Two ministers accused in row over 'cash for questions'

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The Independent Online
TWO MPs who are now government ministers were prepared to table parliamentary questions on behalf of Mohammed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, for pounds 2,000 a time, it was alleged last night.

The claims were raised before MPs at the close of last night's debate on the Criminal Justice Bill by Stuart Bell, a Labour trade and industry spokesman, and Alex Carlile, a Liberal Democrat.

Mr Bell, referring to John Major's declaration that wrong-doing in public life should be rooted out, and calling for an urgent statement from the Prime Minister, said: 'A top Westminster lobbying company was paid thousands of pounds to give two high-flying Conservative MPs, for asking parliamentary questions, pounds 2,000 a time on behalf of Harrods during the height of the Lonrho and House of Fraser controversy.'

Mr Bell went on to identify the two ministers as Neil Hamilton, a trade and industry minister, and Tim Smith, a Northern Ireland minister, who were named in a newspaper article as 'recipients of payments passed to Ian Greer Associates by Mohammed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, on top of a pounds 50,000 parliamentary lobbying campaign'.

The claims come as the Committee for Privileges prepares to investigate claims that the Tory backbenchers Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick were each prepared to accept pounds 1,000 for tabling Commons questions.

Hours earlier, seven Labour committee members threw a cloud over that investigation by deciding to boycott it until the Tory majority agreed to rescind a decision to hold it behind closed doors.

Edward Garnier, a Conservative MP, protested that some Labour MPs were using the cloak of parliamentary privilege to publicise the allegations made in the Guardian newspaper.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, asked the Deputy Speaker to ensure that 'this matter of ministers taking bribes of pounds 2,000 a time is not shoved upstairs to some secret committee but is dealt with by this House . .

. This government is riddled with corruption.'

Mr Carlile has tabled a Commons early day motion naming the two ministers as the subject of the claims. He said: 'We have asked for an independent inquiry, not members of this House, to examine those matters.'

Labour walk-out, page 9