Labour threat over Ritz bill `whitewash'

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Labour last night threatened to withdraw from the Members' Interests Committee if its inquiry into the undisclosed Paris hotel stay by Neil Hamilton, the former trade minister, proved to be a "whitewash", writes Donald Macintyre.

The Commons approved by 135 to 35 a motion authorising select committees to ban the presence of MPs not on the committee who were disrupting its proceedings. The decision follows a row over the presence of Dale Campbell- Savours, Labour MP for Workington, at the committee's hearings into Mr Hamilton's stay at the Ritz Hotel. Mr Campbell-Savours was asked to leave hearings of the committee after attempting to address it.

But the debate was characterised by angry Opposition attacks on the fitness of the committee to investigate the allegations. Jeff Rooker, a Labour spokesman, backed the motion but then went on to warn: "We will give serious consideration to advising the Parliamentary Labour Party as a whole to withdraw complete co-operation and participation from this committee if it is clear to us there is a whitewash in what is a legitimate inquiry."

Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomery, defended Mr Campbell-Savours and said he was not satisfied with the progress the committee was making. He added the committee had "resisted" the calling of major witnesses and had not had the "courage" to adjudicate on who was telling the truth.