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The Independent Online
THE TORY leader has banned Neil Hamilton and Piers Merchant, the former MPs tainted by sleaze, from ever joining the Conservative Party again, writes Rachel Sylvester.

Jonathan Aitken, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will also be banned from being a member of the party under new discipline rules if he is found guilty of perjury when his case comes to court. Mr Hague believes the action will enable him to begin restoring the Tories' reputation.

Mr Hamilton, who lost his Tatton seat to the BBC war reporter Martin Bell after allegations that he accepted cash to ask parlia-mentary questions, and Mr Merchant, who lied about having an affair with a nightclub hostess, are not formally members. They will be the first people to be prohibited from joining the party.

"They have caused such a lot of pain and damage to the Tory Party we just could not welcome them back," a senior Tory official said.

"They dragged the whole party down in the run up to [the election] and they do not deserve any second chances. This is a signal that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated again."

But Mr Hamilton is planning to launch, in the margins of the conference, a book which he believes will clear his name. "It is very odd when Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner, went out of his way to say I hadn't actually been convicted of anything," he said.