There was a nasty clash in parliament yesterday between the Deputy Prime Minister and James Duddridge, the MP for Rochford and Southend East. According to Hansard:

5. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Department for Communities and Local Government in relation to casino bids? 6193]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): None.

James Duddridge: How can the Deputy Prime Minister not have had any discussions, given that Office of the Deputy Prime Minister civil servants, attending a Thames Gateway meeting in February, stated that Ministers would appreciate some joined-up thinking and would like a single bid for the Thames Gateway? Are those the same ODPM officials who received briefings from the Deputy Prime Minister following his meeting with the dome?s owner?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has made accusations in the press and in the Chamber about the feeling in his constituency about whether we interfered with its application for a casino. The former Tory mayor said that we had: the present Tory mayor has made it clear that that was not true?

James Duddridge: It wasn?t the mayor.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I shall quote what the Tory leader of Southend says? [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) cannot shout after he has asked his question. He may not be happy with the answer, but he should not shout.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Tory leader in Southend said:

?There wasn?t any pressure put on us?.

I accept that man?s statement and that is exactly what happened. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in casino policy himself. I understand that his constituency party in Rochford and Southend, East receives funding from a company that wants to build a ?15 million casino and hotel complex in Southend.

James Duddridge: That?s a lie.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It sounds to me as if the hon. Gentleman is a busted flush?[Hon. Members: ?Withdraw.?]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is difficult for me to be fair if I cannot hear what is going on. I shall take advice on what has just been said and make a ruling ?[ Interruption. ] Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) should be quiet. I understand that he is a Whip and I do not want Whips shouting from the Back Benches. The Deputy Prime Minister has made an allegation, but allegations have come from both sides of the House. The best thing to do is to ask questions and hear the answers without any allegations being made. That includes replies, which should not incorporate any allegations.

We spoke to one Rochford Conservative Councillor last night, who said he knew nothing about any money from a casino company. So who’s telling the truth here?

UPDATE ON JULY 22ND: According to the Evening Echo, Duddridge says the money comes from Astimwood Properties, who own the building that used to be Keddies Department Store. At one stage they planned a casino there, but by the time they donated the money in 2005, they had changed their minds…

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