The Cash-for-Questions Affair: Pressure grows on minister to quit

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The Independent Online
(First Edition) NEIL HAMILTON was under renewed pressure to resign last night after two separate moves to officially inquire into his failure to declare the gift of a holiday from Mohamed al-Fayed, the chairman of Harrods.

Alex Carlile, a Liberal Democrat frontbencher, yesterday lodged a formal request for the Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests to investigate Mr Hamilton's failure to declare the six-night stay with his wife in the Ritz hotel, Paris, in September 1987 when he was a backbencher.

Meanwhile, David Alton, the sole Liberal Democrat representative on the Committee of Privileges' 'questions for cash' inquiry, formally notified Tony Newton, the Leader of the House and the committee's chairman, of his wish for it to encompass the actions of Mr Hamilton, the corporate affairs minister, and Tim Smith, who resigned his Northern Ireland ministerial post on Thursday.

Amid speculation yesterday that the inquiry by Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, had covered at least one more minister, Mr Carlile put down a priority written question to the Prime Minister, John Major, asking how many ministers were being, or had been, investigated.

As Downing Street backed up Mr Hamilton's claim yesterday that he had the 'full support' of the Prime Minister, two members of the Members' Interests Committee, Bill Michie and Terry Lewis, confirmed that Mr Hamilton's failure to declare the Ritz holiday had never been properly investigated.

Mr Michie said yesterday: 'We didn't investigate it. They are avoiding the issue.'

The apparent discrepancy between Mr Smith, who resigned swiftly, and Mr Hamilton, who did not, is highlighted by the rules of the Register of Members' Interests for the relevant year. They state that MPs must register 'gifts in relation to a Member's parliamentary duties' and 'any payments or any material benefits or advantages received from or on behalf of foreign . persons'.

Mr Smith said yesterday he had made the 'painful personal decision' to resign 'in the interests of the Government and Prime Minister'. Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the MP for Perth and Kinross, became the first Tory MP to break ranks publicly and call for Mr Hamilton's resignation. 'It is disgraceful and extremely damaging to the Government,' he said.

But Mr Hamilton, opening a school in his Tatton constituency yesterday, lived up to his reputation for irreverance by flourishing a ginger biscuit and promising to declare it in the register.

Tea at the Ritz, page 2