No blame for Prescott

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JOHN Prescott was vindicated for the second time in three weeks yesterday, when the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee rejected a Conservative complaint about the non-declaration of a cash donation.

The complaint made by Sir Norman Fowler, the Tory spokesman on the environment, transport and the regions, related to donations of pounds 49,667 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for work done on Labour's regional development policies, in opposition.

Payments received in 1995 were declared by Mr Prescott in the Register of Members' Interests, payments received in 1996 were not declared.

Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Commons investigating officer, told the committee that the rules on registration were clear on one point: "that there should be an element of personal payment, benefit or advantage".

In the recent case relating to Tony Blair's family visit to Silverstone, it was ruled that there had been a benefit and the visit should have been declared by Mr Blair when he was opposition leader. But Sir Gordon said that Mr Prescott had derived no personal financial gain from the donation - nor had he gained an advantage as an MP or a shadow minister because, at the time, he had been acting as deputy leader of the Labour Party, with no responsibility for the regions.

"In my view, therefore," Sir Gordon said, "the donations were not registrable. It follows that Mr Prescott erred on the side of caution (which, generally speaking, is not to be discouraged) in registering the donation in 1995, and should not be criticised for omitting to do so in 1996."

Government auditors last month cleared the Deputy Prime Minister and his son of any impropriety over the sale of houses in Hull to a firm in which his son had an interest, and yesterday's verdict by Sir Gordon and the committee was welcomed by Mr Prescott, who said that both allegations had been raised in reports carried by the Sunday Times.

Yesterday, he said: "It has not been a pleasant experience either for me or for people close to me. I just hope that the Sunday Times will now have the decency to correct their factual inaccuracies."