The Attack on Sleaze: Major 'did not meet' lobby firm

Angela Rumbold, a deputy chairman of the Tory Party, sought yesterday to defend her connection - severed this week - with the lobbying firm that helped to secure a key international rail station at Ebbsfleet, Kent.

As Labour claimed that Dame Angela's resignation from Decision Makers, the lobbyists, amounted to an admission of a conflict of interest, Downing Street confirmed that Mr Major had met Ebbsfleet campaigners - probably from the firm - at a 'social occasion'.

But the Prime Minister's Office insisted that there had been no private meeting between the lobbyists with Mr Major. It said that in any case Mr Major had taken no part in the decision to locate the terminal in Ebbsfleet rather than Stratford, east London. Although the issue of locating the station has been a matter of intense political discussion for several years, Downing Street said it had been left to 'other ministers to take it forward'.

Brian Wilson, for Labour, called for an early statement from Mr Major 'on just how much influence' Dame Angela wielded 'in advance of the Ebbsfleet decision, with its enormous financial implications'.

And Tony Banks, MP for Nehwam North, complained last night that Dame Angela's connection with the company gave the Ebbsfleet campaigners an unfair advantage over those campaigning for Stratford, because of her easy access to political decision-makers.

Mr Wilson said he would be seeking an explanation of why Blue Circle, a client of Decision Makers and one of the contenders for the Channel link station, had numerous opportunities to present their case to Cabinet ministers while Newham council was only given access to a few junior ministers in the fight to have the station at Stratford.

Dame Angela pointed out yesterday that her interest in Decision Makers had been registered and insisted that she had nothing to hide.

She said: 'The only reason why I took the step that I took was not because of myself, because I have no problems at all, but because I did not wish the company for whom I was working to have themselves dragged into some unpleasant dog-fight with the press or with anybody else.'

Dame Angela insisted that her job as party deputy chairman was 'very strictly confined to the management of the selection of candidates and the management of the list. I have no other responsibility and it's a purely voluntary job'.

The chairman of Decision Makers, Maureen Tomison, said that when the firm had been campaigning for the international passenger station at Ebbsfleet 'Dame Angela was not involved in using her access for us to see ministers and we do not know where this story has come from'.

Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, yesterday called for assurances that three senior national officers of the Tory party should give 'categorical assurances' that they had not 'abused their own positions' on behalf of commercial interests. He said the assurances should be given by John Maples, a former MP and a party deputy chairman who was in charge of Saatchi and Saatchi's government relations business. Another vice-chairman, Patrick Nicholls, has a large number of consultancies. Graham Bright, another party vice-chairman, has declared consultancies with clients including Safeway.

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