The Cash-for-Questions Affair: MP built a career on questions: Patricia Wynn Davies charts fall of man dubbed 'member for Price Waterhouse' former minister, Tim Smith

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The Independent Online
THE Honourable Member for Price Waterhouse was how Bob Cryer, the late left-wing Labour MP, saw Tim Smith, the former Northern Ireland junior minister now consigned to the backbenches.

From 1987 onwards the Harrow and Oxford-educated chartered accountant asked more than 100 parliamentary questions relating to management consultants.

It was a bulk order of 32 identical questions about government management and consultancy contracts in 1990 that prompted Mr Cryer to accuse him of using up pounds 3,000 of taxpayers' money on behalf of Price Waterhouse, which he served as a consultant.

But there was an even more noteworthy occasion in 1988 when he put down 58 requests for details of computer contracts on behalf of his client.

Labour MPs have come under fire for excessive numbers of questions, too, but few of them have garnered such lucrative add-ons to their parliamentary salaries. Mr Smith, who entered the Commons as MP for Beaconsfield in 1982, lived life as a Tory backbencher to the full.

The interests he did choose to register in the Register of Members' Interests for 13 January 1992 show him as the beneficiary of a directorship in Gartmore Value Investments plc, journalism fees for a regular column in Accountancy Age, and as adviser to the British Venture Capital Association, the Commodity Traders Group, FIMBRA, the Lloyds Group Union, Omitec Ltd, as well as Price Waterhouse.

That all changed when Mr Smith, 46, and married with two sons, was propelled into government when John Major was forced into a mini-reshuffle last year after the Tim Yeo love-child controversy.

While distinctly upper- crust and immaculate, until then he was relatively unknown outside the Westminster lobbies and the Tory party hierarchy, where he had served as vice-chairman and joint treasurer, and seemed destined to continue an unremarkable career.

The self-confessed greyhound racing enthusiast conspicuously failed to back a winner in the disastrous Eastbourne by-election in 1990, when he acted as 'minder' to ex-MP Richard Hickmet's doomed attempt to retain the ultra-safe Tory seat.

'I knew the honourable gentleman had learned to crawl, but I did not know he had learned to speak,' Gerald Kaufman, the former Labour front-bencher, once observed.

Complaints about Tiny Rowland's use of his newspaper to support Lonrho's battle for Harrods and about the Observer's loss of independence began in 1986. But one of the greatest ironies must surely be Mr Smith's selection the following year to the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee - the parliamentary watchdog with oversight of the proper spending of public money.

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