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

by Stephen Tall on June 11, 2013

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.