The Labour chair of the committee tasked with holding the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to account has been accused of “total hypocrisy” after accepting a high-profile appointment from the government.
Stephen Timms, who chairs the cross-party Commons work and pensions select committee, has been appointed by the prime minister to an unpaid role as a trade envoy to Liechtenstein and Switzerland, with the aim of “helping businesses find new export and investment opportunities” and promoting UK trade.
Timms (pictured) has defended himself this week from accusations that he will now find it harder to hold ministers to account.
But Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said his decision to accept the position was “absolutely appalling”.
She said: “This is a conflict of interest, as Stephen Timms chairs the DWP select committee and is supposed to be holding the government to account for its horrendous policies that have caused untold distress and harm towards disabled people.”
She said: “How can you hold the government to account for its appalling treatment of disabled people at the hands of government policy and DWP assessments and yet represent the Tory government as a trade envoy in tax haven countries?
“This is total hypocrisy and shows Labour hand in glove with government. The rich getting richer while disabled people pay a heavy cost.”
Timms told Disability News Service that the post was “entirely unpaid”.
He said: “The rigour of my scrutiny of government policy on the select committee, and in the chamber of the Commons, will in no way be weakened by the appointment.
“One of my Labour parliamentary colleagues in the Commons has served for some years as the trade envoy to Bangladesh, and it certainly hasn’t affected her capacity to criticise the government.
“I had, of course, to ensure there was no concern in the opposition whips’ office before agreeing to take it on.”
He added: “All of us want UK trade to increase.
“It’s particularly important given the difficulties we face outside the European Union.
“I hope I will be able to make a useful contribution to increasing UK trade with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, not least in financial services, a sector which is an important source of employment to my constituents.”
The Department for International Trade (DIT) refused to comment on the concerns about a conflict of interest.
But a DIT spokesperson said in a statement: “Our new trade envoys will play a key role in delivering our ambitious global trade agenda by boosting opportunities for British businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing markets and promoting vital inward investment.
“Trade envoys are unpaid, voluntary roles chosen on the merits of their relevant skills and experience.
“All trade envoys undergo a robust due diligence process and complete a declaration of interests form before their appointment.”
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