Needham seeking another job as director

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Richard Needham, the former trade and industry minister, who is at the centre of a row over his appointment as a director with GEC, is seeking clearance to accept a second directorship with a major Northern Ireland construction firm.

The disclosure threatens to plunge John Major into a fresh controversy over Labour allegations of Tory "sleaze" as the Prime Minister prepares to launch a regional tour to lift morale among Conservative supporters.

The offer of the directorship to Mr Needham, who was a Northern Ireland minister for six and a half years, widened the controversy over his appointment as a non-executive director with GEC headed by Lord Prior, the former Northern Ireland Secretary.

Mr Needham said last night he was awaiting clearance to take up the directorship with Mivan by Lord Carlisle, chairman of the Civil Service Advisory Committee, who approved his appointment to GEC. He said he would abide by the recommendations of the Nolan committee on standards in public life.

"I have decided to do it, but I haven't said when yet," Mr Needham said.

He applied for clearance for the Mivan directorship at the same time as the GEC appointment. But Lord Carlisle withheld clearance on the Mivan directorship pending inquiries with the Northern Ireland Office to ensure there was no conflict of interests with his time as a minister in Ulster.

"I put in a request about Mivan at the same time as GEC. Lord Carlisle wanted to ask the Northern Ireland Office. I will abide by the Nolan recommendations.

"I think it is very unlikely there will be any difficulty. I had no dealings with Mivan when I was a minister," he added.

Questions are certain to be raised about the appointment of a former minister to a company which could be in competition for construction contracts by the Government, responsible for many multi-million pound construction projects in Northern Ireland. Mivan said he would assist the company in export developments and would make a "valuable contribution to its overseas interests".

Mr Needham was in the Northern Ireland Office from 1985 until the general election in 1992. He resigned as a trade minister in July.

Mr Needham threatened a writ against Brian Wilson, a Labour front bench spokesman, for suggesting he was "creeping under the wire" by taking up business posts instead of waiting for Nolan's recommendations to come into effect.

Mr Needham told his constituency yesterday he was standing down as an MP at the next election, saying 20 years as a politician were enough.