Hain Faces Cabinet Career Ruin over Sleaze Inquiry; POLITICS

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Byline: By Jonathan Walker Political Editor

Embattled Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain was last night struggling to save his Cabinet career as he faced a parliamentary sleaze inquiry.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, is considering a formal complaint that Mr Hain broke Commons rules by failing to declare more than pounds 100,000 in donations to his Labour deputy leadership campaign.

If the complaint is upheld, Mr Hain could face sanctions ranging from a rebuke by the powerful Commons Standards and Privileges Committee to suspension from the House - which would almost certainly spell the end of his ministerial career.

Mr Hain has already admitted in a statement on Thursday that he failed to declare 17 donations totalling pounds 103,156.75 to the Electoral Commission - the official elections watchdog.

He said he had been to busy to personally report the donations because of his role as a Cabinet Minister, and believed his staff had done it for him.

The latest breach of funding rules by a Labour figure follows the launch of a police investigation into more than pounds 650,000 of proxy donations made to the party by a property developer under other people's names.

Problems have also emerged with donations to Harriet Harman's deputy leadership bid and Wendy Alexander's Scottish Labour leader campaign.

Last night, Gordon Brown insisted Mr Hain still had his full support. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has full confidence in Peter Hain."

However Tory backbencher David Davies, who lodged the latest complaint, said that Mr Hain had also breached House of Commons rules by failing to declare them in the Register of Members' Interests.

He said "Clearly, based on what Peter Hain has said, there has been a breach of the rules."

He added: "I really find it hard to see how he can continue in both these important positions if he is the sort of man who forgets about pounds 100,000.

"I think there are a lot of questions to be answered. It does raise questions about his continued career."

Opposition MPs warned that Mr Hain's position as Work and Pensions Secretary, which he combines with the job of Welsh Secretary, was becoming increasingly untenable.

If he is suspended from the Commons, it is hard to see how he could carry on.

All Ministers are expected to make themselves accountable to MPs by appearing in the Commons to answer questions on a regular basis.

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd, said: "The whole thing, I think, is a total circumvention of all the rules appertaining to elections and I think that, as a Cabinet minister, it will be very difficult for him to stay in office. …