Hamilton outcry at `inquisition'

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The Independent Online
THE DISGRACED former Tory MP Neil Hamilton attacked the "morally stunted" House of Commons yesterday as unfit to judge accusations of dishonesty against its members.

He was unseated at Tatton, Cheshire, in the 1997 election amid claims that he accepted "cash for questions" from the Harrods owner Mohamed al- Fayed. Yesterday he condemned the parliamentary inquiry that found "compelling evidence" he took the money, and called for an independent tribunal to be set up to judge MPs.

"I harbour no illusions of securing any redress for myself from a morally stunted House of Commons," he told the Neill committee on standards in public life. "However, it would be deplorable if anyone else were to be subjected to an auto-da-fe like mine in the future. I now believe the House of Commons is congenitally incapable of adjudicating upon serious allegations of criminal or quasi-criminal misconduct."

He said MPs on the Committee of Standards and Privileges, which rules on alleged breaches of Commons rules, put party affiliation before the truth. "Complaints are principally a means of party political nitpicking and point-scoring, combined with some serious personal nastiness.

"At one time I believed that MPs were capable of acting in a dispassionate way and with a desire to do justice.

"I no longer believe that ... that's a poison dart which is plunged right into the heart of the whole system".

He said future allegations of serious rule-breaking by MPs should be heard by an independent tribunal similar to a court. All evidence should be given on oath and in public, with the burden of proof on the complainant.

In serious cases the criminal standard of proof - of beyond reasonable doubt - should apply, and the MP should be entitled to legal representation.

The MP should be allowed to cross-examine witnesses and call his own, and should have access to all relevant documents, Mr Hamilton said.