Heseltine calls on reluctant Tories to comply with vote

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Indy Politics


Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, was yesterday forced to urge reluctant Tory MPs to comply with the new rule on disclosure of earnings, amid signs of possible defiance. There were recriminations, too, directed at John Major for allowing the Government to be outflanked by Labour.

Meanwhile, a full-scale post mortem was launched into one of the worst miscalculations by Government business managers in recent years.

Seething Tory MPs who voted against disclosure of earnings for parliamentary work were furious with the Prime Minister for getting them "into this mess" and sending morale back to rock-bottom. Sir Michael Neubert, the MP for Romford, and Euro-rebel Tony Marlow, who represents Northampton North, are among those who might defy the new ruling.

But Whitehall sources complained that insufficient intelligence had been gathered in advance of last Thursday's Prime Minister's Questions, when Mr Major unequivocally came down against disclosure, only to be humiliated by a thumping 51-vote Labour majority on Monday night.

It was suggested yesterday that Government whips had too readily assumed that MPs who were not openly declaring their intending support for disclosure were against it, when in fact they were silently in favour.

The complaints reactivated criticisms that followed the defection of Alan Howarth, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, to Labour on the eve of the Tory conference. Whips were accused then of failing to recognise the alarm bells when Mr Howarth failed to return their telephone calls.

Nor was enough done on the night, some MPs claimed yesterday. "They were reading papers when I went in," said one.

A Labour analysis of Monday night's humiliation revealed that the 23 Conservatives who voted for disclosure held proportionately less than half the number of paid parliamentary consultancies than those backbenchers who followed the Government line.

Those against disclosure have an average of 1.7 consultancies each, with those who abstained having an average of 1.6 each, compared with 0.7 for those in favour. Eleven of the 23 rebels also occupy marginal seats, which Labour claimed was an indication that its weekend offensive to win the vote had proved effective.

During a Prime Minister's Questions confrontation with Mr Heseltine, John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, also underlined his party's commitment to persuading Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards in Public Life to investigate party political funding as a matter of urgency. Lord Nolan has put off a decision on such an investigation until after the next general election.

"Why can't the public know where the Tory party gets its money from? Who has paid for a knighthood? Who has paid for a peerage? Which foreign businessmen have bankrolled the Tory party?"

The next stage of the implementation of the Nolan recommendations will be the arrival at Westminster of Sir Gordon Downey, the newly-appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, when the new session of Parliament begins, next Wednesday.