Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott broke ministerial rules when he did not immediately declare his stay at an anti-gay US tycoon’s ranch, a Parliament watchdog concluded today.
However, the House of Commons standards committee cleared the minister for not registering a cowboy outfit he received from Philip Anschutz after a stay at his Colorado home.
The report, compiled by Sir Philip Mawer, and read by the committee, said the rules must be tightened.
Mr Prescott was investigated over his meetings with Mr Anschutz a billionaire who has donated large sums of money to Colorado for Family Values, an organisation with explicit homophobic views.
He is also a major patron of the Republican Party and funded ‘Amendment 2’, a voter initiated ballot to overturn gay rights in the state of Colorado. He is also a major donor for the Institute for American Values, who campaign against single parent families.
The main spark for the inquiry centres around the Mr Anschutz’s plans to turn the Millennium Dome into a casino.
The Millennium Dome has also been short-listed for the sole government license for a super casino.
The Committee concluded that no action should be taken as he registered the gifts eventually, but added that he failed to follow the ministerial code by taking 11 months to declare it and by not considering whether his stay at Mr Anschutz’s home would influence his job.
It said Mr Prescott had “acted correctly in registering his visit to Mr Anschutz’s ranch, albeit some 11 months late.”
The report said: “The nature of his relationship with Mr Anschutz meant he was accepting hospitality from a source that might reasonably have been thought likely to influence ministerial action.
It calls for an “independent element” to be introduced into investigations of ministerial code breaches.
Mr Prescott said in reaction to the report, “I have registered the stay at the ranch, the gifts, which were recorded at the time, will be notified in the annual return to Parliament next week, as is the usual practice.”
“I and my department also accept Sir Philip’s concern about the procedures operated within my department for reporting gifts.
“I have asked my department to undertake an urgent review of its procedures, and indeed we have already begun to implement new procedures.”
Hugo Swire, Shadow Culture Secretary said last week, “The Government must make a full statement to Parliament on the precise role of John Prescott over casinos. It is clear that Mr Prescott has a direct and personal involvement, but despite his stay at the 32,000 acre home of an American billionaire, he did not declare his interests to the Commons.
“Mr Prescott’s wheeling and dealing causes further concern that Labour’s determination to relax gambling laws is being driven by big business, not the public interest.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the matter is closed.