Published on:

What’s wrong with drawing attention to a new technology?

Damian Carrington in the Guardian has attempted to imply criticism of me for writing an email to the energy minister in the House of Lords to draw his attention to a new technology for emissions reduction as a byproduct of an innovative manufacturing process. I explicitly was not lobbying. I have absolutely no interest in the technology or the company, but I happened to meet them through a friend and thought their technology sounded interesting and the British government might be interested, since it might be a way for the UK to generate jobs and revenue while cutting emissions; the company was not asking for a subsidy. I met them over a drink – and I paid. I have acted entirely appropriately, and the Guardian article is trying to make a scandal where there is none.

The source of the Guardian article is a Freedom of Information Request from Friends of the Earth. The FoE individual quoted in the article is Guy Shrubsole, who has a criminal conviction for aggravated trespass as he prevented people getting to work at a surface coal mine in Northumberland on the Blagdon Estate. Mr Shrubsole was given a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to chaining himself to mining machinery to cause disruption at the site. He was also given a three year restraining order preventing him from coming within 50 metres of the mining company’s sites or offices. Mr Shrubsole appears to be under the mistaken impression that I was telling the energy minister about a carbon capture and storage technology. Even if I had been, there would be no scandal.

The real scandal is that the Guardian relies on a criminal as a source.

This is the email I sent to Mr Carrington when he approached me about it. He omitted key parts of my reply in his article:

“I am afraid you or FOE have got the wrong end of the stick. 

The company is not Summit. It’s not an energy company. It’s not in carbon capture and storage. It’s a chemical company. It offers potential for emissions reduction (which I thought FoE favoured) as a byproduct of manufacturing something useful, that’s all. It did not seek a subsidy, as I made clear. I have no interest in it now or in the future, because my coal interests will expire long before anything happens. The distant possibility of interest I mentioned was on behalf of Northumbrian workers who might want to keep their jobs, not on behalf of myself. I am in favour of jobs for people in the North-east. I have not contradicted myself in any way.

Please quote all the above paragraph in full or not at all.”

The Guardian ignored the last request.


Post-script: The story led to a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which was summarily dismissed.


These are quotations from the commissioner’s letter to me:


“I have received no evidence that you elevated any personal interest above the public interest….

“A breach of Paragraph 8(d) would have involved you receiving payment or other reward in exchange for approaching the minister. A breach of Paragraph 14 would have involved you lobbying for the exclusive benefit of an organisation for which you received payment or other reward. I have received no evidence that either was the case.

“The final provision of the code which might have been relevant is Paragraph 10(b), which requires members to declare relevant interests when communicating with ministers. In your response you set out how you had no relevant interest; and your email to the minister was to that effect. I have received no evidence to suggest that this is not the case…

“For the above reasons I have concluded that there is no prima facie case that the case has been breached. Therefore I have dismissed the complaint…

“You may also publish this letter on your website.”






By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist