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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 20:00 GMT
Mandelson under fire
Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson is under pressure from all sides
By BBC political correspondent Nick Jones

Once again, Peter Mandelson is having to explain himself in damaging circumstances.

He has had to admit that he did speak to an immigration minister about an application for a British passport by one of Hinduja brothers - a conversation that until Monday night he said he hadn't remembered.

Government officials told Mr Mandelson he was incorrect in saying he had not been personally involved because in June 1998 he had a two minute conversation with the then immigration minister, Mike O'Brien.


Unless the prime minister publishes all the relevant information... this will be a running sore for Mr Mandelson

Norman Baker
Liberal Democrats
Four months earlier the Hinduja brothers had offered to underwrite the Faith Zone in the Millennium Dome by 1m. Subsequently one of the brothers was granted a British passport.

Downing Street issued the correction, a move the Conservatives' spokesman Andrew Lansley thought inadequate.

"We should have had an accurate reply and an accurate account in the first instance rather than having to drag it out of Mr Mandelson and government spokesmen," said Mr Lansley.

"The government guidelines are very clear. Mr Mandelson at the very least may have made an error of judgement in raising it."

Mr Mandelson did what few other ministers or Labour MPs have said they were prepared to do - raise a citizenship application for a businessman.

'Close link'

It is a step the Liberal Democrats' spokesman Norman Baker thought highly irregular in view of Mr Mandelson's responsibility in 1998 for the Dome and the Hinduja brothers' commercial interest in the project.

"It is no business of Mr Mandelson to make phone calls about people who are not constituents to another minister when he has got a clear link with those people, when he is negotiating with them, presumably to get money for a project to be bailed out, namely the Millennium Dome," he said.


It is perfectly reasonable to fulfil that Member of Parliament role in taking up cases

Harry Cohen
Labour
Most Labour MPs were dismayed that the government has again appeared shifty.

They felt Mr Mandelson's original denial was less than frank and by admitting belatedly to a conversation which he hadn't previously recollected he'd landed Labour in another murky business just as the party was recovering from revelations about a mystery 2m benefactor.

Labour MP Alice Mahon thought Mr Mandelson had acted unwisely.

"It shows you can't be too careful and it shows in my opinion that his judgement was slightly lacking and you should really leave it to civil servants.

"I think it's ill-advised and ill-judged, yes."

Mandelson defended

Fellow Labour MP Ray Powell was equally forthright: "Mr Mandelson shouldn't have done it. I've never trusted him since he was adopted as a Labour candidate. And you quote me if you like."

Labour MP Harry Cohen defended Mr Mandelson's right to take up citizenship cases - even from people who weren't his constituents - but he still thought Mr Mandelson had only himself to blame for this latest muddle.

"I think maybe he was a bit unwise not to be open about it but I wouldn't object to his right to do it."

Most of the MPs I spoke to thought Mr Mandelson wasn't in quite as much trouble as he was over the home loan that forced his resignation but they agreed he'd again done himself a great deal of damage.

Downing Street has been firmly on the defensive insisting that nothing improper or exceptional had happened. The passport application hadn't been supported or endorsed - but again Mr Mandelson's political reputation is on the line.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | South Asia
Hindujas questioned by detectives
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