THE Prime Minister scooped the media yesterday by accepting the

resignation of a Junior Minister who confessed: ''I have had an

affair''. It is the first time in a long four years for Mr Major that he

has been able to pre-empt a scandal before it appears in the press.

The Minister concerned, Mr Robert Hughes, 43, admitted yesterday

outside his London constituency office with his wife, Sandra, standing

beside him, that he had had an affair which ended six months ago.

He said: ''I have put unacceptable pressure on my marriage because

last year I had an affair. Although the affair has been over for more

than six months, I cannot carry out my Ministerial responsibilities at

the same time as putting my marriage back together.''

His wife said: ''I am very distressed. You can't go through something

like this without being very upset about it. Essentially we are a very

happy and united family and we intend to remain that way. I love my

husband and everything will work out for us.''

A former TV journalist, Mr Hughes has three children from his second

marriage to Sandra Vaughan, a local government officer. His first

marriage was dissolved in 1986 after 12 years.

He is replaced by Mr John Horam, who was a Transport Minister in the

last Labour Government. He abandoned Labour to join the SDP and then

transferred to the Tories as the MP for Orpington.

The speed of the resignation operation carried out over the weekend

contrasted with Mr Major's previous experiences of Ministers -- like

former Heritage Secretary David Mellor -- being forced out, despite his

support, by media pressure.

Last Friday, Mr Hughes, who was a Government whip until last July when

he joined the Cabinet Office as number two to Mr David Hunt, the Prime

Minister's ''chief of staff'' and Citizen's Charter Minister, confessed

to Chief Whip Richard Ryder.

He had told his wife of his transgression because they thought he was

about to be exposed in a Sunday newspaper. By Saturday, Mr Major had

accepted his resignation and on Sunday he contacted Mr Horam. There was

no attempt to invite Mr Hughes to stay on and there will be no exchange

of letters between him and the Prime Minister.

This breaks with recent precedent in so far as all sacked or resigning

Ministers, Cabinet or otherwise, have been granted an exchange of

letters with the Prime Minister. The fact that Mr Hughes was the Junior

Minister to Mr Hunt, who is charged with co-ordinating Government

propaganda, required instant action.

Last year, Mr Major let it be known to his Ministers that he would

expect them to resign instantly if they found themselves in personal

difficulties that might compromise the Government. Scottish Minister

Allan Stewart resigned immediately last month when he found himself

involved in a pickaxe fracas with demonstrators against the M77 motorway

extension. But Mr Stewart's incident had already appeared in the press.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Mr Hughes, the MP for Harrow

West, has left office before the glare of publicity. Yesterday, he

confessed to his constituency party with his wife by his side. His

constituency chairman, Ms Joyce Nickolay, said she was saddened by his

sudden decision to go but respected his reasons.

Mr Hughes, former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Edward Heath,

is on the pro-European left of the Tory Party. He was first elected in

1987 following two unsuccessful previous attempts.

Mr Horam, 56 today, was elected as a Labour MP for Gateshead West in

1970 and served as a Junior Transport Minister from 1976 to the end of

the Callaghan Government.

He was briefly an Opposition spokesman on economic affairs in 1979 and

then left Labour to join the now-defunct Social Democratic Party in

1981. The 1983 General Election cost him his seat. He joined the Tory

Party four years later and became the Tory MP for Orpington, Kent, in

the 1992 General Election.

* The all-party Committee of Privileges was deadlocked last night

after a 90-minute meeting over the disciplinary issue of the conduct of

MPs who are accused of accepting money to ask questions. Mr David

Tredinnick and Mr Graham Riddick are accused of accepting #1000 to table

Commons questions, along with Scots MP Bill Walker, in an entrapment by

the Sunday Times last summer.