The scandal-hit Commons energy committee whose chairman stepped aside in a lobbying row has elected an acting leader who has shares in oil firm Shell.
Lib Dem MP Sir Robert Smith is to take over the energy and climate change select committee while former Tory minister Tim Yeo is investigated over claims he helped a firm he worked for prepare to appear before his committee.
But as the row over potential conflicts of interest in politics grows, it emerged Sir Robert has shares in Shell and last year received hospitality from oil company BP.
Both were declared fully in the official register of members interests, where Sir Robert also reveals shareholdings in pharmaceuticals firm Glaxsmithkline, life assurance company Legal and General and mineral extraction business Rio Tinto.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, but the latest sleaze scandal has raised questions about the role of MPs on powerful select committees who have interests in companies and industries potentially affected by their work.
There has also been renewed focus on Peter Lilley, another member of the committee, who earned £47,000 last year as a non-executive director of Tethys Petroleum Limited and £22,462 advising Ferro Alloys Corporation Limited on power generation.
Greenpeace’s executive director John Sauven said: ‘MPs like Tim Yeo, Robert Smith and Peter Lilley – who hold a powerful influence over our country’s energy policy – need to ensure they don’t face questions over conflicts of interests.
‘It’s time for MPs to be more transparent about their commercial ties, put the public interest first, and get big money out of our politics. Only that way will trust be restored in our political system.’
Mr Yeo last night quit his chairmanship of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee after he was plunged into a sleaze scandal.
In a statement released last night, Mr Yeo said that he would tell committee colleagues that he wanted to ‘temporarily stand aside’ while the Parliamentary standards commissioner investigated him.
The Suffolk South MP was caught by undercover newspaper reporters apparently boasting that he had helped coach an industry contact with whom he had a business connection on how to perform before his committee.
He denies any wrongdoing and insists he rejected reporters’ offers of £7,000 a day fees in exchange for lobbying for them.
Mr Yeo referred himself to the commissioner in an attempt to clear his name.
Today the committee ‘unanimously accepted’ Mr Yeo’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’.
In a statement it added: ‘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.’
Mr Yeo will not claim his £14,728 salary as a committee chairman while he is being investigated. Lib Dem MP Sir Robert Smith will act as interim chairman.
However, Sir Robert has declared having shares in oil firm Shell and last year enjoyed £720 worth of hospitality from BP International to watch men’s gymnastics at the London Olympics.
Mr Yeo stepped aside after senior Labour figures piled pressure on him to quit.
Chris Bryant, a Labour home office spokesman, tweeted: ‘How can Tim Yeo possibly remain chair of a committee after [the Sunday Times] story and when he has direct financial interests?’
Mr Yeo’s interests in the green industry are believed to top £1million.
In his statement, Mr Yeo said: ‘I am [standing aside] solely to ensure the smooth running of the Committee during the next few weeks.
‘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.
‘I do not wish the Commissioner’s investigation to be a distraction from the Committee’s important work. I believe that during the past three years the committee has been extremely effective and I want this to continue.’
Mr Yeo has been under pressure to resign from the committee after a newspaper investigation appeared to show him claiming he could exert influence behind the scenes for private companies.
He was filmed apparently bragging that he had privately coached the director of the firm – to which he has financial links – on how to influence the committee.
In reality, he was speaking to undercover reporters posing as representatives of a green energy firm looking to hire him on a salary of £7,000 a day.