Suspended Labour MP rounds on chief whip who raised claim

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The Independent Online
A humbling public apology, to be followed by a one-week suspension from the Commons, was demanded as punishment for a rule-breaking Labour MP last night.

In its first critical report on the activities of a serving MP, the new Parliament's Committee on Standards and Privileges recommended the sanctions for Robert Wareing, the Member for Liverpool West Derby, after it decided that he had made a false declaration about a company shareholding.

But the Mr Wareing last night launched an attack on his own government chief whip, Nick Brown, for the way in which he had put forward the initial allegations against him. He said that he was going to make a formal complaint about Mr Brown - to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

There was also a mystery developing last night over the unprecedented manner of the report's presentation.

A week ago, the Standards and Privileges Committee produced a report saying that Mr Wareing should have registered his shareholding, but made no recommendations about any punishment.

Yesterday, in a second report, the committee added its call for the one- week suspension. That afterthought suggested that the standards committee had come under very strong pressure to put the House in order, and stamp out the lingering image of a sleaze-ridden Parliament.

Mr Wareing set up a company called Robert Wareing Limited, which in March 1994 received a pounds 6,000 retainer from another company, Metta Trading, which was alleged to have been a Bosnian Serb front.

When he was asked to register his interests in 1994, Mr Wareing declared that he had no relevant shareholdings in any public or private company.

Yesterday's second report said: "Mr Wareing made a false declaration ... We find Mr Wareing's conduct wrong."

Robert Sheldon, Labour chairman of the committee, said last night: "The perception of MPs must be higher at the end of this Parliament than it was at the end of the last Parliament."

The all-party committee decided to add the call for punishment to its findings in a second report, just before lunch yesterday, and rushed out both versions of its findings less than six hours later to make it possible for Mr Wareing to deliver his apology before the Commons rises for its Summer break tomorrow.

If that happens, the suspension would take effect for the first week after the House returns on 27 October.

The suspension would be the first since two Tory MPs were suspended for a two weeks and a month in April 1995, for taking cash for questions. One week's suspension would mean the loss of about pounds 827 in salary.

But the parliamentary punishment could yet be eclipsed by the reaction of the Labour leadership to the defiant stance taken by Mr Wareing to the original complaint lodged by the government Chief Whip.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Wareing said that while he would apologise for his "oversight", he could not accept the way in which his Chief Whip had behaved.

"The conduct and the manner in which the matter had been handled by the Chief Whip is something that I will now refer to the Standards and Privileges Committee," he added. "His evidence in total lacked credibility and was intemperate."

In a letter to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Mr Wareing said Mr Brown had "taken leave of his senses" in making the charge that he had been involved with Bosnian Serb war criminals.