Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bye-Bye Byers (and the rest)

Labour suspends former ministers

Three former cabinet ministers have been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party over claims they were prepared to influence policy for cash.

Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon were secretly filmed as part of an investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4's Dispatches.

All three deny any wrongdoing and Mr Byers has referred himself for a parliamentary standards inquiry.

Gordon Brown has dismissed calls for an inquiry by the top UK civil servant.

'No truth'

The decision was taken after Channel 4's Dispatches programme aired, showing undercover footage of various politicians who were approached by a fictional US firm looking to hire them for lobbying work.

It is understood it was taken by chief whip Nick Brown, in consultation with the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, and Labour's general secretary, Ray Collins.

In a statement confirming their suspension, a Labour Party spokesman said: "The Labour Party expects the highest standards of its representatives and believes that they have a duty to be transparent and accountable servants to their constituents at all times."

Three other politicians featured in the programme - Labour's Baroness Morgan and Margaret Moran and Conservative John Butterfill.

It is understood that Mr Butterfill has referred himself to the standards commissioner, Baroness Morgan had already referred herself to the sub-committee on Lords' interests and Mrs Moran - who had already been deselected by Labour over her expenses claims - has also been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Mr Hoon told the BBC on Monday evening he had not been told that the Labour whip was being removed and did not know why.


•Sitting MPs are not banned from working for corporate clients but the practice is controversial
•They must declare any payment in the register of members' interests
•Any paid work taken by an ex-minister within two years of leaving office must be cleared by a panel - the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments
•They are not allowed to table amendments or vote on bills in exchange for payment
•They are normally banned for 12 months from becoming lobbyists in their specialist fields
•Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems all say they want the rules tightened to prevent ex-ministers exploiting their contacts for private gain

But he said he had been called by the prime minister to tell him that his unpaid work with Nato, on the PM's behalf, would now have to cease.

Under Commons rules MPs can work for companies, but must declare payments and may not lobby ministers directly.

Mr Byers, a former transport secretary, was filmed saying he was like a "cab for hire" who would work for up to £5,000 a day and claimed to have saved millions of pounds for National Express, which wanted to get out of its East Coast mainline franchise.

He also said he had spoken to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson about getting food labelling proposals delayed, on behalf of Tesco.

Earlier in the Lords, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told peers there was "no truth" in claims he came to "any arrangement" over National Express with Stephen Byers - claims he dismissed as "pure fantasy".

The business department also denied the claims - as did Tesco and National Express - and Mr Byers said later he had overstated his case and had never lobbied ministers.

Lord Mandelson confirmed to the BBC's Newsnight programme that he had no contact with Mr Byers on the subject of food labelling.

He added: "What is so ghastly about this is that somebody like Stephen Byers feels it necessary to make completely untrue, unfounded boasts to these people in order to get himself future business.

"It's extremely disappointing and it's very sad and altogether rather grubby".

Code of conduct

Mr Byers, the MP for North Tyneside and also a former trade and industry secretary, said: "I have this morning referred myself to the standards commissioner, John Lyon, and asked him to investigate my actions.

"I am confident that he will confirm that I have complied with the MPs' code of conduct and have fully disclosed my outside interests."

Former Defence Secretary Mr Hoon was filmed saying he wanted to make use of his international knowledge and contacts in a way that "makes money". He said he charged £3,000 a day.

Following the reports, Mr Hoon said he had made clear during an "informal chat" with what he assumed was "a reputable American company" that he would not lobby government or "attempt to sell confidential or privileged information arising from my time in government". He said he had not broken any rules.

Ms Hewitt, a former health secretary, said she "completely rejected" the suggestion she helped obtain a key seat on a government advisory group for a client paying her £3,000 a day.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the three former ministers were not popular among Gordon Brown's team - not least because Mr Hoon and Ms Hewitt had tried to lead a coup against his leadership in January.

Mr Byers was close to Mr Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, and has also criticised Mr Brown's leadership. All three are due to stand down as MPs at the next election.

The Conservatives say Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell should hold a formal inquiry into the claims.

But earlier, Commons leader Harriet Harman told MPs the heads of each department had looked into the claims and had "assured the cabinet secretary that they are satisfied that there has been no improper influence on government policy or ministerial decisions".

Downing Street said the prime minister was "satisfied" with the assurances by the permanent secretaries and saw "no need" for an inquiry.

But Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles said there increasingly appeared to be "a cover-up at the heart of government".



  1. We'd all do it! Greed runs deep.

  2. Move to the USA - where politicians are perfect! No greed here.