Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 13:55 GMT
Downing Street backs Mandelson
Peter Mandelson: Describes himself as an "exotic" character
Downing Street has defended Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson after he admitted receiving a £373,000 secret loan from Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson.
But opposition Conservative MPs have criticised the loan and demanded more details and a full inquiry.
After the trade secretary was appointed to his current post in the summer, he was informed the Department of Trade and Industry would be investigating Mr Robinson's financial dealings.
But it was agreed Mr Mandelson and other ministerial colleagues should play no part in the inquiry.
The spokesman said he was satisfied Mr Mandelson had properly "insulated himself" from an investigation by his DTI officials into Mr Robinson's business affairs.
Mr Mandelson said the outstanding amount was £332,000. He paid interest at a base rate and hoped to finish paying it all off soon.
The minister said he did not believe Mr Robinson had any "ulterior motive" or "political motivation" in helping him with the loan.
He said: "If I had felt he was inappropriate I, of course, wouldn't have accepted it."
Mr Blair found out about the loan last week and asked Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson to investigate whether there was a conflict of interest
Downing Street said ministerial code only required ministers to ensure they were not placed in a situation where they might be facing a conflict of interest.
"We need to know from Mr Mandelson what the terms of the loan were.
"This is a huge amount of money, way outside the sum of money you would normally lend to an MP on a parliamentary salary and we need to know what strings were attached."
Labour backbencher Diane Abbott said she was "baffled" Mr Mandelson had needed such a large loan as MPs with constituencies outside London receive grants to help them buy or rent properties in the capital.
She said: "He argues that he did not reveal this sizeable loan to his officials and he didn't declare it in the register of MPs' interests because he did not see that there was a conflict of interest.
"But he must know that is not the point, the point is that we strive for the utmost transparency."
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