Byers, Hoon and Hewitt suspended from party

Former ministers have whip withdrawn over lobbying claims

Three former Cabinet ministers were suspended from the Labour Party last night over accusations they were ready to use their position to influence government policy in return for money.

Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon had the parliamentary whip removed from them by party chiefs after they were caught on camera by an undercover television investigation into lobbying by politicians.

The "cash for access" storm, which has overshadowed Labour's election preparations, took a dramatic turn after the programme was broadcast last night. Immediately afterwards, the Labour Chief Whip, Nick Brown, and the party's general secretary, Ray Collins, ordered their suspension pending a full investigation into the claims. Margaret Moran, the MP for Luton South, who featured in the programme, was also suspended last night by the party.

Mr Byers, a former Transport Secretary, was filmed boasting that he had influenced government policy affecting three Whitehall departments.

He described himself as a "sort of a cab for hire" at rates of up to £5,000 a day and claimed he had reached secret deals with Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, over a rail franchise contract, and with Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, over food labelling regulation. He later withdrew the claims, saying he had "exaggerated" his influence. Ms Hewitt and Mr Hoon, who met a reporter pretending to work for a US lobbying company, suggested they would charge £3,000 a day for their services.

Ms Hewitt, a former Health Secretary, outlined five ways of meeting a minister, while Mr Hoon said he wanted to use his international knowledge and contacts in a way that "makes money".

Both have denied any wrongdoing and stressed they were discussing work that might arise after they stepped down as MPs. The disclosures in Channel 4's Dispatches programme have been a severe set-back to Labour hopes of building momentum ahead of the election due in just over six weeks' time.

Backbench MPs demanded action against the former ministers in angry scenes at last night's weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In a day of frenzied activity, the Prime Minister and senior colleagues denied there had been any "impropriety" by Lord Mandelson or Lord Adonis in their contacts with Mr Byers.

The former minister yesterday referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, John Lyon, and insisted he was confident he would be cleared. But Mr Brown rejected a demand from David Cameron, the Conservative leader, for an investigation by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell into Mr Byers' claim that he influenced policy.

His spokesman said he had accepted assurances from the permanent secretaries of three Whitehall departments that there had been "no improper influence" on government decisions.

Mr Cameron said: "These ministers, Hewitt and Byers, were claiming they changed Government policy, they got people appointed, they cost the taxpayer money. They are making these claims and that goes to the heart of the issue of the integrity of the Government."

Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, added: "This looks increasingly like a cover-up at the heart of government."

Lord Adonis told the Lords yesterday he had a "brief conversation" with Mr Byers over the rail franchise, but said there was "no truth whatsoever" in suggestions that he changed his policy as a result. Lord Mandelson said he had "no recollection" of speaking to Mr Byers about food labelling.

In the Commons yesterday, the Labour MP Gordon Prentice said colleagues were "scandalised" by his "absolutely shaming" behaviour. Another MP, Colin Burgon expressed "revulsion" about the "attitudes of so-called Labour colleagues". Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, confirmed the party would back a statutory register of MPs' links with lobbyists, rather than the existing voluntary code of conduct that currently exists.

Meanwhile Conservative sources said Tory MP John Butterfill, who was also featured in the programme, had referred himself to Mr Lyon.

Last night, Sir Ian Kennedy, head of the new MPs' expenses watchdog, said further parliamentary reforms might be needed to bring an end to the scandals that have cast a shadow over Westminster over the last year.

n More than 20 MPs broken Commons rules by failing fully to declare overseas trips paid for by foreign governments, the BBC claimed last night. The politicians have visited holiday destinations such as the Maldives, the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Mauritius, Gibraltar and Cyprus, but on many occasions they failed to mention the hospitality received when tabling questions and participating in Parliamentary debates.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore, a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, is alleged to have breached the regulations it enforces more than 90 times in relation to annual trips to Cyprus.

Tory David Amess is said to have called a debate on the Maldives in 2007, telling the House that his "splendid visit" had given him "an early taste of paradise", but failed to declare his interest.

A controversial history: MPs for hire

The new...

Stephen Byers

The former Trade and Transport secretary told an undercover Sunday Times reporter that he could use his government contacts to change policies in favour of businesses. He was secretly recorded offering himself "like a cab for hire" for up £5,000 a day, and also said he could bring Tony Blair to meet clients. He later said that he had exaggerated his claims, and had retracted them the day after the meeting in an email.

Patricia Hewitt

The former Health Secretary claimed she had helped to obtain a key seat on a government advisory group for a client paying her £3,000 a day. She said later she had only offered to do the work after leaving the Commons.

Geoff Hoon

The former Defence Secretary offered to lead delegations to ministers, telling the reporter that he was looking to turn his international knowledge and contacts into "something that frankly makes money" for £3,000 a day after he stepped down as an MP. He later denied ever offering to hand over confidential information.

...and the old

Neil Hamilton

The Conservative MP for Tatton was one of those implicated in the "cash for questions" scandal in 1994. He was accused of accepting envelopes stuffed with cash from the boss of Harrods department store, Mohamed Al-Fayed, in exchange for asking parliamentary questions. Hamilton refused to admit any wrongdoing, and the Tory Prime Minister John Major had to ask for his resignation. He blamed the media for his fall from grace, saying at the time: "I think it is sad and deeply disturbing that I have been forced to leave office because of foully motivated rumour and a media witchhunt."

In 1997 he was defeated by the former BBC journalist Martin Bell, who ran as an independent candidate on an anti-corruption ticket. Mr Hamilton took Mr Fayed to court to contest the claims in the hope of salvaging his reputation, which had become synonymous with Tory "sleaze". But his bid failed after a five-week trial at the High Court, leaving him with an estimated £2m costs bill.

David Tredinnick

The Tory MP for Bosworth was suspended by John Major after he told an undercover reporter he would accept £1,000 in return for submitting parliamentary questions about a fictitious drug. He was obliged to resign from his role as a parliamentary private secretary and was suspended from the Commons for 20 sitting days, but remains an enthusiastic supporter of complementary and alternative health medicines, including homeopathic remedies.

Graham Riddick

The Conservative MP for Colne Valley fell for the same fake drug ruse as Tredinnick, agreeing to accept £1,000 for asking questions. He contested his seat at the 1997 general election but lost to Labour's Kali Mountford.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before