LESS than 24 hours after a sex scandal forced the resignation of Welsh Minister Roderick Richards, the Prime Minister signalled his determination to kill the issue by appointing Mr Jonathan Evans, a junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, as a replacement.

The speed with which Mr Major moved to fill the unexpected breach in his Government was designed to avoid drawing out the scandal in the delicate months before the General Election.

Mr Evans is, in turn, replaced by Mr Gary Streeter, a Tory whip and MP for Plymouth Sutton, who takes over the handling of the politically explosive Family Law Bill currently under attack in the Commons.

Mr Richards, a junior Minister in the Welsh Office, resigned on Sunday after a tabloid newspaper published details of an alleged extra-marital affair with a divorcee 20 years his junior.

It was made clear to Mr Richards that his resignation would be required immediately to avoid any further embarrassment to Mr Major.

The Prime Minister met for 40 minutes early yesterday with Chief Whip Alastair Goodlad to discuss Mr Richards's replacement. Mr Goodlad was said to be angered by Mr Richards's failure to notify him of the impending story when he first heard about it on Friday.

He is the 16th member of the Government to fall victim to sleaze allegations since 1992. Mr Major has made clear he expects Ministers to resign promptly rather than cling on amid growing scandal.

Mr Richards yesterday reacted angrily to continuing media attention.

He was met by reporters and film crews as he left his west London home with his young daughter and son to take them to school.

Pursued by a television crew as he walked from his house to his car, he shouted: ``Get out of my son's way, you will regret this.''

He repeated the remark, but refused to make any further comment.

The choice of Mr Evans - one of only six Welsh Tories - to replace Mr Richards, was criticised by Labour, in part because he is not a Welsh speaker.

However, he has has impressed Mr Major with his handling of the contentious Family Law Bill.

Although he only entered Parliament in 1992, as MP for Brecon and Radnor on a majority of only 130, he has risen rapidly. His first ministerial post was as replacement for Mr Neil Hamilton at the Department of Trade, himself a victim of sleaze allegations.

In particular, Mr Evans, 46, is an expert on devolution and is well-placed to help the Government oppose Labour's plans for a Welsh assembly in the run-up to the General Election.

Asked yesterday about his own views on the family - like Mr Richards, he lists it as one of his interests - Mr Evans refused to comment. He told BBC Radio 4: ``Rod Richards and his family have not only been constituents of mine, but friends of mine for very many years.

``My thoughts are with them at this moment in time, and I'm not going to comment further.''

He refused to concede that his inability to speak Welsh was a handicap.

``But I am a Welshman who has lived and worked in Wales all my life. I share with 80% of the people of Wales the fact that I am not a Welsh speaker.''

However, Shadow Welsh Secretary Ron Davies dismissed the appointment. Referring to his highly marginal seat, he said: ``In any event, the job is very temporary, because he is destined to lose his seat at the next election.''

He added: ``While Jonathan Evans is personally less offensive than Rod Richards, it shows up the dearth of talent in the Conservative party in Wales. Suddenly the Welsh Office will swing from an extreme right-winger to someone who is in the soggy centre.

``We also now have three Welsh Office Ministers who do not speak Welsh and have no interest in the language, a slap in the face for nearly a quarter of the population who do.''

Mr Streeter's legal expertise will be put to good use in the Lord Chancellor's Department.

A solicitor, Mr Streeter, 40, replaced Alan Clark in the Plymouth Sutton seat in 1992 when he first entered the Commons.

Although he faces a tough challenge over the controversial divorce law reforms, Mr Streeter's experience in the Whips' Office will come in handy as Labour now looks poised to side with Tory rebels in order to defeat the Family Law Bill.

Mr Streeter, married with a son and a daughter, is an active Christian and as a former joint vice-chairman of the Commons Christian Fellowship takes an active interest in moral and social issues.

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