Sleaze allegation piles the pressure on Major

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John Major's latest crusade for family values suffers an embarrassing set-back this morning with Sunday newspaper allegations about a relationship between a male Conservative MP and a young man.

The reports, which come just three days after Mr Major again stressed his party's commitment to family values, put the Tories on the defensive on the eve of their new advertising blitz.

Today's News of the World claims that Jerry Hayes, MP for Harlow, had a relationship with the 18-year-old man for whom the MP, it says, organised a Commons pass. The newspaper reproduces letters allegedly written by Mr Hayes on House of Commons notepaper and quotes the MP as saying that he had made a stupid mistake, but that the relationship had been platonic.

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, seized on Mr Major's embarrassment, arguing it was reminiscent of the tide of sleaze which followed the Prime Minister's "back to basics" campaign three years ago. As the Tories prepared to unveil a poster slogan attacking Labour with the words "It would all end in tears", Mr Prescott argued: "I said, a couple of days ago, that John Major's latest push on family values was bound to end in tears, and so it has."

Mr Hayes, aged 43 and married with two children, said he was emphatically denying any allegations of impropriety and would be consulting with solicitors. He is due to leave the country soon for a family holiday.

Earlier the MP had told journalists outside his house in Saffron Walden, Essex, where he lives with his wife and children: "It will all blow over but I am not speaking to anyone." He added: "Some of the stories one hears about are just so fantastic. But I have no comment to make."

Mr Hayes, a popular Commons figure who makes frequent media appearances, is not a member of the government and will therefore not be under any pressure to resign a position. That makes the allegations less serious than those earlier on in the parliament involving ministers.

The disclosures do, however, provide the worst sort of follow-up to Mr Major's pledge on Friday to fight for the family. The Prime Minister said he wanted to "recognise and support the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the family from the incursions of the faceless state". He added that this held true "whether in the rights of parents over their children's upbringing and education, the responsibility of parents when they choose to start a family or the obligation children have to their ageing parents".