Dark Money Investigations: News

43 Lords have financial interests in fossil fuel industry

Politicians accused of being ‘worryingly cosy’ with oil and gas firms as it’s revealed almost one in ten Tory peers has financial stake in the sector

Rob Edwards
27 October 2021, 10.00am
Thirty-three peers own fossil fuel shares worth at least £50,000 each
Frode Koppang / Alamy Stock Photo

Forty-three members of the House of Lords have a financial stake in the oil and gas industry, prompting accusations of “unethical” conflicts of interest.

Analysis by The Ferret news website shows that 33 of them own shares worth at least £50,000 each, across 19 fossil fuel companies. Ten more have jobs in the sector – advising firms, or acting as chair or director.

Almost one in ten Conservative peers has financial interests in oil and gas. A further 17 peers without political affiliations also have financial interests in the sector, as do three Labour peers. Five of the 43 are Scottish politicians.

Greenpeace today accused politicians of being “worryingly cosy” with the fossil fuel industry. A spokesperson said: “How can these powerful people be trusted to seize the opportunities of the green industries of the future, when they directly benefit from propping up business as usual?”

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The peers include Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, who now sits on the board of directors for an arm of Bahrain’s National Oil and Gas Authority. When speaking in Parliament about energy and climate change, Browne has had to declare his “very extensive” financial interests.

Browne also has roles at other oil companies, such as German firm Wintershall Dea and L1 Energy, an oil and gas investment company controlled by a Russian billionaire.

How can they be trusted to seize the opportunities of the future, when they benefit from business as usual?

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former Labour defence secretary and NATO secretary-general, is paid as an adviser for BP. He also holds shares in the company and says he received a “limited amount of secretarial assistance from BP plc”.

An openDemocracy investigation this week revealed BP had paid an ex-MI6 spy firm to snoop on environmental campaigners.

Meanwhile, Conservative peer Viscount Astor is a director at Canadian Overseas Petroleum, which explores for oil in West Africa.

Some 23 peers also have shareholdings in the oil giant Shell – although the total values of their investments are unknown. Rules say that peers must declare all shares worth £50,000 or more, but they do not need to say the exact amount.

Other peers own stakes in oil firms such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total and Equinor.

Two peers with shares in Shell – Conservative Baroness Noakes and crossbencher Lord Burns – sit on the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee, which took evidence on net-zero climate policies in September.

Campaign group Corporate Observatory Europe described peers’ links to the oil sector as “completely unethical”, saying: “These findings are absolutely shocking and show how the House of Lords is rife with conflicts of interest.”

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A spokesperson for the group added: “These are supposed to be the people holding the government's climate policies to account, and instead they have direct financial links to the fossil fuel industry. How can a peer with shares in the industry also be on the committee that tries to regulate them?”

He continued: “Any ordinary person in the street would see there was a big problem, yet somehow Britain's political elite think this is acceptable behaviour. We're just a few days away from the UK hosting the biggest climate summit in six years, but this investigation only reinforces the image that big oil and gas has its tentacles firmly wrapped around our governments.”

The Fossil Free London campaign group said: “There is consensus now that there can be no new investment in oil and gas if we’re to have a liveable climate. Why don’t we hear that chilling message from our lawmakers, the people we look to get us out of this hole? Is it simply because too many of them make money from oil and gas companies?”

These are supposed to be the people holding the government's climate policies to account

The environmental and human rights group, Global Witness, also condemned the findings, saying: “Our politicians are supposed to be working in the public interest but it seems that many politicians are deeply conflicted with the narrow and toxic interests of big oil and gas firms.”

In September, The Ferret revealed that three of the senior executives who run the UK government’s oil and gas licensing authority have shares in the oil industry. The investigative website also reported that eight of the 13 members on the authority’s board of directors and senior management team used to work for oil and gas companies.

‘No apologies’

All the peers named in the analysis had declared their interests fully and there is no evidence of rule-breaking. A House of Lords spokesperson added that members are also required to declare any relevant financial interests when speaking in parliamentary debates.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen told The Ferret he would make “no apologies for working with, and investing in, BP”, which he described as “a company in the foreground of transitioning to the low-carbon economy”.

He added: “It is nonsensical and counterproductive to campaign against that reality.”

A spokesperson for Lord Burns said he had owned shares in Shell for many years and no additions had been made recently. Thirteen lords did not respond to requests to comment by The Ferret, nor did the Conservative Party.

A spokesperson for the North Sea industry body, Oil and Gas UK, said: “UK oil and gas companies are also the same companies behind offshore wind, tidal, hydrogen, carbon capture and other green technologies the country’s going to need to achieve net zero.”

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