Leadership battle delays sleaze report

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The Independent Online
Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has become frustrated that the chaos within the Tory party is preventing the publication of his report on the cash-for-questions scandal.

Sir Gordon is anxious to draw the final line under the affair by publishing the report in order that it can be considered by MPs but the standards and privileges committee, to which it must be presented, cannot be recreated until the Tory leadership issue is resolved.

The report has been ready to be published since before the election, but its publication was delayed by John Major's decision to "prorogue" Parliament a couple of weeks before he needed to do so and this became an important election issue.

The Government had hoped to create the standard and privileges committee and the select committees which have an important role in scrutinising departmental decisions and legis- lation, but until the leadership of the Tory party is resolved with the appointment of a shadow ministerial team, the committees cannot be reconstituted.

Sir Gordon also faces another area of controversy following his remarks in a legal magazine that he favoured full-time MPs with no outside interests, an idea which contradicts the recommendations of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. Sir Gordon said that he thought that the idea of having professional full-time politicians should be considered.

However, the Nolan Committee report in 1995 said that Parliament benefits from having "members with continuing outside interests" and this view was reiterated Radio 4's Today programme yesterday by Professor Anthony King, a member of the Nolan committee.

t Labour is considering giving the Conservatives chairmanship of the Commons select committee on defence in order to defuse internal opposition over possible defence cuts.

A furious behind-the-scenes row is taking place over the suggestion, which would mean that Bruce George, the long-standing member of the committee and Labour MP for Walsall South, would not, as expected, assume the chairmanship.

One Tory source said that as part of the deal over the chairmanship, Michael Mates, a former chairman of the commit- tee, would return to the job.

A Labour MP suggested that Labour party chiefs may be willing to give the chairmanship to the Tories because "the plan-ned defence review is going to result in big cuts and it would put a Labour chairman in a difficult position". Most former members of the defence committee who would be candidates for the chairmanship are pro-defence spending and therefore giving the chairmanship to the Tories would avoid giving a senior Labour figure a platform to criticise cuts.

The review, to be completed by the end of the year, is likely to result in a fierce controversy over cuts. One MP said: "They would not be holding the review if they were not contemplating big cuts."