Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report

APPENDIX 33 - Continued




Thursday 16 January 1997 9.00-9.45 pm   Dispatches presents the inside story of the cash-for-questions scandal - including an exclusive interview with MOHAMMED AL FAYED, who talks in full for the first time about how he paid MPs to represent his interests in Parliament.

  Dispatches reveals new evidence of how Neil Hamilton's position when he was a minister was compromised by his relationship with lobbyist Ian Greer, who had paid him and other backbench Conservative MPs to represent his clients' interests in Parliament.

  Dispatches asks whether Conservative politicians, from John Major down, have been unwise in not distancing themselves from lobbyists such as Ian Greer - and questions why it took Parliament so long to order a full investigation into the affair.

  The 1980s saw a huge growth in political lobbying. Backbench MPs, especially on the government side, were presented with considerable opportunities to benefit financially from their elected positions. "The fact that people were being paid to lobby was far from unusual, it was fairly common", recalls EDWINA CURRIE MP, "Some of them boasted about it. They regarded it as a very successful bandwagon and those who did not do it were regarded as lunatic".

  The Register of Members' Interests, supposed to keep a check on MPs' activities, was "like a Bikini - what it concealed was important but what it revealed was really not significant at all" says Currie.

  One MP who lobbied intensively was up-and-coming right-winger Neil Hamilton. When Ian Greer needed backbenchers to ask questions on behalf of one of his clients, Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed, Hamilton was among those he approached. Al Fayed tells Dispatches how Hamilton asked questions in the House, tabled motions, wrote to and met with ministers - all without declaring that he was receiving substantial cash payments from him. Hamilton and his wife even stayed for a week in the Paris Ritz, which Al Fayed also owned, and ran up a bill of over £4,000 which he paid.

  Hamilton was also paid by Greer for lobbying on behalf of several other companies, including US Tobacco and National Nuclear Corporation. When Hamilton became a junior minister after the 1992 election, he had a clear conflict of interest - a number of Greer's clients were seeking favourable decisions from the Department of Trade and Industry in which he now served.

  But Hamilton's ministerial career was short-lived. In autumn 1994, it became public that he, among others, had accepted money from Al Fayed to ask Parliamentary Questions for him. Hamilton denied the allegations and tried to hang on to office, but was eventually forced to resign.

  Dispatches records how the government machine acted to safeguard Hamilton's reputation. The Tory majorities on the two Commons committees investigating what had become known as cash-for-questions ensured in one case its remit was very narrowly defined and in the other that records of proceeding were not fully published. Government influence was even used to amend the law to allow Neil Hamilton and Ian Greer to pursue a libel action against The Guardian newspaper, the collapse of which led to Greer's downfall and Hamilton's humiliation.

Reporter: Christopher Hird
Director: Peter Minns
C4 commissioning editor: David Lloyd
Press contacts: Martin Stott/Mags Patten * * *
Producer: Richard Belfield
Production company: Fulcrum
C4 deputy commissioning editor: Caroline Haydon



The Corruption of Parliament

David Leigh and Ed Vulliamy

Publication: Monday 20 January 1997 Paperback Original Price £9.99


  On 20 October 1996 The Guardian ran one of the boldest headlines in the history of journalism: "A Liar and a Cheat". Underneath was a photograph of Neil Hamilton MP and the story was the climax to years of legal battle between the former minister, the lobbyist Ian Greer and the newspaper who had accused the two men of organising a system of secret payments for political favours. Sleaze: The Corruption of Parliament tells the full account of how this Cash for Questions story came to be published and what has happened since that now famous headline.

  The characters and events in the drama retold in these pages is both wonderfully colourful and depressingly tawdry. Meet the smooth politician, the powerful lobbyist, the Alexandrian entrepreneur. Imagine a luxurious stay at the Ritz in Paris, costly restaurant bills, bottles of champagne drunk to the strains of a string quartet, a set of garden furniture, paintings for a new office, envelopes of cash. But the corruption resides not merely in the Generation Game conveyor belt of banality of what it took to buy an MP, but rather in the cover up: the denial of links between businessmen, lobbyists and MPs, the refusal of Parliament to admit that its own MPs could have so clearly and venally transgressed and the failure of Parliament to regulate the behaviour of the members of this most exclusive club. This is the full story of sleaze, of how corruption was introduced and allowed to flourish unchecked, of how influence was bought and manipulated.

  Sleaze is the result of many years of research by a team of Guardian journalists committed to seeking out the truth about corruption at Westminster. Written with wit and passion, it will leave readers in no doubt that our system of government needs careful monitoring in the future.

  If you would like to arrange an interview with the authors of the book, Ed Vulliamy and David Leigh or with Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian please contact:

Joanna Prior at Fourth Estate on * * * or
Camilla Nicholls/Sophie Johnson at The Guardian on * * * .

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Prepared 8 July 1997