Committee split over decision to suspend MP P

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Indy Politics
The committee of MPs discussing the fate of the former whip David Willetts for allegedly trying to subvert a Commons investigation into the Neil Hamilton affair is deadlocked after three lengthy meetings in private this week.

The Standards and Privileges Committee which usually meets only once or twice a week is to resume its secret discussions on Monday. The Committee has a Tory majority of one, but Quentin Davies, a Tory backbencher who represents Stamford and Spalding, was particularly hard on Mr Willetts when questioning him during the hearings three weeks ago. There is tremendous pressure from within the Tory party on Mr Davies to vote along party lines. However Mr Davies is thought to be standing firm, resisting blandishments from senior Tory members and arguing that the committee has a judicial role independent of party considerations.

There are two schools of thought about Mr Davies on the Tory benches. Tory loyalists argue that he is being spiteful out of his failure to obtain ministerial office despite his undoubted abilities. However, more independently minded Tories and opposition members say Mr Davies is merely being honest and recognises the wider importance of the committee's work.

The Committee has to decide whether to punish Mr Willetts, now the Paymaster General, for trying to influence Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, the chairman of the now defunct Members Interests Committee, in October 1994 when it was discussing whether to take action against Neil Hamilton who was accused of taking cash for asking Parliamentary questions.

The options facing the Committee are to exonerate Mr Willetts or to punish him with a reprimand or a suspension. Mr Willetts is reported to be certain to resign if he is suspended, while a reprimand is likely to make his position untenable.