The Attack on Sleaze: Inside Parliament: Major deplores 'feeding frenzy'

Few Commons statements in recent years have carried the impact of John Major's statement yesterday on the conduct of public life. The Prime Minister announced a standing committee under a Lord of Appeal to examine the behaviour and standards of ministers, MPs, local councillors and civil servants; disclosed that the embattled trade minister Neil Hamilton had gone; and said the Director of Public Prosecutions had been asked to consider the approach to Downing Street by Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods.

Senior Tory Sir Peter Tapsell asked Mr Major if DPP Barbara Mills would be examining whether Mr Fayed should be prosecuted for 'attempted blackmail'.

The businessman was the source of allegations against Mr Hamilton and Tim Smith, the Northern Ireland minister who resigned last week.

Mr Major deplored the 'feeding frenzy' among opposition MPs over sleaze but in announcing the committee of inquiry under Lord Nolan he acknowledged the need to restore confidence in the system of public administration.

'It has always been the wish of this House that British government, Parliament and administration should be entirely free of malpractice. I am determined to ensure it is.

'In the present atmosphere there is public disquiet about standards in public life and I have concluded that action is imperative.'

The terms of reference of the committee will be: 'To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life.'

Public office holders will include ministers, civil servants and advisers, MPs and MEPs, members and senior officers of quangos, NHS trusts and other bodies discharging publicly- funded functions, councillors and senior officers of local authorities.

Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown have been invited to nominate a member of the committee which Mr Major hoped would be able to produce a first report within six months. It will be able to take evidence in public and its report will be published.

As for Messrs Hamilton and Smith, Mr Major quoted from a report he had received from Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, into the allegations of Mr Fayed. An informant had said Mr Fayed wanted a meeting with the Prime Minister principally to get the DTI inspector's report on his takeover of the House of Fraser revised or withdrawn. 'He had made a number of allegations against government ministers and was contemplating passing them to others.'

'Sir Robin then sets out my reply,' Mr Major went on. 'He records that I replied that it would be impossible for me to see Mr Fayed in these circumstances.

'If ministers had been guilty of wrong-doing - as Mr al- Fayed alleged - I was not going to make any sort of deal, regardless of the cost to the Government's reputation.'

Mr Major said Sir Robin had found no evidence to controvert Mr Hamilton's assurances that the allegations made against him by Mr Fayed were false. But he went on: 'I have, however, to tell the House that since Sir Robin completed his report, other unconnected allegations which were not the subject of his investigations have been made against Mr Hamilton. I must consider whether the combined impact of these allegations disables Mr Hamilton from carrying out his responsibilities as minister for corporate affairs. I believe they do and Mr Hamilton agrees and has resigned from the Government.'

Mr Blair, the Labour leader, welcomed the standing committee as 'plainly sensible and necessary' , but added: 'It would not be unfair to describe today's statement as decision- making on the run. Indeed the resignation of the trade minister just announced suggests something of the same.'

The warning signs had been ignored for too long. 'Public anger over these issues goes far, far wider than merely the matters raised by Mr al- Fayed,' he said, pointing to the disclosure that the chairmen of some 66 NHS trusts were either prominent Tory party members or had made donations to the party.

Mr Blair said that if the new body was not going to examine specific allegations against ministers or MPs, there was an overwhelming case for the privileges committee holding its cash-for-questions inquiry in public. If Mr Major ruled out both, 'then there will be justifiable public concern that the general inquiry is being used to sweep the particular allegation from public view'.

Mr Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said a welcome for the principle of a general inquiry into the ethics of public office ought not to be taken as satisfaction for the way Mr Major had handled individual concerns about his ministers. His 'indecision' stood in stark contrast to his clear undertaking a week ago to root out wrong-doing.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said there were 550 directorships, consultancies and advisorships, mainly held by Tory MPs. 'This matter of taking money from big business can never be properly cleared up until they face the question: MPs should have one job and one job only . . . Clean up the stables now.'

Mr Major replied: 'Mr Skinner may be the latest living example of the old Levellers, but there are many other people in the House, on both sides, who believe the concept of the wholly professional politician will only isolate politicians more and more from the people who send us here.'

Leading article, page 13 (Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game