John Prescott faces fresh allegations

Last updated at 11:35 07 July 2006

John Prescott faces continued questions today after fresh allegations that his office assisted billionaire Philip Anschutz's bid to run a super-casino in the Millennium Dome.

Emails have come to light purporting to show that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister tried to scupper a rival application by planning officials in Southend-on-Sea.

They came as the Tories accused Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell of ignoring allegations that Mr Prescott breached the Ministerial Code by visiting billionaire Philip Anschutz's ranch.

Pressure on Mr Prescott showed no sign of relenting, despite the Deputy Prime Minister's insistence yesterday that he would not quit.

In a combative exchange on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he denied any impropriety or involvement with the casino application process.

But The Times reported today an email sent from Mary Spence, chief executive of Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership, to colleagues after a meeting with ODPM officials.

She wrote: "(The) ODPM want to make a decision on a single preferred option in the (Thames Gateway) Strategic Framework - reason for this being that government policy is ONE licence."

Rob Tinlin, chief executive of Southend Borough Council, responded that it was a "wholly indefensible approach from the ODPM which is meddling in the first degree".

A spokesperson for Mr Prescott flatly rejected the claim: "This allegation is untrue.

"No ODPM officials or ministers ever suggested that any of the potential candidates for a regional casino should withdraw its application in favour of any other candidate."

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary responded to a Tory letter demanding an investigation into alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code.

Mr Prescott already faces an inquiry by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Sir Philip Mawer.

But shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire insists there must be a second probe by Sir John Bourn, the Prime Minister's adviser on conflicts of interests.

Sir Gus wrote to Mr Swire saying that he had given his points "careful consideration" but made no mention of the Ministerial Code.

Instead he pointed out that Mr Prescott had already set out in detail the nature of the visit to Mr Anschutz's ranch and had now declared it in the Register of Members' Interests.

He added that the civil servants who had accompanied the Deputy Prime Minister had now also declared their visit in the departmental register of hospitality.

Mr Swire said that he was "astonished" by Sir Gus's response.

"Sir Gus has failed to answer the concerns I raised and to properly deal with the central question as to whether John Prescott has breached the Ministerial Code," he said.

"I asked Sir Gus to investigate any breaches of the Ministerial Code.

"The code quite clearly states that 'no Minister or public servant should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation'.

"Sir Gus has failed to even mention the code in his response.

"To treat such a serious allegation in this manner completely undermines the Ministerial Code.

"Unless these concerns are taken seriously it will undermine any suggestion that the code in any way guarantees the standards of behaviour of Government ministers."

But a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said that Sir Gus had responded on the points for which he was responsible as Head of the Civil Service.

"There is a very simple reason why the Cabinet Secretary has not mentioned the Ministerial Code in his response," the spokesperson said.

"Paragraph 1.3 of the Ministerial Code sets out very clearly that it's not the role of the secretary of the Cabinet or other officials to enforce or to investigate ministers, although they might provide ministers with private advice on matters which the code covers."

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