'Depressing tale' that brought fierce grilling from fellow Tory

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The Independent Online
Quentin Davies, the Tory MP for Stamford and Spalding, subjected David Willetts to one of the hardest grillings of a minister witnessed since select committees were set up.

Mr Davies described Mr Willetts's story as a "slightly depressing tale" and attacked two conflicting memorandums as "profoundly misleading".

Mr Willetts insisted that the first of the memorandums - called "Willetts one" - was a "quick manuscript note" for the whips' office. It said Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, then Tory chairman of the committee, "wanted" advice over its Neil Hamilton investigation.

Mr Davies challenged Mr Willetts over a second memorandum written for the committee in which he denied trying to influence Sir Geoffrey.

Quentin Davies: Well Mr Willetts I think we all agree that "he wants our advice" is about as simple a statement as you could make in the English language. You told us this afternoon that was not the statement which Sir Geoffrey made to you and you invented those words.

David Willetts: These words are my own. As I say in my memorandum they were my way of reflecting the fact that Sir Geoffrey was worried he had a problem and I thought that perhaps the whips' office should give advice. It was [later] made clear to me that was not what we were going to do.

QD: It's not what you said in your original memorandum... I think we'd move on from this slightly depressing tale.

(Mr Davies then read out Mr Willetts' summary to the committee claiming he and Sir Geoffrey had not talked about any inquiry or any possible outcome of the committee.)

QD: What were you talking about? Football?

DW: We were talking about a procedural dilemma ...

QD: If you again read those words, you come to the conclusion that you didn't talk through at all with Sir Geoffrey the way in which this investigation might develop. But actually "Willetts one" makes it clear that it was the subject of the conversation you had with him.

DW: The conversation with Sir Geoffrey was about a procedural point ... Whether you could have an investigation with a libel action in the courts ...

QD: Mr Willetts, we have a problem don't we? We have identified three central aspects of this memorandum that simply can't be reconciled one with the other: exploiting a good Tory majority; wanting our advice - again those words must be profoundly misleading; clearly you were trying to exercise influence ... We have to come to the conclusion either you were misleading your colleagues in the original memorandum or you are trying to deceive this committee now. Which of these two should we believe? Possibly both of them are untrue. But what would be logically impossible is that both of them are untrue.