Politics: Tories keep Hamilton's hopes alive

Tory MPs are being lobbied to re-open Neil Hamilton's demands for a proper hearing against the sleaze charges. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says the report into the findings against the disgraced ex-Tory MP could spark a fresh parliamentar
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The Independent Online
The Hamilton affair and the nasty smell of alleged corruption is unlikely to go away from the Commons, in spite of the attempts to end the controversy with the report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Senior Tory MPs are being urged to take up the case of Neil Hamilton in a Commons debate on the select committee report which failed to come to a conclusion on whether he took money from Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods.

There is a strong feeling among many MPs at Westminster that they would rather put the Hamilton affair behind them, but Mr Hamilton is fighting on to clear his name.

Lord Nolan, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, yesterday fuelled criticism of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, including the failure to establish an appeal process when the anti-sleaze system was set up.

He said the handling of the inquiry was "not ideal" and it led to too much reliance on the findings of Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who told the select committee he found "compelling evidence" that Mr Hamilton had taken the money from Mr Fayed. The committee refused to cross-examine Mr Fayed after vehement denials by Mr Hamilton on oath, and claims that Mr Fayed's employees had lied. Lord Nolan said: "I think the major departure was to have devolved so much responsibility onto Sir Gordon."

Although Lord Nolan, who is stepping down today, was reluctant to comment, his remarks will be seen as a clear signal that he felt the committee should have done more to check on Sir Gordon's findings. It is no longer Mr Hamilton's reputation on trial - it is the committee, and Sir Gordon.

Lord Nolan said his recommendations had included: qA hearing by a sub-committee of the Standards and Privileges Committee of no more than seven, very experienced MPs;

qA right of appeal to the full committee.

"This isn't the way the committee handled the Hamilton case," said Lord Nolan. "Sir Gordon was directed to make his investigation and reach a conclusion. This, as the Standards and Privileges Committee itself has indicated, is not one that can be regarded as ideal. The matter is plainly one the House will want to look at again."

qThe Nolan committee highlight concern in the NHS over political nominations to the boards of NHS trusts. The committee said there was "some disquiet" at the changes made by the Government.

Ministers have admitted there is a backlog of 1,800 nominations. Senior Tory MPs are claiming that has led to some trusts being unable to form a quorum, but that charge was denied by the Department of Health, which said a chairman and one non-executive director could form a quorum.