The Conservative grandee Lord Deben’s family firm has received nearly £500,000 in fees from two businesses poised to benefit from key recommendations in his climate change report.
The peer, 79, launched the blueprint this week for Britain to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 although he remains under investigation by a Lords watchdog over whether he properly declared his interests in green clients.
John Selwyn Gummer, who served in the cabinets of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, has since become highly esteemed both as a businessman and politician specialising in environmental sustainability.
The Lords commissioner for standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, launched an inquiry in February into whether Lord Deben had properly registered and declared his business interests.
Leaked documents showed that his consultancy, Sancroft International, was paid by clients working in fields covered by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the statutory body that he chairs. Lord Deben resisted calls for his resignation, saying that he had followed advice on disclosures from the Lords and CCC and that allegations of conflicts of interest were wholly false. He stayed in office for the launch on Wednesday of the long-awaited recommendations to the government on how to tackle global warming.
Two businesses that have paid large fees to Sancroft are poised to benefit from recommendations in the committee’s report, Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming.
Johnson Matthey, a sustainable technologies business that paid £290,000 over five years, is a prominent player in batteries for electric vehicles.
Lord Deben’s report encouraged subsidies for this form of transport, saying that “financial incentives will be required in the near term”. Johnson Matthey said that it last engaged Sancroft in 2017 “on a bespoke project related to a sustainability reporting topic”.
Saria, a multinational that has interests in food recycling and owns ReFood UK, Britain’s leading operator of anaerobic digestion facilities, paid Sancroft £180,000 over five years.
Lord Deben’s report called for an ambitious cut in food waste of 20 per cent by 2025. It lauded anaerobic digestion, saying it “represents the best environmental outcome for food waste that cannot be prevented or redistributed”. Saria told The Times that Sancroft provided “consultative support on strategic development plans for ReFood UK”.
Sancroft was incorporated as an environmental consultancy in 1997 shortly after Mr Gummer was removed from office by Labour’s victory. The business was created with equal shares for himself, his wife Penny, sons Ben and Felix, and daughters Leonora and Cordelia. Ben Gummer effectively transferred his share of the business around the time he became a Tory minister in 2015.
An internal report for Sancroft states that the business became unable to perform its previous core function of advising and assisting corporations with their environmental performance when Lord Deben became chairman of the CCC in 2012, owing to the clear conflict of interest. Sancroft ended contracts in this field and began specialising in social and ethical responsibility.
Critics will, however, be concerned that clients who have bought those services are operating in areas of the green economy where Lord Deben may have influence over government policy.
Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate-sceptic think tank, said: “It’s a failure of the government that it hasn’t asked him to recuse himself until this is resolved.”
A fellow lord, who declined to be identified, said there had been surprise in establishment circles that he had made the decision to stay in post.
Lord Deben said last night: “There is no basis in this attempt to smear my name; I have always declared my interests to the appropriate bodies. This is yet another attempt by climate sceptics to undermine the [CCC] and my 30 years of commitment to fighting man-made global warming.”
A spokeswoman for the CCC said that Lord Deben had “provided formal assurance to the committee and ministers that he has reviewed the activities of Sancroft International and that there is no truth to the allegations of conflict of interest”.