Greer plays host at Tory conference Sleaze and Euro spoil Tory party

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The Independent Online
Tory Euro-sceptics are threatening to re-open the wounds over the European single currency at next week's party conference.

Troubles over "sleaze" also threaten to overshadow the start of the conference on Tuesday. Ian Greer, the parliamentary lobbyist who made a pounds 10,000 "thank you" payment to Neil Hamilton, will host a reception on the first day of the conference in Bournemouth.

Asked whether Conservative Central Office had put pressure on Mr Greer to stay away, a spokesman for Ian Greer Associates said: "Certainly not."

John Prescott, the Labour Party's deputy leader, said John Major could not let Mr Hamilton resign as MP for Tatton because that would wipe out his one-seat majority. "He is John Major's immoral majority," Mr Prescott said.

Brian Mawhinney, the Tory party chairman, confirmed he had written to every constituency association warning them about the rules for accepting donations, after disclosures that more than 20 Tory MPs or their constituencies took donations from Mr Greer towards their election expenses.

But Dr Mawhinney made it clear the party would seek to defend Mr Hamilton from calls for him to resign as an MP. The chairman described him as a "first-rate constituency member of Parliament". Mr Hamilton wanted the allegations against him cleared up by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Sir Gordon Downey. "The Government wants the same thing and will fully cooperate," Dr Mawhinney added. Tory leaders in Tatton said there were no plans to call Mr Hamilton to account next week.

The first night of the conference will be dominated by a fringe meeting of arch Euro-sceptics, led by Bill Cash, Lord Tebbit and David Heathcoat- Amory, the former Treasury minister who resigned over the "wait and see" approach to the single currency. They will be intensifying the pressure on Mr Major to rule out a single currency before the election, on the ground that it would be a vote winner.

Other Euro-sceptics lining up for fringe meetings next week include John Redwood, Norman Lamont, and Sir Teddy Taylor. Whitehall sources were playing down the significance of today's European summit in Dublin, saying no important decisions would be taken.

Mr Major will warn fellow European Union leaders that Britain will veto proposals to extend the commission's powers into employment policy, which Mr Blair said this week he would endorse.

The Whitehall sources said Mr Major would be "unbending" in his opposition to moves to draw up a specific employment chapter for the amended Maastricht treaty and to push through a maximum 48-hour working week "by the back door", using health and safety legislation.

He will have to face the leaders of Austria, Holland and Portugal, who sent messages to Mr Blair at his party conference in Blackpool expressing support for a Labour election victory.

Mr Blair insisted yesterday that there would be no change before the election in Labour's policy of keeping open Britain's option of entering a single European currency. But he was hesitant about offering a referendum. "We've always made it clear that it has to be with the full consent of the British people. But let us see whether that situation arises or not," Mr Blair said on BBC Radio's World at One.

He denied the conference had been stage-managed, despite two protests at the rostrum on the final day. "The big difference is in the total sober judgement that is being made about what the country can afford and what it can't," he said.