Published on 9 Dec 2010 Sections

Ex-Ministers face Parliament ban over lobbying breach

Three former Labour ministers could be barred from Parliament – after they were reprimanded for breaching the rules on lobbying.

Stephen Byers faces a two-year suspension (Reuters)

The Standards and Privileges Committee ordered Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Richard Caborn to apologise – and recommended the suspension of their Commons passes.

The investigation was launched last spring after a ‘sting’ operation by reporters working for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and the Sunday Times. The Labour party suspended all those involved, as soon as the allegations emerged.

Today’s report strongly criticised Mr Byers, over what he said to an undercover reporter posing as a lobbyist. Mr Byers had compared himself to a “taxi for hire” – and offered to trade contacts in Westminster for between £3,000 and £5,000 a day. The Committee said his taxi remark had been “clumsy and ill judged”, although it hadn’t broken the MPs’ code of conduct. However, other claims he’d made which were untrue had brought the House of Commons and MPs into disrepute.

“I have always accepted that I should not have spoken in the terms I did.” Stephen Byers

“The deep regret that he has expressed goes some way towards putting right the wrong”, they wrote. But their report said that the matter could not be allowed to rest for a simple apology – and called for Mr Byers’ Commons pass to be suspended for 2 years.

Mr Byers said he was pleased that the Standards Commissioner had found he hadn’t abused his position as an MP – hadn’t lobbied the Government on behalf of commercial organisations, and had fully declared his outside interests.

“I have always accepted that I should not have spoken in the terms I did, which is why at the time I took immediate steps to withdraw my comments.” he said.

Geoff Hoon

Geoff Hoon came in for even stiffer criticism, as the Committee said he had committed a ‘particularly serious’ breach of the rules, by implying to the undercover reporter that he had, or could, access confidential information from the MoD for the benefit of business clients who might be seeking contracts. He was also filmed suggesting he could charge £3,000 a day for his services.

Mr Hoon was ordered to apologise in writing – and told he should lose his parliamentary pass for five years.

Richard Caborn was rebuked for sponsoring three events in parliament without declaring a relevant interest – and faces a six month suspension.

The committee also looked into complaints about three other ex MPs – Sir John Butterfill, Patricia Hewitt and Adam Ingram – who’d all had conversations with the undercover journalist. All three were cleared of any wrongdoing, although the report did say they had been “unwise” to agree to the meeting with someone they thought was a representative from a lobbying firm.

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