Minister faces new inquiry

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The Independent Online
ALAN MEALE, the Environment minister at the centre of a row over lobbying, acted for a second company seeking planning permission, it emerged last night.

Mr Meale had already been criticised for writing to ministers, while he was a ministerial aide, to press the case for a pounds 14m development at Barnet Football Club, north London.

Last night, the Environment department, in which Mr Meale became a minister in July, put out a statement saying that he had approached Sir Gordon Downey, the standards watchdog, with details of a second case. As well as helping Tony Kleanthous, chairman of Barnet, Mr Meale has supported a development by the Belmont Riding Centre in north London, the department said.

The centre, which is owned by Andrew Reid, a Mayfair solicitor, has had its expansion plans frustrated by opposition from Barnet Council and the Mill Hill Preservation Society. However, the Sports Council has supported its plans. Yesterday, Mr Meale approached Sir Gordon to tell him he would welcome an inquiry into the allegations.

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said last night: "Mr Meale has told Sir Gordon that he would give him all possible assistance. Mr Meale has pointed out that his position is clear and was set out in a statement issued by the department on Sunday." Sunday's statement about Barnet FC said there had been no wrongdoing.

Last night, the shadow Environment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, said: "There is yet more urgency for clarification about the role of the Environment minister, Alan Meale MP. Further allegations have come to light and the public must be told about Mr Meale's involvement - if any - in these dealings."

Mr Meale had written to the Planning minister, Richard Caborn, supporting Mr Kleanthous's application for a new stadium for Barnet FC. The application was approved by Barnet Council but called in by the Secretary of State, John Prescott, who ordered an inquiry. Mr Prescott will make a decision after planning inspectors release their report. The PM's official spokesman said Tony Blair was "perfectly satisfied" with the way Mr Prescott's department had handled the issue.

There was no obvious connection last night between the two cases, although both were linked with Barnet in north London. The minister's boss, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has also been questioned about the affair after it emerged that both he and Mr Meale have links with the Greek Cypriot community in north London.

The Conservatives plan to raise the matter in Parliament this week, saying that Mr Meale broke the rules when he wrote letters about Barnet Football Club to Mr Caborn.

Mrs Shephard said the rules for parliamentary private secretaries - the post Mr Meale held until his promotion in July - prevented them from representing special interest groups.