New row over cash-for-questions: Labour claims some inquiry MPs 'not impartial'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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Indy Politics
AN embarrassing delay in the appointment of the committee to investigate the 'cash for questions' affair loomed last night after Labour MPs refused to rubber-stamp the membership of some Tory MPs, whom they claimed could not be viewed as impartial.

Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington, and several other Labour members shouted 'object' as the Government attempted to obtain routine approval for the list of nine senior Tories, seven Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat announced in a Commons motion as members of the Committee of Privileges. Justifying his action earlier yesterday, Mr Campbell-Savours, who claimed he spoke for many more Labour MPs, said: 'Among the 9 Conservative members there are 17 consultancies and 9 directorships. I do not think that makes for an objective inquiry at all.'

Mr Campbell-Savours singled out Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory members, for special criticism. Sir Marcus lists a link with Westminster Communications Ltd, a public relations firm. 'There is a direct conflict of interest,' Mr Campbell-Savours said.

The committee is to examine the willingness of two Tory MPs, Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick, to put down Commons questions in return for pounds 1,000 each.

It will also judge the conduct of the Sunday Times, which used a bogus businessman and concealed tape recordings to reveal the practice, and the wider issue of paid- for consultancies.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said: 'I think the committee line-up will be wholly prejudicial to a fair outcome.'

Sir James Spicer, one of the Tories listed, rejected the criticisms, saying: 'Do you want people on a committee like this to be virtually eunuchs who haunt the House of Commons and really do nothing else at all?'

It only takes one MP to call 'object' in the hope of forcing a debate. The Government could, however, opt to keep putting down the motion in the hope that Labour MPs will eventually desist from objecting. But Mr Campbell-Savours indicated that he was prepared to block the motion again if it was presented tonight.

Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker, called for an inquiry by the Commons Catering Committee into claims that Commons dining rooms were being monopolised by Tory fund-raisers. Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, said the dining rooms were booked up for the whole of this year. He complained he had tried to book a room for a party of disabled people for the end of November, yet Tories were offering dining at the Commons 'on a regular basis' to those who gave pounds 1,000 to the party.

He said he would supply Miss Boothroyd with a document, headed 'Team 1000', from Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, which made such a pledge.

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