Door left open for inquiry on 'sleaze': Outside body to rule on MPs' ethics 'is option'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

David Hunt, the minister for open government and public service, came close yesterday to accepting demands for a wide-ranging inquiry into rules governing the conduct of MPs.

Mr Hunt stopped short of calling for a body from outside Westminster to pronounce on MPs' ethical standards, because the Commons Committee of Privileges had already been set in train by MPs. But he said such a body was 'always an option and . . I'm sure that we're going to look at anything that is possible to prove to people that we have the highest possible standards'.

Mr Hunt's remarks came as David Alton, the sole Liberal Democrat on the committee, and Graham Allen, Labour's immigration spokesman, pledged to call for Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to be questioned over his intervention in the application for British nationality by Ali al- Fayed, the brother of Mohammad al-Fayed, the Harrods' chairman.

Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian, wrote last Friday of Mohammad al-Fayed's antipathy towards Mr Howard, whose second cousin, Harry Landy, was deputy chairman of London City and Westcliff, a property company owned by Lonrho, which pressed for the 1987 Department of Trade inquiry that Mr Fayed believed had blackened his family name. Mr Howard was a parliamentary under-secretary at the time.

Last night, the Liberal Democrat MP, Alex Carlile QC, wrote to the Prime Minister to ask who paid for an injunction taken out against the Financial Times on Friday night.

The resolve of the privileges committee's Labour members, who withdrew following a Tory vote for secret proceedings, will be put to the test tomorrow when the committee holds its first substantive hearing.

The eight Tories and Mr Alton are scheduled to listen to Sunday Times' tapes of conversations between a reporter posing as a businessman and the Tory backbenchers Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick, who are alleged to have been prepared to each accept pounds 1,000 for tabling parliamentary questions. Next Tuesday, the two MPs are due to be examined in person.

One possible way of seeking to resolve the impasse could be a fresh Commons debate and vote. But John Biffen, a former Tory leader of the House, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said the parliamentary committee established to investigate the scandal over the sale of Marconi shares involving Lloyd George became an extention of the Liberal and Tory whips' office.

He said: 'John Major cannot afford to see that happen to the privileges committee, and if it does then he must be prepared to have a wider inquiry conducted by people drawn from outside the House.'

On the similarly vexed issue of quangos, Mr Hunt said he wanted to find ways in which people could nominate themselves or others they considered 'the best possible individuals' to sit on public bodies.

According to a Labour Research Department study published yesterday by the GMB general union, appointments to National Health Service hospital trusts of people with Tory connections is six times higher than of those sympathetic to other political parties.

John Edmonds, the union's general secretary, said: 'The Government has the opportunity to make 800 new appointments next month. If John Major is sincere in his wish to raise standards in public life then he must use this opportunity.'

Mr Hunt said there should be more openness in the whole system, and he was considering advertising appointments.

Leading article, page 17

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine