Sleaze report casts shadow over MPs

Ten Tories who must wait until after the election to see if they are in the clear

The short report from the Standards and Privileges Committee issued yesterday cleared 15 MPs of any wrongdoing, but leaves eight Tory MPs - and two others who are standing down - going into the election without having cleared their names.

Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, stressed that in his interim report, which he only issued because of the outcry over the delay in the publication of the full report, that "no conclusions" should be drawn about the conduct of the remaining MPs still under investigation.

The report exonerated 11 Tories whose election funds received money from the lobbyist Ian Greer, who had been given the funds by Mohammed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, mostly for their 1987 and 1992 election campaigns. Three Labour MPs - Chris Smith, Doug Hoyle, and Gwyneth Dunwoody - also received money from Mr Greer, together with one Liberal Democrat, Alan Beith. The Tories are: Robert Atkins, Vivian Bendall, John Bowis, Sir Graham Bright, Sir Anthony Durant, David Mellor, Michael Portillo, David Shaw, Sir Malcolm Thornton, Sir Gerard Vaughan and Sir John Wheeler.

Sir Gordon says that the rules current at the 1987 and 1992 elections, required registration of donations - in the Members' Interest Register - where these exceeded 25 per cent of the member's election expenses. The implication is that the amounts received by these MPs were below this limit.

The remaining MPs include the five which have been most closely associated with Mr Greer: Sir Michael Grylls - who is not standing - Michael Brown, Sir Andrew Bowden, Tim Smith and Neil Hamilton. All are alleged either to have asked cash for questions or not declared interests. Mr Hamilton has denied receiving money for asking questions in the House.

Tim Smith, who received pounds 18,000 from Mr Greer, said in a statement : "Although Mr Al Fayed paid me fees, there was never any suggestion of specific amount per question and it cannot, therefore, be described, as far as I am concerned, as `cash for questions'. In January 1995, I told the executive council of Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association that the total amount was in the order of pounds 18,000."

Sir Gordon is also continuing investigations into three MPs whose campaigns received donations from Mr Greer in the 1987 election. They are: Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, whose fund received pounds 2,000, Gerry Malone, the health minister, whose campaign got pounds 1,000 and Nirj Deva, the MP for Brentford and Isleworth who received pounds 500 and who confirmed that he was one of those still being investigated by Sir Gordon.

The two others still being investigated are Sir Peter Hordern, who is standing down and who is alleged to have received money in exchange for asking questions about Lonrho arms deals, and Lady Olga Maitland, who is alleged to have received "commissions" from Mr Greer.

Former members of Parliament who are also alleged to have received money from Mr Greer include Lady Chalker and Lord Moynihan, but Sir Gordon has no jurisdiction over them.

The report, agreed by the Standards and Privileges Committee on Wednesday night, and which only consisted of three paragraphs, says that the MPs regret that Sir Gordon has not managed to complete his full report in time, saying this was because of "the complexity of the web of accusations that have been made against certain members".

It also appears to give succour to the Government's argument that there was not time to have a proper discussion of the report by arguing that even if Sir Gordon had managed to complete his inquiry, there may have been the need for "further hearings" which could take "considerable time".

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