Letter: Unfair charge of blackmail

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The Independent Online
Sir: I welcome the Prime Minister's decision to set up a standing committee to investigate standards in public life, but am disappointed and surprised by the manner in which I was treated by the Prime Minister in yesterday's statement in the House of Commons.

As I read his statement, I am in effect accused of the very serious charge of attempting to blackmail the Government by threatening to disclose information about ministerial misconduct in return for the overturning of the DTI inspectors' report into the takeover of the House of Fraser. That 'charge' is based entirely on what lawyers call 'hearsay' - a statement made by an undisclosed 'informant' about what I am alleged to have told the informant. What is more, no attempt was made by the Cabinet Secretary, or anyone else, to verify whether the informant was acting on my behalf or whether what he said had been authorised by me or is accurate.

Whatever may have been said or done by the undisclosed informant was not done on my behalf or with my consent and has no basis in fact. It is ludicrous to think that I would seek to put pressure on the Government to overturn the inspectors' findings, however wrong- headed and unfair I may regard those findings, in return for a promise not to reveal ministerial wrongdoing.

There are serious questions still to be answered about ministerial conduct which will not apparently be within the remit of Lord Nolan's Standing Committee. In particular, I do not understand what it was that caused DTI Ministers (Paul Channon and Michael Howard) in 1987, just before the general election, to decide to set up an investigation into the House of Fraser in response to pressure from Tiny Rowland and Lonrho, when their predecessors (Norman Tebbit and Leon Brittan) had decided that there were no grounds for such an investigation.

Nor do I understand the way in which the present Home Secretary (Mr Howard and his minister of state, Charles Wardle) have thought fit to deal with my brother's application for a British passport. I do not understand why Mr Howard came to be involved at all in this matter; nor why he then decided that he should not make the decision; nor why he then asked Mr Wardle to handle the matter, when Mr Wardle had strongly attacked me and my brothers in statements made in the House of Commons; nor why no decision has yet been made after 21 months.

The ploy of sending a note of the meeting between Mr Major and the unauthorised informant to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the setting up of the Nolan committee, should not distract public attention from these and other important questions of ministerial conduct.

Yours faithfully, M. AL-FAYED Chairman Harrods London, SW1 26 October