Politics: Steel faces probe over hunting links

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Lord Steel, the former Liberal Party leader, is to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Gordon Downey, for an alleged breach of the Commons rule forbidding paid advocacy.

The complaint, made by Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours, follows a number of Commons motions in which Sir David - as he then was - defended the apparent pro-hunting stance of the Countryside Movement.

Sir David had been appointed chairman of the Countryside Movement in September 1995 and was paid a total of pounds 93,752 according to the organisation's accounts.

He told The Independent yesterday: "The fact is that I had no activity on behalf of the Countryside Movement during the period that I was a paid employee. I did have [activity] both before and after, but not during.

"I wrote to Sir Gordon on that ages ago. So I don't think there is any case to answer."

Under parliamentary rules, Lord Steel could invoke privilege to protect himself against any action by the Commons. But he said yesterday: "Obviously, I will co-operate to the full with the committee."

Last March, Lord Steel tabled three motions, in which he welcomed publication of a Countryside Movement report on animal welfare, and condemned animal rights organisations, "often masquerading as welfare organisations", that had sought to buy influence with Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties.

He said that a pounds 1m donation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare had coincided with a Labour pledge to offer government time for a Bill banning hunting, along with threats to ban hunting on Ministry of Defence land, if Labour was elected.

Under Commons rules, "when a Member has received, is receiving, or expects to receive a pecuniary benefit from a body (or individual) outside Parliament, the Member may not initiate any parliamentary proceeding which relates specifically and directly to the affairs of that body."