Election '97: Tories would make bribing MPs a crime

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The Independent Online
The bribery of MPs could become a criminal offence if the Tories are returned to power, John Major said yesterday.

A change in the law following the cash-for-questions scandal would end more than 20 years of calls for a legal loophole to be closed. As long ago as 1976 a Royal Commission on standards in public life suggested that Parliament should consider making the corruption, bribery or attempted bribery of an MP an offence.

Yesterday the Prime Minister told journalists that the move, which was also recommended by Lord Nolan, should be looked at. "I will certainly examine the question of whether this should be a criminal offence."

A Home Office policy paper last December suggested that the law should be changed. At present MPs are not covered by the laws on bribery in public bodies and must be disciplined by the House of Commons rather than the courts.

The paper suggested that new legislation could make bribery of an MP an offence, but could allow a waiver whereby the House could decide to deal with a particular case itself if it wished.

Speaking in Plymouth last night, Tony Blair said behaviour like Mr Hamilton's would not be tolerated in his party.

"Like Martin Bell, I am willing to give Mr Hamilton the benefit of the doubt on the allegations as yet unproven," he said.

"But there are enough admitted wrongdoings to merit Mr Hamilton's stepping down. If a candidate of mine had taken the gifts and payments Mr Hamilton took, without declaring them, he would not be a Labour candidate.

"If a candidate of mine had lied to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, he would not be a Labour candidate. These are admitted wrongdoings. They are serious. Yet he is still there,' the Labour leader said.

At the Tory press conference yesterday the deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, confirmed that he had given evidence to Sir Gordon Downey's inquiry into cash-for-questions.

Mr Heseltine said: "Neil Hamilton has made it absolutely clear that he has a full answer to the allegations put against him. I have given my evidence to Sir Gordon Downey and it is his job to evaluate it."

Mr Heseltine's evidence to the Scott inquiry into the sale of arms to Iraq proved damaging to his fellow ministers because it emerged that he had refused to take advice from the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, that he should sign a public interest immunity certificate which would prevent evidence from going before the courts.

John Major yesterday gave a personal vote of support to Mr Hamilton, whose constituency association backed his candidature on Tuesday night. He said that if he were voting in Tatton, Cheshire, he would vote for Mr Hamilton and the electors there should do the same.

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