Ex-MPs barred from House over lobbying sting

Three former Labour ministers have been severely rebuked over revelations about their lobbying activities made by the Sunday Times and Channel 4 Dispatches in March.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee today ordered former-defence secretary Geoff Hoon to apologise and said his Commons pass should be suspended for five years. Former transport secretary Stephen Byers, who likened himself to a “taxi for hire” in a sting by undercover reporters, committed a “particularly serious breach” and should have access rights restricted for two years.

Ex-sports minister Richard Caborn was also ordered to say sorry and faces a six-month suspension.

The cross-party committee cleared ex-health Secretary Patricia Hewitt of breaching the Code of Conduct, but found she was “unwise” to agree to meet what she thought were representatives from a lobbying firm.

Another former minister, Adam Ingram, and Tory Sir John Butterfill were also cleared of wrongdoing but criticised for bad judgment.

The committee said a wider review into Parliament’s lobbying restrictions was needed, including tightening rules on MPs advocating causes that would benefit organisations or individuals paying them. Contacts between ex-MPs and their former colleagues who are still in the Commons should also be looked at, as should contacts with officials.

“We agree with the (Standards Commissioner John Lyon) that there is a strong case for a review of the rules relating to lobbying. Such a review could consider the three specific points identified above, which have arisen from his inquiry into the conduct of six former members.

“We intend that such a review will be carried out as soon as time permits.”

All the individuals involved stepped down from parliament at the general election, but retain Westminster passes as ex-MPs.

An undercover sting by Dispatches and the Sunday Times caught Byers describing himself as a “cab for hire” and requesting £5,000-a-day for lobbying work. Hewitt and Hoon were filmed suggesting they would charge £3,000 a day for their services.

Caborn, who is standing down as the MP for Sheffield Central, was said to have expressed an interest in working for the fictitious company but said he would not decide until after the election. He quoted a rate of £2,500 “plus expenses”.

Ingram, whose constituency was East Kilbride, reportedly said he could cultivate a network of former ministers and could use his contacts to help the fake company develop a relationship with serving ministers and civil servants.

The sleaze inquiry concluded that Byers’ remark about being a “taxi for hire” was “clumsy and ill-judged” but did not break the code of conduct.

However, it ruled that his claim to have access to confidential information from Downing Street was untrue, and that he given a misleading impression about his influence.

The committee ruled that Caborn had failed to declare financial interests properly when discussing health restructuring, and when booking House of Commons facilities.

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