Minister faces questions over biotech links

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman faces questions over links to her husband’s biotech lobbying firm.

Until last year Mrs Spelman co-owned Spelman, Cormack & Associates, a food and biotechnology lobbying firm she set up in 1989 with her husband.

Less than a year ago, she transferred her shares in the firm to her husband and resigned her directorship in May 2009.

But the company continues to trade under Mrs Spelman’s maiden name, Cormack.

Now the Sunlight Centre – which campaigns for more transparency in politics – has written to DEFRA permanent secretary Helen Ghosh regarding the issue.

According Companies House records, the company’s registered office was located in Mrs Spelman’s constituency home until May last year.

Her husband, Mark Spelman, remains a director of the company still trading in sectors closely related to issues for which Mrs Spelman is responsible.

The Sunlight Centre has asked DEFRA to confirm whether Mrs Spelman will step back from dealing with matters that affect her former clients.

It has also asked whether she has fully declared all the agri-business companies with which her “family business” had dealings.

As DEFRA secretary, Mrs Spelman is in charge of negotiating subsidies, quotas and tariff barriers at the EU Agricultural Council.

Sunlight researcher Juliet Samuel said there was a “clear conflict of interest” between Mrs Spelman’s official role and her close links to her old company.

Mrs Spelman was also responsible for genetically modified food regulations at the same time as her husband’s firm dealt with biotech industry clients, said Ms Samuel.

She remained linked to a farming and food lobbying firm that she set up, held shares in for 10 years, and for which her husband was still running.

The questions asked by The Sunlight Centre:

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?

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?

Will she remove 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 can be seen here.