Labour faces inquiries into Enron links

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Labour faces several embarrassing inquiries into the party's links with Enron, the collapsed American energy conglomerate.

Ralph Hodge, the former head of its European operations, said yesterday that the company had spent £36,000 wooing Labour figures. The cash paid for a series of events, including a gala dinner attended by Tony Blair.

The Conservatives said they would write to Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, demanding an investigation into claims that Enron's access to ministers was directly linked to the donations it made to the party. Tim Collins, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "These allegations need to be investigated urgently and very seriously. On the face of it, this constitutes a major cash-for-access scandal."

Mr Collins also demanded that there should be an inquiry by the Wicks Committee, which monitors standards in public life, into the "whole pattern of links between party donations and access to ministers".

The call came after Mr Hodge told The Mail on Sunday that the company felt obliged to give cash to Labour to influence ministers. "I do not think we would have been successful at getting a table full without donations and I suspect if we had just invited them to dinner, then attendance would be zero. It is clear that in the current climate, sponsorship and donations are the most efficient ways of getting access."

He said that Peter Mandelson, when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, agreed to meet Enron executives shortly after a gala dinner in 1998 in Blackpool. Weeks earlier, Mr Mandelson had approved Enron's £1.5bn acquisition of Wessex Water.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "The idea anyone has been granted any access in the way alleged is certainly not the case."

A Labour spokesman denied that the company had given the party any donations, and said it was "a matter of public record that Enron Europe have bought tickets for dinners and sponsored one event".

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats called for an investigation into the Government's links with Andersen, the Enron auditor. Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, said he wanted the Commons Public Administration Select Committee to investigate Whitehall contracts placed with the accountancy giant.

He said: "The Government has, in the past, been very eager to use reports from Andersen to support unpopular projects such as public-private partnerships. Andersen has offered substantial practical support to the Labour Party in opposition, including the secondment of staff."

He added: "A significant number of government contracts have been awarded to Andersen by Labour."