The original Cash for Questions scandal was a sting operation launched by The Sunday Times Insight team in the spring of 1994 designed to test the probity of British members of parliament. Somewhat confusingly the name has also been applied to the subsequent scandal regarding the lobbying firm Ian Greer Associates, the MPs Tim Smith, Neil Hamilton and Mohamed Al-Fayed the owner of the House of Fraser department store group.
It had apparently been the opinion of Fleet Street for many years that there were members of parliament that could be bought. The Sunday Times decided to test out this theory and, adopting a variety of ruses, it contacted ten Labour and ten Conservative MPs and offered to pay each of them £1,000 to ask a question in the House of Commons. All ten Labour MPs declined the offer as did eight of the Conservatives. The two Conservative MPs who were duped into accepting the money were David Tredinnick, MP for Bosworth, and Graham Riddick, MP for Colne Valley, both of whom were parliamentary private secretaries and thus regarded as members, albeit extremely junior ones, of the government.
On the 10th July 1994 the Sunday Times published the results of its investigation, naming both Tredinnick and Riddick. (This was despite the fact that Riddick later had second thoughts about accepting the money and decided to return the cheque before the Times went to print.) Tredinnick immediately denied the allegation but was forced to admit its truth when the paper issued a recording of Tredinnick asking for the cheque to be sent to his home address.
The government chief whip Richard Ryder decided to suspend the pair as PPSs whilst the speaker Betty Boothroyd allowed an emergency debate in the Commons on the 13th July 1994, during which Riddick apologised profusely and Tredinnick kept silent. The Commons decided to refer the matter to the House of Commons Committee of Privileges, who much to the annoyance of the Labour opposition and many others decided to investigate the matter in secret.
It took some months for the Committee to but they eventually published their findings in April 1995 and concluded that the conduct of the two men had fallen "below the standards which the Commons is entitled to expect from its members". Opinions were divided regarding how the errant MPs should be punished; Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley tabled an amendment calling for their expulsion, whilst Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Canterbury, called for the pair simply to be reprimanded. In the end the front benches of both major parties co-operated to ensure that the Committee's recommendations were accepted. Tredinnick was suspended from the House of Commons for twenty sitting days and Graham Riddick for a period of ten days. They were both suspended without pay, which resulted in a loss of £2,800 in Mr Tredinnick's case and £1,300 for Mr Riddick.
The Privileges committee also felt obliged to condemn The Sunday Times for its role as an agent provocateur and concluded that the "conduct of its enquiries fell substantially below the standards to be expected of legitimate investigative journalism". Riddick later took the matter before the Press Complaints Commission who ruled in his favour in 1996. The PCC condemned the The Sunday Times for making "a random attempt to lure MPs to accept payments by a direct invitation to behave improperly".
Although this whole affair was soon forgotten and very rapidly overtaken by the far more exciting set of accusations made by Mohamed Al-Fayed which first saw the light of day in October 2004, it appears to have had some influence on the Al-Fayed's decision to go public and certainly added to the public pressure that led to the establishment of the Nolan Committee in October 2004.
India has recently had its own version of a Cash for Questions scandal. In December 2005 the Indian news channel Aaj Tak set up a sting operation very much along the same lines as the earlier Sunday Times investigation. They approached a number of MPs and offered them Rs 50,000 to ask five questions in Parliament. Many succumbed to the lure of easy money and were captured on film accepting the proffered bribes.
On the 23rd December 2005 the Indian Parliament voted to expel a total of eleven members, five from the Bharatiya Janata Party, three from the Bahujan Samaj Party and one from the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Rajya Sabha.
- Matthew Paris and Kevin Maguire Great Parliamentary Scandals(Revised edition, Chrysalis, 2004)
- Donald Macintyre, Cash-for-questions MPs suspended by Commons
The Independent, Apr 21, 1995
- For the Indian Cash for Questions see