UK Politics

Tim Yeo rejects committee coaching claim

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Media captionRoss Hawkins says Tim Yeo "intends to contest these allegations very vigorously indeed"

Conservative MP Tim Yeo has rejected claims he used his position as chairman of a Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee to help a private company influence Parliament.

Sunday Times investigators secretly filmed the former environment minister.

The paper alleges Mr Yeo told them that he had advised the boss of a firm owned by a company paying the MP what to say when giving evidence to the committee.

Mr Yeo denies "coaching" the executive and says he will contest the claims.

The MP has referred himself to the Parliamentary standards commissioner.

Interviews cancelled

The allegations come amid calls for a tightening of the rules around lobbying of ministers and MPs to ensure greater transparency, with the government promising to bring forward legislation in the coming weeks.

The Sunday Times says its undercover reporters posed as representatives of a green energy company offering to hire Mr Yeo.

He appears to tell them - in a conversation the paper videoed - that he had coached a representative of a firm that is a subsidiary of a company he is paid to work for, on what that representative should say when appearing in front of his committee.

In the committee hearing last month, Mr Yeo publicly excused himself from questioning GB Railfreight managing director John Smith because of his acknowledged conflict of interest as a non-executive director and shareholder in its parent firm Eurotunnel.

But in the recording, the MP claims what he did for GB Railfreight "in private was another matter altogether obviously".

Asked what this meant, he said he "was able to tell him (Mr Smith) in advance what he should say" before the committee during its ongoing inquiry into the bio-energy industry.

The MP cancelled a number of planned broadcast interviews on Sunday in which he was expected to respond to the allegations but, in a statement, he said he "totally rejected" them.

"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," he said.

"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 as the article claims."

Meeting

Mr Yeo said he had met Mr Smith five days before he gave evidence during a visit to one of the firm's freight trains.

"I spoke briefly to Mr Smith about his forthcoming appearance in front of the committee to explain that because of the business connection between us, I would not take part in questioning him.

"I did not want him to think that my silence indicated a lack of interest in what he was saying."

He added: "I did not 'coach' John Smith on this or any other occasion.

"He is not a 'paying client' as the Sunday Times alleges but a business colleague. 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."

There is no suggestion GB Railfreight did anything wrong.

The firm, a leading haulier which transports coal, biomass, steel and other materials by rail around the country, said in a statement that its managing director made the same arguments the company has made regularly.

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