SIR Malcolm Rifkind’s distinguished parliamentary career came to an ignominious end on Tuesday after the Scottish Tory grandee bowed to pressure and announced he would step down as an MP over “cash for access” allegations.
The decision to not contest his Kensington seat in the May general election brings to a close a 40-year political career that saw him serve as Margaret Thatcher’s Scottish secretary, and John Major’s defence and foreign secretary.
The former Edinburgh Pentlands MP also stood down yesterday as chairman of the powerful intelligence and security committee while the Commons standards watchdog investigates an undercover sting in which Sir Malcolm is seen offering his services to a fictitious Chinese company.
In recordings from the Daily Telegraph/Channel Four Dispatches operation – which also targeted former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw – Sir Malcolm is seen describing himself as “self-employed”, saying “nobody pays me a salary”, appearing to overlook his £67,000 a year MP’s salary. He is said to have asked for a fee of somewhere between £5,000 and £8,000 in return for his services.
He later claimed in an interview that somebody with his “business background” was entitled to earn more.
In the Dispatches revelations, he added that people would be “surprised” at how much spare time he had.
In a statement yesterday, Sir Malcolm remained unapologetic about his comments to the programme. He said: “None of the current controversy with which I am associated is relevant to my work as chairman of the intelligence and security committee of parliament.
“However, I have informed my colleagues that, while I will remain a member of the committee, I will step down from the chairmanship.
“The committee is due to be dissolved in little over a month with the prorogation of parliament for the forthcoming general election. The main substantive work which needs to be completed will be the publication of our privacy and security report during March. I do not want the work of the committee and the publication of the report to be, in any way, distracted or affected by controversy as to my personal position. I have concluded, therefore, that it is better that this important work should be presided over by a new chairman.”
He insisted that that he had not come under pressure from Downing Street to step down and that it was “entirely a personal decision”.
He also hit out at the Telegraph and Channel Four’s allegations as being “contemptible” and vowed to “continue in public and political life” outside parliament.
However, his decision to quit parliament does not mean he will escape punishment if he and Mr Straw have broken the rules. Commons Speaker John Bercow said the two MPs would “cop it” if it was proven they broke the rules.
He said: “They are both highly intelligent, highly capable, highly experienced people. It may well be that errors of judgment have been made. If that is so, then they will cop it, they will face the music, they will suffer a penalty as a result.
“People should be in parliament to represent their constituents and to stand up for principles and policies dear to them.
“People should not be in parliament to add to their personal fortune,” Mr Bercow said.
Kathryn Hudson, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, warned that any investigation would take until after the general election to complete, pointing out that in similar previous inquiries it had taken up to five weeks to get hold of full transcripts from broadcasters.
“Any investigation will inevitably continue into the next parliament. The committee on standards has agreed that any memorandum will be submitted to its successor committee on completion,” she said in a joint statement with Labour’s Kevin Barron, who chairs the committee on standards.
Committee member Sir Menzies Campbell said Sir Malcolm had done the right thing by standing down.
Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies said: “As someone who has served alongside Malcolm Rifkind, I have no hesitation in saying that he has been an outstanding chairman of the intelligence and security committee.
“Many of the recent reforms to the committee, which have led to it having greater powers, are directly the result of his personal analysis of what was required to increase the accountability of the intelligence services.
“He has done the right thing in resigning, but the House of Commons will be the worse for the absence of his perceptive and always well-informed contributions on foreign affairs.”
Kim Howells, Sir Malcolm’s Labour predecessor as the intelligence and security committee chairman, said: “It is such a shame because he has had a very distinguished parliamentary career and to end it in this way is awful.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Cameron “respects and supports” Sir Malcolm’s decision to quit both the Commons and the ISC chair.
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