liberal Democrat MP, has declared shareholdings in Rio Tinto, the mining corporation, and the oil and gas company Shell. Last year he was given a ticket for the men’s gymnastics at the Olympics and a 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.”

ConservativeHome’s Paul Goodman proposed yesterday that select committee chairs should be banned from having outside interests (just as David Cameron ordered that ministers should):

There has always been a case for barring those Chairmen, because of the power they command, from having outside interests that clash with their role – in other words, for making them an exception that proves the rule as far as legislators having outside interests is concerned. The Yeo row is a reminder that Select Committee Chairman are now paid by the taxpayer and, in most cases, elected by their fellow MPs. They thus have a legitimacy they didn’t have previously, and are receiving taxpayers’ money to help fund their role: all in all, they are now doing a job. The case for banning conflicting outside interests has now become overwhelming.

I’m sure he’s right. But Paul’s point raises the wider issue of whether MPs should also have paid outside interests. I don’t have problems with MPs continuing to keep up their pre-parliament professional interests. After all, politics is an insecure career and it’s only reasonable individuals can return to gainful employment if their constituents decide they should. Nor do I have a problem with MPs earning money from writing and broadcasting: politics is, after all, about communicating ideas.

Where I have more problems is when MPs gain experience in their role as an MP and then make money from it while serving as an MP. I’m not sure a ban is the answer (I rarely think a ban achieves anything more than shut up a Radio 4 Today presenter’s inquisition for 10 seconds). But it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Obviously we need to await the conclusion of the investigation, but I’m not sure whether the Sunday Times allegations have any real substance to them.

    The facts they established are that Tim Yeo admitted to make statements to the effect that he advised a businessman on what to say before the committee he chaired and coached a paying client – but as yet they have not provided evidence about the content and success of such advice/coaching and the client achieving the outcome(s) they were wanting to obtain from the committee.

    I’m sure any one on a committee/council etc, would willingly give advice to or even coach someone who was going to present to them if it meant that the person would be better able to make their pitch/contribution and hence avoid wasting everyone’s time. Likewise, if someone was wanting to present to a committee, they would approach people who had knowledge to help them better understand how and what they need to present/pitch to the committee so as to make a credible presentation.

    As Stephen notes “politics is, after all, about communicating ideas.” hence providing assistance to people to help them to communicate ideas albeit to politicians is probably a legitimate interest, whether MP’s can or should charge for this assistance or receive complementary tickets/meals is another matter.

    Changing tact – I suspect that given the number of journalist’s fishing for ‘wrong doing’ many switched on politicians will want to do some basic background checks on people/organisations before agreeing to a meeting…

  • Praise for Guido, he has the measure of this ‘wrong un’ as well!

  • Julian Tisi 12th Jun '13 - 3:19pm

    I’m with Roland on this one and I’d go further and (with my cynical hat on) suggest that the Sunday Times may have been out to get Tim Yeo. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tim Yeo recently tried to amend the Energy Bill to include earlier targets (the amendment that was narrowly defeated and many of our MPs voted against in order to stop it being a “wrecking” amendment to the whole Bill, even if that was not at all Tim Yeo’s intention). This has all the hallmarks of the “scandal” which ended in Vince Cable being a bit too candid to a fake constituent about wanting to “destroy” Murdoch – the one that only investigated Lib Dem MP’s.

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