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Blair quizzed over holiday at home of tobacco chie


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By Andrew Grice, Political Editor

27 December 2004

Parliament's anti-sleaze watchdog has asked Tony Blair to explain why he failed to declare a holiday with a businessman who was a powerful figure in the tobacco industry.

Downing Street confirmed yesterday that the Prime Minister would be replying to Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Although Sir Philip initially dismissed a complaint by the Tory MP Chris Grayling, he has now asked Mr Blair for more information. Mr Grayling claims Mr Blair should have disclosed in the MPs' Register of Interests his family's five-day holiday in 2002 at the 15th-century chateau owned by Alain Dominique Perrin, in the Lot region of south-west France. At the time, he was chief executive of the luxury goods firm Richemont, whose brands include Dunhill and Cartier and which owns a 21 per cent stake in British American tobacco. Although he retired from the post last year, he remains an executive board member.

The Prime Minister told the Commissioner that his long-standing friendship with M. Perrin did not arise from his parliamentary duties. He was unaware of any business interest that might have influenced his actions.

Labour's links with the tobacco industry are a sensitive issue. In 1991, Mr Blair was included on a Tobacco Advisory Council list of politicians and opinion formers viewed as "friendly" towards the industry. After he became Prime Minister, Labour returned a £1m donation from the Formula 1 powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone after it emerged that he had lobbied Mr Blair to delay a ban on the sport being sponsored by the tobacco industry.

The Tories are linking the Blairs' holiday to the Government's decision to stop short of outlawing smoking in public places, which it had floated before opting for a partial ban.

Mr Blair spent one day of his holiday with Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the French Prime Minister, but Mr Grayling believed that would not prevent him from having to disclose his stay with M. Perrin. "I am not seeking to allege any impropriety in the Prime Minister's relationship with Mr Perrin but surely in the circumstances the Prime Minister would be bound by the rules to declare the hospitality," Mr Grayling said.

No 10 said: "Anything that needs to be registered will be registered. There is correspondence going on. A letter has come from Sir Philip and obviously that will be answered in due course."

In another attack over "sleaze," the Tories complained yesterday to the National Audit Office about the cost of setting up a new mini-department for Alan Milburn, Labour's policy and election co-ordinator, who is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has declined to estimate the cost. During November, Mr Milburn listed three speeches and two official visits as his engagements - well below the number expected of a Cabinet Minister, according to the Tories. Julian Lewis, a Tory spokesman, said: "Mr Milburn was appointed primarily to run the Labour election campaign and the Government is clearly too scared to tell us what the overall cost of his appointment actually is."


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