Blair rebuked over US visit

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, and his deputy John Prescott were rebuked by a Commons committee yesterday for failing to declare free visits in the MPs' register of interests.

The Select Committee on Members' Interests said the pair were "mistaken" not to have registered the visits - in Mr Blair's case, a trip to Washington in 1986 by Concorde paid for by British firms campaigning for fairer tax treatment in the US.

However, the committee concluded: "We do not consider that either case constitutes a sufficiently serious breach of the rules to warrant further action by the House."

Mr Blair's office dismissed the original complaint by David Shaw, Conservative MP for Dover, as "politically motivated". In an attempt to turn the tables over "sleaze", Mr Shaw has made a series of allegations against the Labour leadership.

A junior member of Labour's treasury team at the time, Mr Blair flew to Washington as part of an all-party delegation to lobby against the double taxation of British companies. Their expenses were paid by the Unitary Tax Campaign. Mr Blair subsequently tabled a Commons motion on the subject in 1987.

Sir Michael Grylls, the Tory leader of the delegation, did not register the visit but Mr Shaw made no complaint about that.

Mr Blair told the committee he regarded the visit as "quasi-official", affording "no conceivable personal benefit" and had not believed it appropriate to register a financial interest. The visit had been supported by the Treasury, the Inland Revenue and the British Embassy.

Mr Shaw also complained that Mr Blair failed to declare a weekend stay with his wife Cherie at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland in 1989, sponsored by the oil firm Conoco, to attend a seminar on the energy industry. Mr Prescott spent a similar weekend at Gleneagles in 1994 but did not register it by the appropriate time, the MP claimed.

The committee noted the cost of the weekend was far above the pounds 160 threshold for declaring hospitality and should have been registered.

The committee said some MPs seemed to have made a distinction between visits and hospitality connected with official duties and those which were primarily recreational. "No such distinction has ever been reflected in the rules," it said.

Mr Shaw said the report did not go far enough and called for the Labour leader and his deputy to be fined or suspended from the Commons.