All About Parliament
Case Study - Cash for Questions
The 1990s and John Major’s government became tarnished with allegation and incidents of ‘sleaze’. One of these happened in 1994 when it became clear that some people within the Conservative party had agreed to put questions to Parliament in exchange for money. This became known as the ‘Cash for Questions’ scandal and really damaged the Prime Minister and reputation of the Conservative Party who set up a Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the declining standards of parliament and people in public life.
Two Conservative Members of Parliament, Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith, were accused by the Guardian Newspaper of taking money and accepting gifts (such as a stay in the Ritz) from Mohamed Al Fayed (then owner of Harrods), to make sure they asked certain questions in the House of Commons. It was said that Mr Ian Greer, a lobbyist, was their ‘middle-man’ shuttling the money and instructions between them.
When the allegations became public, Tim Smith admitted to the cash and immediately resigned. Neil Hamilton said he was innocent. Hamilton was forced to resign as a minister of the government as charges had been brought against him (standard for ministers) and then he lost his parliamentary seat in 1997 to an independent candidate Martin Bell (news journalist) who stood against him with an anti-sleaze message.
Hamilton and the lobbyist, Ian Greer took out libel writs, claiming what was written were lies, against the Guardian, but eventually dropped their action. Mr Hamilton also sued Mr Al Fayed for libel, but he lost.
Hamilton and his wife, Christine became media celebrities and have since appeared on a number of reality TV programs. Neil became active within the UK Independence Party (UKIP), although a fractious relationship from the start, appearing as a spokesperson on programs such as BBC Question Time.