Lamont makes libel accusations

NORMAN LAMONT, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has demanded apologies, compensation and reimbursement of legal costs over alleged libels in six newspapers, some of them Tory Party stalwarts.

The rare event of a Tory Chancellor turning on his natural supporters - three of the newspapers, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the London Evening Standard, are strongly pro-Conservative - follows the leak of his Access credit card details.

That was followed by the revelation that pounds 4,700 of public money was used to pay libel-related expenses to the law firm Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners last year after Mr Lamont discovered the tenant of his London home, Sara Dale, was a sex therapist. The three other complaints are against the Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the Observer.

Letters from Carter-Ruck and Partners, which Mr Lamont is paying privately, warn that the Chancellor might sue if his complaints are not settled promptly. They cover articles about his recent Thresher wine store purchases, his hotel bill while at the Brighton party conference in October, and an event at Number 11 Downing Street.

The Government insisted that the pounds 4,700 payment - part of a pounds 23,000 bill from the firm relating to Ms Dale's eviction - was justified under hitherto secret guidance to permanent secretaries.

Andrew MacKinlay, the Labour MP for Thurrock, asked the Prime Minister in a written Commons question on how many occasions since 1979 the Government had paid for legal advice for ministers in respect of matters that were partly personal and private, and whether he would list the ministers concerned.

Mr Major replied that there was no central record of such cases and that such advice was normally confidential.