Prescott may be forced to say sorry

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Indy Politics

John Prescott could be forced to make a humbling apology to MPs this week in the row over a rented flat that is used by his son.

The Deputy Prime Minister is being investigated by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee over claims that he failed to declare a rent subsidy, given by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

He has also been accused of breaching the ministerial code of conduct because he accepted the arrangement while the cabinet minister in charge of transport policy.

The ministerial code forbids ministers from receiving money from a trade union to avoid any suggestion of undue influence.

It also says: "Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or apparent conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interest."

The Tories claim Mr Prescott is in breach of the code in both these areas, estimating that the RMT flat subsidy on a property in Clapham, south London, was worth up to £93,000 over the past 10 years. The flat is currently being used by Mr Prescott's son, David, a freelance journalist.

Conservative MP Archie Norman has written to Lord Neill, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, asking him to investigate the issue. And MPs on the Standards Committee are expected to discuss the matter on Tuesday.

Mr Norman has also urged the Prime Minister to look into the allegations.

Mr Norman said last night: "It was the Prime Minister who promised his ministers would be purer than pure.

"What we are asking is that he act on that commitment and reassure the public that John Prescott and his colleagues are not accepting financial benefits from the RMT union while ruling on transport matters at the same time." Mr Prescott insists that he made inquiries to Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, before the Tories made their complaint asking her to advise him on the matter.

Sources close to the Deputy Prime Minister said: "That advice is now tied up in her investigation. It went to the committee before Easter and some of it was looked at. It is due to come up to the committee and as far as John is concerned he will wait until then and hear what they have to say."

The source condemned the "selective leaking" of information by some members of the Standards and Privileges committee even though the Deputy Prime Minister himself had not seen the report. "It has been pretty badly handled by Filkin and the committee," the source said, predicting that Mr Prescott would be criticised for a "very minor technical breach, if that".

Even so, the Tories are expected to make much of the row when Mr Prescott presents his Transport Bill to Parliament on Tuesday, claiming he has "broken parliamentary rules which bring into question his right to present government Bills to Parliament".

There could be further embarrassment for the Deputy Prime Minister when a vote is taken later in the week on Government plans to part-privatise the National Air Traffic Control System (NATS).

As many as 100 Labour MPs have voiced their opposition to the scheme and many plan to defy the government whip and vote against the measure in the Commons. The Conservatives will also oppose the plans.

A Tory source said: "This could be a nightmare week for John Prescott for one reason and another."

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