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Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 16:46 GMT
Ministers draw line under passport saga
Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson
The government has moved to draw a line under Peter Mandelson's resignation from the cabinet and the Hinduja passport affair.

Leader of the House of Commons Margaret Beckett said the report into the affair, which was published on Friday, provided comprehensive answers and should bring the matter to an end.


There is more to this than certainly meets the eye from the report

Michael Ancram
But the Conservative Party is keeping up the pressure on the government and has said key questions remain unanswered.

Sir Anthony Hammond's report into the affair found that neither Mr Mandelson nor Europe Minister Keith Vaz had helped the Hinduja brothers to secure UK passports.

It concluded that Mr Mandelson's belief that he had not made a telephone call on behalf of the Hinduja brothers was "honestly held".

Sir Anthony also found that Mr Vaz did not have an improper relationship with the businessmen, who are facing fraud charges in India.

Unanswered questions

Mrs Beckett criticised the Tories and the media for saying that questions remained over the affair.

"The Conservative Party and the media are just angry that they have been deprived of some great scandal and of the opportunity to say that we are just as bad as the Tories were.

"Because the report clears ministers, they now claim it is a whitewash.

Hammond's findings
Hinduja passport application "properly" handled
No improper pressure by any minister
Enquiries on behalf of Prakash Hinduja properly handled
No evidence of improper relationship between Keith Vaz and the Hindujas
Report accepts Mr Mandelson's belief that he had not approached Mr O'Brien was "honestly held"
The phonecall probably did take place
Intelligence material about the Hindujas was not drawn to the attention of the Home Office
"The truth is that the clearing of ministers of impropriety was inevitable given the overwhelming evidence that nothing improper had taken place, as indeed the prime minister insisted at the time.

"The so-called unanswered questions made by the Conservatives and the media have in fact been comprehensively answered in the report.

"It is the answers that our opponents do not like."

But Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram said: "It raises a whole series of new questions, questions relating to the home secretary's role in the passport application."

He added: "We know that a surprising number of ministers were involved in dealing with this passport application, we know that it appears to have been fast-tracked - these are questions which really do suggest that there is more to this than certainly meets the eye from the report."

Speaking to BBC News he said: "It is a real farce. Nobody, apparently, has done anything wrong, but a very senior cabinet minister has resigned.

"Nobody has told apparently any lies, but the home secretary and other cabinet ministers have been going around accusing Mr Mandelson at least of having told an untruth."

'Wild panic'

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said the report showed the prime minister was in "a wild panic".

"The government lurches from one crisis to another, all of its own making. All the prime minister's energies are apparently devoted to dealing with his own internal crises - the prime minister is in a panic."

Labour MP Alan Simpson said the Hammond report was disappointing.

Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett said the report was not a whitewash
"I think most of us expected that the Hammond inquiry would actually come up with new rules, clear rules which said that ministers quite clearly should not cut across their ministerial remit to go and make passport inquiries for someone else.

"For the Hammond inquiry to come up with a series of observations that were anodyne just really must drive Downing Street to the point of distraction."

Meanwhile, Mr Mandelson was expected to be considering his political future in the aftermath of the report that cleared his name.

He has already said he does not "desire a return to government" but has not yet specified what contribution he could make to the New Labour cause.

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See also:

09 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Q&A: Hammond and Mandelson
24 Jan 01 | South Asia
Mandelson resigns over Hinduja affair
05 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Downing Street moves to bolster Vaz
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