Cairns energy parliamentary group attracts support of Tory peers with financial interests in the industry
The parliamentary interest group for “energy security” set up by Alun Cairns after he received a donation from an energy company has attracted the support of Conservative peers with financial interests in the industry, newly released records reveal.
Nation.Cymru reported in September how the Vale of Glamorgan MP established the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) shortly after being re-elected with the help of a £5,000 donation from Aquind Ltd, a company behind plans for an energy project whose director is a major Tory donor.
Now three Conservative members of the House of Lords who are directors, shareholders or advisors to energy companies have joined the group, while Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake has quit as vice-chair.
The developments come as the Commons Standards Committee, which is chaired by Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, announced an investigation into APPGs after the Times reported on Thursday how the groups had become a “dirty secret”, with one lobbyist telling the paper: “They’ve basically just become a front for lobbyists and charities wanting to push their interests in parliament.”
The APPG for energy security was set up in April last year with Cairns serving as its chair and registered contact. An article on his website said it would be “looking into the challenges facing the energy sector and engaging with key stakeholders on this basis.”
Its establishment came after the Vale of Glamorgan MP registered a donation of “£5,000 to my campaign fund” from Aquind ahead of the 2019 general election.
The name of the group closely echoes statements made by the company. Aquind’s website says the electricity interconnector between England and France is needed to “ensure additional security and diversity of energy supply.”
Aquind co-owner Alexander Temerko describes himself as a “vocal champion of UK energy security and independence”, although he is better known as one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors.
Until now, the only other members of the APPG were Conservative MP Craig Williams, Labour MP Jessica Morden and Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake, giving the group the minimum membership needed to remain registered.
But the updated register of APPGs published this week shows Conservative peers Lord Moynihan, Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, Viscount Trenchard and the SNP’s Alan Brown have joined at the group’s most recent AGM in April, while Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake has quit.
Lord Moynihan is a partner in a private equity fund specialising in energy transition, works for a consultancy to energy companies and is a shareholder in three private equity funds “specialising in energy transition.”
Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom is chairman of Electricity Resilience Ltd, a company in which he owns a controlling stake, as well as an upaid board member of the Electric Infrastructure Security Council.
Viscount Trenchard is an unpaid member of the board energy company Penultimate Power UK.
Tom Brake of the Unlock Democracy campaign group and a former Liberal Democrat MP said Cairns and the Conservative peers could leave themselves open to accusations of breaching the prohibition on paid advocacy set out in the UK Parliament’s code of conducts for MPs and peers.
“The paid advocacy rule means any MP, paid by a particular business or sector, must be extremely cautious about any related APPG activity,” he told Nation.Cymru. “Stepping over a very indistinct line could leave them open to charges of lobbying.”
“Peers run a similar risk. Their code of conduct places extremely strict limits on a Peer’s involvement in any APPG relevant to their business interests. To avoid any possible conflict of interest or allegations of backdoor lobbying, simply avoiding APPG membership must provide the safest way forward.”
One Conservative MP has already been ordered to apologise by Parliament’s standards watchdog for asking ministers to support Aquind’s project after accepting a £10,000 donation. The Times also reported in April that the UK government’s business and energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, voiced support for the project after being lobbied by Aquind co-owner Alexander Temerko.
Nation.Cymru also reported in March how Cairns became a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis shortly after taking up a position as a paid advisor to Welsh taxi firm Veezu.