The Charity Commission is looking into Lord Lawson’s think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, after it was claimed that one of its advisers offered to write a paper for a fake oil company and pass it off as independent through the charity’s review process.
According to an investigation carried out by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, the Princeton University physicist and GWPF adviser William Happer agreed to write a paper promoting the benefits of carbon dioxide for a fake oil company fronted by the Greenpeace investigators.
According to Greenpeace, Happer described how the report could be peer-reviewed through the foundation’s own review process, involving a selection of the academics known to the charity, because he felt it would struggle to stand up to review in an academic journal.
Benny Peiser, director of the GWPF, said Greenpeace’s allegations were "wholly untrue and damaging" and the charity had been in discussions with the regulator.
He said: "We are looking at the legal implications of the allegations. The person in question is one of our advisers and had nothing to do with us. We were not involved – this is the initiative of a single adviser, over which we have no control."
The foundation was launched by Lawson and Peiser in 2009 to raise awareness of what it calls "the contested science" of global warming.
Peiser defended the charity’s review process, saying: "Like most charities, we publish reports, and thy are peer-reviewed by internal and external experts, including our panel of 25 scientists. It’s very rigorous.
"How many charities submit their reports to scientific journals? Any charity, if it is reliable, will ask experts to do this.
"The Charity Commission told us it has a duty to look into the complaints by green campaign organisations, which have an ongoing campaign against us."
A Charity Commission spokeswoman confirmed it had a case open to assess "a number of potential concerns" about the GWPF.
She said she wanted to make it clear that the case was not a statutory inquiry.
"We are at this stage assessing potential concerns that have been identified. We have not drawn conclusions as to what, if any, regulatory role there might be for us."
She said she could not comment in further detail while the case was open.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the charity had serious questions to answer and the allegations raised questions about the validity of previous reports published by GWPF.