Former parliamentary standards watchdog criticises Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw over 'cash-for-access'

Former Foreign Secretaries were cleared of breaking parliamentary rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

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A former parliamentary standards watchdog has criticised former Foreign Secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw after they were cleared of breaking parliamentary rules in a “cash-for-access” sting.

Both politicians found not to have broken any rules by Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, after they were secretly filmed by The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme offering to work for a fake Chinese company.

Mr Straw was recorded saying he worked “under the radar” to change European Union rules, while Sir Malcolm said he was able to arrange “useful access” to ambassadors and that he was “self-employed”, despite being an MP at the time.

Ms Hudson ruled they had committed “no breach of the rules on paid lobbying”, saying the men had been speaking “off the cuff”.

However Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the Telegraph: “What I thought was so damaging about the whole episode was the efforts that senior people were making to attract extra work.

“The view that Sir Malcolm gave about his role as a member of Parliament – in affect a part-time job, plenty of time to do extra work. Those comments resonated about [the] whole political class.

“It is surprising that the Commissioner has given a mild description of an error of judgment rather than saying that was bringing the House of Commons into disrepute.

“We were not talking about novices who had just joined the system, we were talking about highly-experienced people.”

He called for changes to the way MPs are investigated, saying lay members should be added to the Standards Committee. It currently consists of seven MPs and three lay members.

Sir Alistair added: “I have publicly criticised the House of Commons system because it does not meet the standards of other professional groups.”

He said the sting had been a “legitimate journalistic exercise”.

“We do want to know that our Members of Parliament are concerned about their main responsibilities and not looking for other additional sources of income,” he said.