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Sir Malcolm Rifkind security committee role questioned


SIR Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative MP in the “cash for access” row, is facing more pressure to step down as chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

One of his predecessors, Kim Howells, said the allegations would make Sir Malcolm’s job “very difficult”.

Sir Malcolm, secretly filmed apparently offering his services to a company, says no Commons rules were broken.

Labour’s Jack Straw has defended himself against similar allegations.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight, former Labour MP Mr Howells said the committee – which oversees the work of Britain’s intelligence and security agencies – cannot afford to be “dragged down” by the row because it is “too important”.

And he warned that its reputation “isn’t being improved when it looks as if the chair of the committee is the victim of a sting operation”.

The allegations stem from an investigation by reporters for the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw, both former foreign secretaries, were filmed holding discussions over paid employment with a fictitious Chinese company. Both have denied breaching House of Commons rules.

Sir Malcolm is reported to have claimed he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.

He was recorded as saying: “I am self-employed – so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income.”

He said his usual fee for half a day’s work was “somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000”.

Sir Malcolm, who is MP for Kensington, said earlier he would not stand down as security committee chairman, unless his colleagues wanted him to. He pointed out that none of the matters raised in the newspaper sting were do with intelligence or security.

He said he had never accepted an offer from the fake firm, saying it was a “preliminary” discussion “about what they had mind”.

He is paid £67,000 a year as an MP and he said telling the reporters he was not paid a salary was a “silly thing to say” although it was a reference “to my business interests, from none of which I receive a salary”.

Mr Straw has suspended himself from the Labour Party while he fights to clear his name, and the Tory whip has been withdrawn from Sir Malcolm.

The two MPs have also referred themselves to Parliament’s standards watchdog.

Asked if Sir Malcolm should resign, Mr Howells told Newsnight: “It’s going to be very difficult for him, but the decision has got to be made by the committee.”

He warned that “if the intelligence and security services are not properly overseen and accountable to parliament and the people, then all hell can break loose.”

And he added that he was “a bit bewildered” that Sir Malcolm suggested he had the time to take on the role being offered by the undercover reporters because “the amount of reading on that committee is phenomenal, so much classified material comes across the desks of the ISC, and you have to read it in the offices of the ISC”.

Blackburn MP Mr Straw, who has already announced his intention to stand down from Parliament in May, said he was “mortified” that he had fallen into the reporters’ “trap” but that he had said nothing “improper”.

During his 36 years as an MP he had been “absolutely scrupulous” about observing the rules, he said, adding that the entire discussion had been around what he would do after leaving Parliament.

It is claimed he was recorded describing how he operated “under the radar” and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.

On the subject of payment, Mr Straw is heard saying: “So normally, if I’m doing a speech or something, it’s £5,000 a day, that’s what I charge.”

After the story was published, Mr Straw confirmed he had taken on one consultancy role since his ministerial career ended in 2010, with commodity suppliers, ED&F Man (Holdings) Ltd, saying it was done in accordance with the MPs’ Code of Conduct.

A report in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph claims he also told its reporters he acted on behalf of Lancashire-based furniture company Senator International.

Mr Straw told the Telegraph he had not been paid by Senator but acknowledged he had discussed joining its board when he stands down as an MP.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Straw’s relationship with Senator International highlights a potential loophole in Parliamentary rules which allows MPs to “lobby” for companies they will later join.

But the paper reports Mr Straw as saying he helped Senator only because it employed a large number of people from his constituency and his involvement with the company was therefore “entirely appropriate”.

A spokesman for Mr Straw is quoted by the Telegraph as saying: “The help which he provided was not in expectation of any employment or financial advantage but because Mr Straw was a constituency MP performing his parliamentary duties.”

The chairman of Senator International, Colin Mustoe, denied the Telegraph’s claims that Mr Straw had assisted him in securing government contracts.

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