Details on search for Clinton file to be sent to Washington

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Indy Politics
DETAILS of how confidential immigration files came to be searched by Home Office officials for information about Bill Clinton are being sent to Washington to allay any American anxieties over the affair, the Home Secretary said yesterday.

Kenneth Clarke is also reviewing his guidelines on confidentiality after it was disclosed that a press officer - prompted by a query from a journalist - had checked to see whether Mr Clinton had applied for British citizenship, while he was at Oxford in the late Sixties, to avoid the Vietnam draft.

Responding to questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Clarke insisted that there had been 'no improper use' of the Home Office during the United States election campaign and that ministers were unaware of the search.

He told MPs that the journalist was told, 'on the record', that such matters were confidential; but the press officer, on his or her own volition, had checked the position and then briefed the journalist 'off the record' that it was a 'non-issue', and that it was 'wasting time chasing silly American stories'.

'I'm sure that if they (Home Office officials) had found out any information about Mr Clinton it would not have been given out.'

A row over the issue broke out at the weekend when Mr Clinton declined to meet John Major when he visits Washington this month. But Mr Clinton later sent Mr Major a message of goodwill.

Mr Clarke said yesterday he was convinced none of Mr Clinton's supporters would have been upset at the press officer's attempt to put a stop to the story. He did not consider it a disciplinary offence.

But Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, said last night he was still unhappy and was tabling questions to find out whether similar inquiries would have been made if the question was about anyone other than Mr Clinton.