Ex-minister under fire over plan for bases

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Sir Archie Hamilton, who resigned as armed forces minister last year, has started a company to buy-up bases facing closure in the Government's defence cuts.

Documents filed at Companies House in London reveal that Sir Archie, who returned to the backbenches last June, is a director of Crown Ridge Industries. A fellow shareholder and director is Rhodri Phillips, son of Viscount St Davids, a government whip in the House of Lords.

Formed in November last year, Crown Ridge has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Defence to redevelop the Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Trecwn, near Fishguard, in west Wales. In July 1991, when he was a minister, Sir Archie took the decision to close Trecwn, with the loss of 500 jobs.

The sprawling base is scheduled to close in 1996, by which time the former minister and his partners hope to have secured permission to build a leisure complex and industrial units.

Sir Archie confirmed last night: 'Yes, I'm part of a consortium that wants to get in there and create jobs. I made the decision to close it, absolutely.' He added: 'It would now be rather nice to create some jobs on the site.'

While there is no specified time limit on ministers taking up jobs after leaving office, guidelines are laid down to avoid possible conflicts of interest. Paragraph 105 of Questions of Procedure for Ministers, the official handbook, states: 'On leaving office . . . they should naturally avoid any course which would reflect adversely on their or the Government's reputation for integrity or the confidentiality of its proceedings.'

He denied there was a conflict. His role, however, was immediately attacked by Labour. Rhodri Morgan, MP for Cardiff West, said: 'Things have come to a pretty pass when no company can do business with a government department without putting an ex-minister on the board - and usually the ex-minister who was closely involved with the decision relevant to the company.'

Someone, claimed Mr Morgan 'has got to put a stop to this . . . If a Tory minister wants to return to the backbenches, fair enough. If he wants to go into business, fair enough. But why does the business he goes into have to be in the same line as he was dealing with as a government minister?'

Moves like Sir Archie's, he maintained, 'were debasing Parliament and the public's attitude to politicians'.

Crown Ridge is not the only business interest acquired by Sir Archie since he resigned.

Companies House records also show he has joined the board of Saladin, a security firm headed by Major David Walker, the former SAS officer who assisted Colonel Oliver North during the Iran- Contra affair.