Neil Hamilton, the MP at the centre of the cash-for-questions scandal, acted in a way that was inappropriate to his proper role as an MP, according to the report into the affair by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Gordon Downey. The report was due to be completed by next Tuesday but now cannot be published because Parliament prorogues on Friday.
But opposition parties last night demanded that the Prime Minister take action to ensure the report is published before the election. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats accused John Major of deliberately going for a long campaign to avoid more damaging disclosures about Tory MPs.
Sir Gordon's report was to have been presented to the all-party Standards and Privileges Committee next weekend, and he is thought to be angry that after working very hard in order to meet the deadline of the election, publication is now being delayed.
The report, which is a wide investigation into the relationship between lobbyists and MPs, and into whether certain MPs accepted money to ask specific questions, mentions around 30 MPs, but only five or six are the subject of severe criticism. While Mr Hamilton is said by Sir Gordon to have overstepped the mark most seriously, others whose behaviour is singled out include four other Tories: Sir Michael Grylls, Michael Brown, Sir Andrew Bowden and Tim Smith.
The MPs have all been shown the extracts in the report which relate to them. All except Sir Michael will now be standing in the election with a cloud hanging over them and the prospect of facing a Labour-dominated Standards and Privileges Committee which is likely to take a harder line on them than the current Tory-dominated body.
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey, suggested at Prime Minister's Question Time that John Major had deliberately prorogued Parliament early in order to ensure that the Downey report would not be published until after the election. Mr Major who last year said he wanted the matter cleared up as quickly as possible, replied: "I have no knowledge of when it [the report] will be presented."
Mr Hughes said later: "Prorogation and dissolution normally takes place on the same day, and in the three post-war elections when this did not take place, the biggest gap was 14 days. Mr Major has clearly done this on purpose to avoid ... having this highly critical report published just before the election."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies