David Cameron orders Baroness Warsi inquiry

 

David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into whether Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi breached the ministerial code when she was accompanied by a business partner on an official visit to Pakistan.

The Prime Minister called in Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministerial interests, to investigate after she admitted failing to disclose her business relationship with Abid Hussain.

Lady Warsi wrote a letter of apology to Mr Cameron, saying she was "sincerely sorry" for the embarrassment to the Government.

The Cabinet minister is facing mounting difficulties, with the prospect of a sleaze inquiry into separate allegations about her House of Lords expenses claims, into which Labour are demanding a criminal investigation.

Mr Cameron's referral of her relationship with Mr Hussain to his adviser on the ministerial code comes despite his steadfast refusal to order a similar inquiry into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has faced weeks of heavy criticism for his contacts with News Corporation over its attempts to take full control of BSkyB.

Labour said the Prime Minister's actions underlined that he was "bending over backwards" to defend Mr Hunt.

Mr Hussain attended Lady Warsi's July 2010 visit to Pakistan - soon after she had joined the coalition Cabinet. They were both directors of a company called Rupert's Recipes.

In her letter to the Prime Minister, she said "community activist" Mr Hussain was among a number of members of the Pakistani diaspora in the UK who had assisted the British High Commission with outreach events in Pakistan in July 2010.

Although it was "widely known" that he was her husband's second cousin, she said, she had not realised the need to declare that they also had "a common business interest as minority shareholders in a small food company".

"I sincerely regret that I did not consider the significance of this relationship with Mr Hussain when the arrangements for the visit were being made. In retrospect, I accept that I should have made officials aware of the business relationship between Mr Hussain and myself, and for this I am sorry," she wrote.

"I regret that this failure may have caused embarrassment to the Government."

Lady Warsi stressed that it was not a trade-related visit and Mr Hussain "did not gain any financial or business advantage" from his involvement, he was not part of the official delegation and no aspect of his visit was funded by the Government.

"As a final point, the visit of July 2010 was organised within a few weeks of my appointment. It was at a time when my office accommodation and staffing were still being settled and I was finding my feet within Government. However, I have at all times disclosed my own personal financial interests in full on the register of Ministerial interests," she wrote.

"On a personal note, David, I am sincerely sorry for these difficulties."

The Prime Minister said he accepted her apology but was asking Sir Alex to "consider the issues that have been raised with respect to the Ministerial Code and to provide advice to me as rapidly as possible".

Mr Cameron responded that she should have "proactively" raised the business interest she shared with Mr Hussain with the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office.

He wrote: "The Ministerial Code requires ministers to ensure no real or perceived conflict between their official responsibilities and their personal interests.

"However, as you say, you did declare to the Cabinet Office your own interest in the company, and I note too the other points you make - in particular that this was not a trade-related visit, and Mr Hussain did not gain any financial or business advantage from his involvement in voluntarily assisting the High Commission with the event.

"This seems to me to be important to take into account in responding to this issue. I accept too your apology for your error and for any embarrassment to the Government.

"There are clearly some lessons for future handling and I have asked Alex Allan, my adviser on Ministers' interests, to consider the issues that have been raised with respect to the Ministerial Code and to provide advice to me as rapidly as possible."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: "It is right that David Cameron has finally called in the independent adviser on the Ministerial Code after a week of pressure from Labour and the media, as Baroness Warsi clearly has very serious questions to answer.

"Did she break rules that peers should declare their business interests, particularly if they are the principal shareholders in a company? Why was it considered acceptable for a foreign government to pay for her visits to the Middle East? Did Baroness Warsi claim for expenses that she did not, in fact, incur?

"But David Cameron's actions in this case draw into sharp relief his refusal to hold a similar investigation into Jeremy Hunt, despite clear evidence that he broke the Ministerial Code by misleading the House of Commons on at least three occasions.

"David Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory