Pressure grows for Hamilton
Former Conservative MP, Neil Hamilton, is coming under increasing pressure to leave his party, after being condemned in the Downey report for his behaviour while an MP.
to resign from Tory party
The long-awaited report into the so-called "cash for questions" affairs found that Mr Hamilton and several other MPs concealed payments from Parliament.
Labour is urging Tory leader William Hague to expel both Mr Hamilton and Tim Smith, the other former minister involved in the affair. Local Tories in Tatton also think Mr Hamilton should go.
Tatton Tory Councillor Bert Grange indicated there was pressure for Mr Hamilton to leave the party after the report's findings.
"If it's true, it's very serious indeed and I can't see that the executive would want him to do anything other than resign his membership," he said.
Hamilton: I'm Not a Tory
But on Friday Mr Hamilton said he could not be expelled from the Conservative Party - because he is no longer a member.
He said the Tories had no national membership, and as a Member of Parliament he "wasn't entitled to be a member" of his local constituency party. Mr Hamilton said, he had not rejoined since he lost his seat."
According to Robin Hodgson, the Chairman of the National Union of Conservative Constituency Associations, the Tory party has a decentralised organisation. As all membership records were held locally, there was no way for the national party to confirm who was a member of the Conservatives, or to prevent anyone from standing for the party in general elections.
Mr Hodgson said there were talks going with the constituency organisations to improve the situation.
Lord Archer, a former Tory deputy chairman, said the party was in urgent need of reform: "What it proves and shows very clearly is we ought to have a central membership as the Labour Party does. There are many things the Labour Party has done in the last five years we ought not be too proud to copy.
One of Neil Hamilton's closest allies announced his resignation as chairman of the former MP's local party. Tatton Conservative Association constituency chairman Alan Barnes, who stood
by Mr Hamilton despite a revolt by other Tatton Tories, said he would now resign.
Cash For Questions - The Downey Report
In his report, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Sir Gordon Downey, said the evidence that the former Tory MP Neil Hamilton received cash payments directly from Mr Al Fayed in return for lobbying services, was "compelling."
"The way in which these payments were received and concealed fell well below the standards expected of Members of Parliament," Sir Gordon said. He added that there was "insufficient evidence" to show that Mr Hamilton
received Harrods vouchers.
Mr Hamilton has consistently denied allegations that he took cash Mohamed Al Fayed for asking questions in Parliament. He said he was "disappointed, devastated, perplexed and amazed" at the report's findings.
"I'm not bitter but I'm extremely disappointed and devastated. I am perplexed more than anything else. How can he have reached this conclusion on the basis of evidence of those employees?" asked Mr Hamilton. "I find his conclusions amazing."
Sir Gordon said Mr Hamilton "deliberately misled" the then President of Board
of Trade Michael Heseltine about his financial relationship with lobbyist Ian
Greer. The hospitality Mr Hamilton received from Mr Al Fayed at the Ritz in Paris should have been registered in accordance with Commons rules, Sir Gordon said.
Smith "Fell Below MP Standards"
Sir Gordon said another former Tory MP Tim Smith, received cash payments directly from Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed in a way which "fell well below the standards expected of Members of Parliament."
He added that Mr Smith committed an act of "disingenuous attempt at
"On any view this was a totally unacceptable form of registration of his financial interest in relation to the House of Fraser," he said.
Mr Smith has apologised for his conduct. "I am very sorry that my conduct, as
Sir Gordon Downey has described it, fell well below the standards expected of
MPs," he said.
"I can only say in my defence that it seemed less obvious at the time than it does with the benefit of hindsight what was the right course of action to take," he added.
Al Fayed: paid MPs for questions
Sir Andrew Bowden, another former Tory MP, was found to have given "a
positively misleading explanation" to ministers and officials when failing to
declare his interest in dealings over the House of Fraser.
Sir Michael Grylls, another former Tory MP, was found to have deliberately
misled a Commons select committee by understating commission payments he
received. Sir Michael "persistently failed" to declare his interest in dealing
with ministers and officials also over the House of Fraser. He also took a
commission payment for introducing a constituent to Mr Greer which Sir Gordon
said was unacceptable.
As for Michael Brown, the former MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes, the report says he failed to register an introduction payment from the lobbyist Mr Greer in relation to US Tobacco.
"Mr Brown persistently and deliberately failed to declare his interests in
dealing with Ministers and officials over the Skoal Bandits issue. Mr Brown has expressed regret for these omissions," said the report.
But several other former Tory MPs living under the shadow of the report, Gerry Malone, Lady Olga Maitland, Nirj Diva, Sir Peter Hordern and Norman Lamont, were cleared.
Right of Appeal
The Committee chairman Sir Robert Sheldon said after publication of the report:
"We shall be open to representations from any of those that are mentioned in
Sir Robert added that the people who were the subject of the report had been
asked to produce a memorandum for the committee by 4pm 14 days from now.
The Tatton MP Martin Bell, who defeated Mr Hamilton in the election, said the report vindicated his decision to stand.
"It leaves me in the clear and I never really had any doubt about that,"
said Mr Bell. "I regret from Mr Hamilton's point of view and from everyone's point of view this report could not have been published earlier."
"I believe that the verdict of the electors of Tatton is absolutely
vindicated by the Downey report," he added.
The Labour Party intends to press Mr Hague over the Downey report. "This whole affair is now a major test for William Hague's leadership of the Tory party," said a senior party spokesman.
"The question that falls to him is if the standards and privileges committee
supports Sir Gordon's findings, should Mr Hamilton and Mr Smith ever be allowed
to hold office on behalf of the Conservative Party again, and should not their
membership of the Conservative Party be in question?" he asked.