Cash-for-questions affair

The cash-for-questions affair was one of the biggest political scandals of the 1990s in the United Kingdom. It began in October 1994 when "The Guardian" newspaper alleged that London's most successful parliamentary lobbyist, Ian Greer of Ian Greer Associates, had bribed two Conservative Members of Parliament in exchange for asking parliamentary questions, and other tasks, on behalf of the controversial Egyptian owner of Harrods department store, Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Original accusation

"The Guardian"'s story alleged that Al-Fayed had approached the paper and accused Ian Greer of paying Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to table parliamentary questions on his behalf at £2000 per question. Smith resigned immediately after admitting to accepting payments from Al-Fayed himself, but not from Ian Greer as "The Guardian" alleged. Hamilton and Greer immediately issued libel writs in the High Court against "The Guardian" to clear their names.

The furore prompted Prime Minister John Major to instigate the Nolan Committee, to review the issue of standards in public life.

Further allegations

Six weeks later in December 1994, in a private letter to the chairman of the Parliamentary watchdog the Members' Interests Committee, Mohamed Al-Fayed alleged that he too had paid Hamilton, in addition to the original allegations that Ian Greer was the paymaster. Hamilton denied this new allegation too.

Two years later, in the last days of September 1996, three days before Hamilton's and Greer's libel actions were due to start, three of Mohamed Al-Fayed's employees claimed that they had processed cash payments to the two men. Hamilton and Greer denied these new allegations.

Three days later Hamilton and Greer withdrew their libel action.

Official inquiry

Hamilton's and Greer's withdrawal of their libel actions provoked an avalanche of condemnation of the two men in the British Press, led by "The Guardian". Parliament immediately ordered a senior civil servant named Sir Gordon Downey to conduct an official inquiry into the affair. In December "The Times" reported the collapse of Ian Greer's lobbying company.

In early 1997 Downey began his inquiry, but before he published his report Prime Minister John Major prorogued Parliament for a general election to be held on 1 May 1997. Smith resigned from Parliament on 25 March and said he would not contest the next general election.

In the election former BBC reporter Martin Bell stood in Hamilton's Cheshire constituency of Tatton as an independent candidate on an "anti-corruption" platform. Bell defeated Hamilton with the assistance of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who both withdrew their candidates and supplied party workers to help Bell's campaign.

In early July 1997 Sir Gordon Downey published his report, clearing Ian Greer, Neil Hamilton, and Tim Smith of "The Guardian"'s original allegations that Ian Greer had paid the two MPs to table questions. However, Downey decreed that the three Fayed employees' testimony that they had processed cash payments to Hamilton amounted to "compelling evidence", though he did not accept their claims to have processed cash payments to the lobbyist Greer.

Hamilton vs Al-Fayed

In 1998 Neil Hamilton issued a writ for libel against Mohamed al-Fayed, over allegations that Al-Fayed had made on a Channel 4 documentary programme broadcast in January 1997. In late 1999 the trial began at the High Court. Hamilton lost and was ordered to pay costs.

Two months later, in February 2000, "The Mail on Sunday" reported that shortly before Hamilton's libel action Mohamed Al-Fayed had acquired reams of privileged legal papers stolen from the chambers of Hamilton's barristers. Hamilton immediately lodged an appeal against his libel defeat.

In late 2000 Hamilton's appeal was heard at the Court of Appeal. The three judges dismissed Hamilton's appeal on the grounds that Fayed's acquisition of the stolen papers would not have materially affected the outcome of the trial.

In 2001 Neil Hamilton declared bankruptcy.

Riddick and Treddinick

Though the term "cash for questions affair" is used to refer to the events that followed the publication of "The Guardian"'s story, it was not the first time that a British newspaper had accused MPs of taking bribes to table questions. Three months earlier, in July 1994, a 'sting' operation by "The Sunday Times" reported that two Conservative MPs Graham Riddick and David Treddinick had accepted cheques for £1,000 for agreeing to table a parliamentary question.

The two were suspended from Parliament for 10 and 20 days respectively, Mr Riddick receiving a shorter 'sentence' due to his apparent decision to apologise quickly and return his cheque bribe [ [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19950421/ai_n13978206 Cash-for-questions MPs suspended by Commons] ] .

Riddick lodged a formal complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Basing its decisions on the information compiled by the Commons’ Privileges Committee the PCC found in Mr Riddick’s favour. The Commission judged that "The Sunday Times" failed to make clear to its readers that its approach to Mr Riddick had been on the basis of a legitimate consultancy, not on the basis of a one-off payment in return for asking a question and that there was no justification for the newspaper’s resort to subterfuge. This overturned a ruling two years earlier by the PCC in favour of "The Sunday Times" when Mr Riddick had been unaware that the PCC was investigating the matter. The PCC apologized to Mr Riddick for ‘this serious breach of our procedures.’ [Huddersfield Examiner, 27 March 1996] [ [http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199495/cmhansrd/1995-04-20/Debate-4.html Hansard] , 20 April 1995]

ee also

*Cash for Honours

References

External links

* [http://politics.guardian.co.uk/conservatives/story/0,,536101,00.html Tory MPs were paid to plant questions says Harrods chief] "The Guardian" October 20, 1994


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