David Cameron yesterday ordered an inquiry into claims that one of his cabinet ministers invited a business partner on an official government trip to Pakistan.
Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party co-chairman, became the first minister to be referred to the Prime Minister's adviser on ministerial interests, after allegations that she failed to declare her connection to Abid Hussain when he joined the trip shortly after the 2010 election.
Labour said Mr Cameron's decision threw "into sharp relief" his refusal to hold a similar inquiry into Jeremy Hunt, despite "clear evidence" that he had broken the Ministerial Code. Mr Cameron has repeatedly refused to involve his adviser, Sir Alex Allan, in the investigation of the Government's handling of News Corp's takeover of BSkyB, despite claims that Mr Hunt breached the code on several occasions.
Yesterday, Lady Warsi wrote to Mr Cameron apologising for failing to declare her connection with Mr Hussain to the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office before the trip. However, she insisted the visit could not have resulted in any financial benefit either to Mr Hussain or the company involved. Mr Hussain is Lady Warsi's husband's second cousin, and the pair are both minority shareholders in a food company.
In reply, Mr Cameron said he accepted her apology but added that he was referring the matter to Sir Alex. In her letter, Lady Warsi blamed the omission on the fact she was new to office at the time of the visit, and insisted Mr Hussain's role had had nothing to do with his business interests.
"Mr Hussain is a community activist who has worked with politicians of all parties both in Pakistan and in the UK," she wrote. "It was felt he would be able to help as he has extensive links to the local community. However, I did not recognise, at the point that this visit was arranged, a need to disclose that Abid Hussain and I have a common business interest. In retrospect, I accept I should have made officials aware of the business relationship between Mr Hussain and myself, and for this I am sorry."
In his reply, Mr Cameron said it was important for ministers to ensure there was no "real or perceived conflict between their official responsibilities and their personal interests".
Michael Dugher, Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister, said it was right for the Warsi case to be referred to Sir Alex but contrasted it with the decision not to refer Mr Hunt. "Baroness Warsi clearly has very serious questions to answer," he said.
"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 judgement, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question."
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