Cameron orders ministerial standards inquiry into Warsi

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By a Newsnet reporter

David Cameron’s judgement has again been called into question as the controversies surrounding Communities Minister Sayeeda Warsi mounted. 

The Prime Minister has called on Sir Alex Allan, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, to investigate whether Ms Warsi was in breach of the ministerial code by failing to disclose her business relationship with Mr Abid Hussain. 

Mr Hussain, who is Ms Warsi’s husband’s cousin, accompanied the Communities Minister when she made an official visit to Pakistan in July 2010.  

At the time of the visit, both Ms Warsi and Mr Hussain were directors of a foodstuffs company.  Ms Warsi admitted yesterday in a letter of apology to the Prime Minister that she had failed to disclose their business relationship to civil servants.  Ms Warsi claimed that she had not realised it was necessary to disclose the information.

She wrote:

“I sincerely regret that I did not consider the significance of this relationship with Mr Hussain when the arrangements for the visit were being made. In retrospect, I accept that I should have made officials aware of the business relationship between Mr Hussain and myself, and for this I am sorry.

“I regret that this failure may have caused embarrassment to the Government.”

In her defence, Ms Warsi inisted that the visit was not trade related and said that she and Mr Hussain “did not gain any financial or business advantage” from his role in the visit.  She added that Mr Hussain was not part of the official delegation and that his visit had not been funded by the Government.

In reply, the Prime Minister wrote to Ms Warsi to inform her of his decision to refer the matter to Alex Allan, saying:

“The Ministerial Code requires ministers to ensure no real or perceived conflict between their official responsibilities and their personal interests.

“However, as you say, you did declare to the Cabinet Office your own interest in the company, and I note too the other points you make – in particular that this was not a trade-related visit, and Mr Hussain did not gain any financial or business advantage from his involvement in voluntarily assisting the High Commission with the event.

“This seems to me to be important to take into account in responding to this issue. I accept too your apology for your error and for any embarrassment to the Government.

“There are clearly some lessons for future handling and I have asked Alex Allan, my adviser on Ministers’ interests, to consider the issues that have been raised with respect to the Ministerial Code and to provide advice to me as rapidly as possible.”

The Cabinet minister was already faced with the prospect of a inquiry into separate allegations about her House of Lords expenses claims.  Opposition parties are demanding a criminal investigation into Ms Warsi’s expenses claims. 

The owner of a house where Ms Warsi rented a room claimed to the Sunday Times that he had never received payment from the Conservative peer, although she had claimed rent on expenses.  Ms Warsi claims that she paid the money to an intermediary and strongly rejects allegations that she did anything wrong.

The unelected Ms Warsi owes her political career to the Prime Minister.  She was nominated for a peerage by the Conservatives in 2007 after being rejected by the electorate as the Conservative candidate for Dewsbury in the 2005 General Election.  During the campaign she was criticised by the lesbian and gay organisation Stonewall which claimed Ms Warsi had produced ‘homophobic’ campaign leaflets. 

Despite Ms Warsi’s defeat at the polls, it is understood that Mr Cameron, then leader of the opposition, sought to promote her in order to foster a more modern image for the Conservative party.  Ms Warsi is the first female Muslim to sit as a member of the UK Cabinet.  

Opposition parties have condemned the Prime Minister for double standards.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: “It is right that David Cameron has finally called in the independent adviser on the Ministerial Code after a week of pressure… But David Cameron’s actions in this case draw into sharp relief his refusal to hold a similar investigation into Jeremy Hunt, despite clear evidence that he broke the Ministerial Code by misleading the House of Commons on at least three occasions.

“David Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question.”