Ex-minister 'accepted favours from US firm'

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The Independent Online
Neil Hamilton, the former corporate affairs minister who resigned two years ago amid accusations that he had accepted cash and free hospitality from Mohamed al-Fayed, including a stay at the Ritz Hotel, in Paris, is to be reported to the new parliamentary watchdog on MPs' standards for similar conduct, this time involving an American tobacco giant.

Alex Carlile, Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomery, said yesterday that he had uncovered evidence that Mr Hamilton had failed to declare hospitality from US Tobacco in New York and London. Mr Carlile is to report Mr Hamilton to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

''We need to know if this is true or false,'' Mr Carlile said. ''If it is found to be true it would raise issues of whether someone should serve as an MP.''

The allegations have surfaced at a point when Mr Hamilton appears to be trying to resurrect a once high-flying parliamentary career. There had been signs recently that he was intent on adopting a more high-profile role among Tory backbenchers. That will almost certainly be dashed by Mr Carlile's move. The Liberal Democrat MP already has one complaint outstanding with the Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests against Mr Hamilton. That concerns the charge that Mr Hamilton had received cash from Mr al- Fayed, owner of Harrods, via the lobbyist Ian Greer, in return for tabling questions.

Mr Hamilton and Mr Greer attempted to sue a newspaper for libel over this claim but were blocked by a High Court ruling that the action would breach parliamentary privilege. They are thought to be preparing an appeal against that decision.