The results of a four-year inquiry into the collapse of MG Rover could be published before the end of the month, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has revealed.
He said a team of four fraud officers was currently examining the long-awaited findings, and they might be published within 20 days.
Lord Mandelson admitted he was disappointed it had taken so long to complete an investigation into the failure of the Birmingham car maker, which closed its Longbridge factory in 2005 with the loss of 6,000 jobs.
But he insisted he had done nothing to delay the publication of the report, and had simply followed the advice of government lawyers.
Lord Mandelson was accused of kicking the report “into the long grass” when he confirmed earlier this week that he had received the findings of an official inquiry, but would not be publishing them immediately.
Instead, he referred the report to the Serious Fraud Office. The report would remain confidential until police had examined it, to avoid prejudicing any potential future prosecutions, he said.
The decision was condemned by Conservatives, who claimed the Government was trying to cover up the circumstances which led up to the demise of Rover until after the next General Election.
But Lord Mandelson had the chance to defend himself when he gave evidence to the Commons Business Committee.
He said: “I don’t think we will have to wait that long to publish its report in its entirety.
“Judging by the indication given by the director of the Serious Fraud Office, who has already set up a team of four people to examine the report, I understand it normally takes about 20 days to carry out this examination. It can take longer in complex cases.”
Robert Alderman, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, had stressed that officers would examine the report “fairly and scrupulously”, Lord Mandelson said.
“We will let him and his team do that job, and then it will be possible to publish it,” he added.
He revealed that he decided to publish the report once he received it last month, but was told to wait by Government lawyers.
“Obviously we cannot prejudice any future prosecution and, therefore, I will be guided by the Serious Fraud Office, but I would hope it will be possible to publish the report as fast as possible,” he said.
Business Minister Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) rejected claims the Government was responsible for the delay in distributing cash from a reported £16 million trust fund which was set up to benefit former Rover staff.
Former directors of Phoenix Venture Holdings said they were setting up the fund using money raised from Phoenix assets. But it cannot be distributed while those assets are under investigation.
Mr McFadden said: “It is not the department that have coupled the trust issue. It’s not us that have issued rules and guidance on that. It’s not a decision for the department, so it’s not our decision as to what happens to those funds.”
Meanwhile, campaigner Gemma Cartwright, chairwoman of the Rover Community Action Trust, criticised politicians who used Rover as “a political football”.
The campaigner, whose husband Andrew worked for MG Rover, said: “The report should not be rushed. The investigation should follow the correct procedures so that the workers know why they lost their jobs.”