New Tory Minister’s Bio-tech and Agri-Business Lobbying Past Questioned

The Sunlight Centre today wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding the conflict of interest arising from the appointment of Caroline Spelman MP as the Secretary for State for the department.

Until last year Spelman co-owned Spelman, Cormack & Associates, a food and biotechnology lobbying firm she set up in 1989 with her husband, Mr Mark Spelman, using her maiden name, Cormack. Less than a year ago she transferred her shares in the firm to her husband and resigned her directorship in May 2009.

According to Companies House records the company’s registered office was in the Secretary of State’s constituency home until May last year. Her husband, Mark Spelman, remains a director of the company still trading under the Secretary of State’s name in sectors closely related to issues for which she is responsible.

Given that the company is still using her maiden name to trade, a name by which she would have been known when active in farming politics in the 1980s, this is clearly of public interest.

The Sunlight Centre has posed the following questions:

1. Will the Secretary of State step back from dealing with matters which impact on her former clients in the agri-business and bio-tech industy?

2. Has the Secretary of State fully declared all the agri-business companies with which her “family business” had dealings, because these do not seem to be a matter of public record?

3. Will she recuse herself specifically from any negotiations with a bearing on the sugar beet industry given her close past relationship to those with a commercial interest in these negotiations?

A full copy of the Sunlight Centre’s letter to Defra is included below.

The full letter:

Helen Ghosh
Permanent Secretary
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London
SW1P 3JR

Sent by fax and post to: 0207 238 6118

Dear Ms. Ghosh,

I am writing to bring to your attention a possible conflict of interesting regarding the newly appointed Secretary of State for your department, the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP.

As you should already be aware, until last year the Secretary of State for your department co-owned Spelman, Cormack & Associates, a food and biotechnology lobbying firm she set up in 1989 with her husband, Mr Mark Spelman, using her maiden name, Cormack. Less than a year ago she transferred her shares in the firm to her husband and resigned her directorship in May 2009. According to Companies House records the company’s registered office was in the Secretary of State’s constituency home until May last year. Her husband, Mark Spelman, remains a director of the company still trading under the Secretary of State’s name in sectors closely related to issues for which she is responsible. Given that the company is still using her maiden name to trade, a name by which she would have been known when active in farming politics in the 1980s, this is clearly of public interest.

The Secretary of State is in charge of negotiating subsidies, quotas and tariff barriers at the EU Agricultural Council, giving rise to a clear conflict of interest between this official role and her close links to a company which has in the past lobbied or may be intending to lobby over such matters. The Secretary of State is also responsible for Genetically Modified food regulations at the same time as her husband’s firm deals with bio-tech industry clients. Ms. Spelman therefore remains linked to a farming and food lobbying firm that she set up, held shares in for ten years, and for which her husband is still using her name and home address for commercially.

In view of this information we ask you to clarify the following:

1. Will the Secretary of State step back from dealing with matters which impact on her former clients in the agri-business and bio-tech industy?

2. Has the Secretary of State fully declared all the agri-business companies with which her “family business” had dealings, because these do not seem to be a matter of public record?

3. Will she recuse herself specifically from any negotiations with a bearing on the sugar beet industry given her close past relationship to those with a commercial interest in these negotiations?

As a result of anti-competitive EU regulations and industry lobbying consumers in Britain pay massively inflated prices for sugar in comparison to world prices, there is therefore a legitimate public interest in knowing that the Minister responsible for negotiating the regime which governs sugar prices is free of any perceived conflict of interest or association with vested commercial interests in this area.

Yours sincerely,

Juliet Samuel
Centre for Open Politics
juliet@sunlight-cops.org.uk

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