'Sleaze' inquiry resisted

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THE GOVERNMENT moved quickly yesterday to distance itself from prospects of an independent inquiry into MPs' business interests, despite a call for an outside investigation by Sir Norman Fowler, former Conservative Party chairman.

Sir Norman's successor, Jeremy Hanley, said in a radio interview that the behaviour of MPs was 'ultimately for MPs themselves because they had the experience of the workings of Westminster'.

However Conservative Central Office sources stressed later that Mr Hanley's comment was not intended as a rebuke to Sir Norman, and that the former party chairman's suggestion had been neither ruled in or ruled out.

Sir Norman's call for an inquiry, made in a speech at Sutton Coldfield on Friday, laid out the case for 'sensible' rules to ensure that public confidence in MPs is restored.

Meanwhile Whitehall was expecting the Government to make public this week some parts of the inquiry being conducted by Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, into the activities of Tim Smith, the minister who resigned last week, and Neil Hamilton, the corporate affairs minister.

Mr Hamilton, MP for Tatton, was under pressure following publication of a copy of a letter from him to Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, chairman of the all-party Members' Interests Committee, which showed Mr Hamilton never adequately explained his trip to the Paris Ritz Hotel, apparently paid for by the Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed.

The chairman of Tatton Conservative Association, Alan Barnes, issued a statement yesterday reiterating his 'total support' for Mr Hamilton, who is protesting his innocence in the cash-for-questions row and has instituted legal action.

Labour MPs are boycotting the Commons Privileges Committee over its private inquiry into cash-for-questions allegations involving Tory MPs David Tredinnick and Graham Riddick.

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