CHANNEL 4 AND FOURTH ESTATE PRESS RELEASES
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 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
FOURTH ESTATE PUBLICITY
The Corruption of Parliament
David Leigh and Ed Vulliamy
Publication: Monday 20 January 1997 Paperback
Original Price £9.99
STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 16 JANUARY
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
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
Johnson at The Guardian on * * * .