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MPs expel Benn from `cash for questions' committee

Tony Benn, the veteran leftwinger, was in effect ousted from the Commons ``cash for questions'' inquiry last night after only one Labour colleague voted against his removal for revealing details of meetings to the press.

The dismissal of Mr Benn for flouting the Committee of Privileges' majority decision to deliberate behind closed doors - breached again by the Chesterfield MP last night - could embarrass Labour when a confirmatory motion is put down for a vote by the House.

Tony Blair, the party leader, has consistently called for public hearings, but apart from Bill Michie, the MP for Sheffield Heeley, Labour committee colleagues were not prepared to back Mr Benn. All the other members, bar the Labour MPs Alf Morris (Wythenshaw), who abstained, and Doug Hoyle (Warrington North), who was absent, voted to remove him ``forthwith''.

Neil Hamilton, the former minister for corporate affairs, insisted in the meantime that there was ``no truth'' in allegations of sleaze which forced him to resign. Mr Hamilton, speaking in the Commons for the first time since his resignation, accused Mohammed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, of being upset at being unable to influence ministers.

Mr Hamilton said he had been advised by his officials that he was not debarred from taking decisions on the House of Fraser case by having accepted hospitality from Mr Fayed as a backbencher. But he considered it ``imprudent if not improper'' to expose the Government to the possibility of criticism and instructed officials not to send him papers involving the case.

``The upshot of this is that what has manifestly upset Mr Al-Fayed is that he has been unable to influence ministers or overturn the DTI inspectors' report on the takeover of the House of Fraser,'' he said.

Calling for tougher press laws, he accused the media of hounding him from office.

Inside Parliament, page 8