Tories snap up directorships

Former ministers and Conservative MPs who are leaving the Commons at the general election have taken on a raft of director-ships and public posts to fill their time, the latest Register of Members' Interests has revealed.

High on a list of 15 retiring Tories who have taken on new outside interests since the last register was published 10 months ago are Kenneth Baker, the former Home Secretary, John Patten, former Secretary of State for Education, and Tim Renton, the former Chief Whip. Mr Patten, who is giving up his Oxford West and Abingdon seat, has become a non- executive director of Alfred McAlpine.

Mr Baker has added a non-executive directorship of Millennium Chemicals Incorp- orated to his existing list of five seats on boards, and has become an adviser to Mercury on the world-wide cable industry. He already advises ICL, and the Harris Parliamentary Panel, though his fee from Harris is sent to a drugs charity of which he is patron. He has also become honorary chairman of the Museum of British History.

Mr Renton, who holds a directorship and two consultancies, has become chairman-elect of the Sussex Downs Conservation Trust. A former arts minister, he accepted free tickets to the Royal Opera House, to Glyndebourne and to Wimbledon last year.

Richard Needham, a former Northern Ireland and trade minister, already lists four directorships, a consultancy and membership of Lloyds' in addition to shares in a packaging company. John Butcher, a former education minister, has become a non-executive director of Pertemps recruitment agency.

Other Conservative MPs who have taken on new directorships in the run- up to retirement include Sir Julian Critchley, the member for Aldershot, Sir Michael Marshall, member for Arundel, Robert Banks, member for Harrogate, Patrick McNair-Wilson, member for New Forest and Dudley Fishburn, member for Kensington.

Derek Foster, the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, criticised the Conservative MPs for taking on new jobs."The rats are fleeing the sinking ship. Just weeks before the election, outgoing Tories are leaving no stones unturned in their search for lucrative junkets in their parliamentary afterlife," he said.

Tony Blair, who last year received gifts of a Fender Stratocaster guitar from the British Phonographic Industry and a rug from Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, this year had to make do with cufflinks from the South African Chamber of Business. This year, Ms Bhutto chose to give a rug to the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown.

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