Harriet Harman denies ex-ministers influenced decisions

Commons leader Harriet Harman denied today that ministers had been influenced by the alleged lobbying of former Cabinet ministers into making improper decisions.

In a Commons statement, Ms Harman said ministers in both the Department of Transport and Business were clear that decisions had been made "properly in the public interest".



She confirmed that the Government planned to put a register of lobbying interests on a statutory footing.



But shadow leader of the House Sir George Young warned that far from clarifying the facts, Downing Street had done precisely the opposite and criticised the Prime Minister for ruling out an inquiry.



He said the alleged lobbying of Whitehall departments by former Cabinet ministers, including Stephen Byers, would appaul the public.







The exchanges came after Mr Byers referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon for an inquiry into his conduct which is unlikely to be completed before the general election.

Former ministers - including Mr Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon - were caught in an undercover "sting" operation for a television documentary, to be broadcast on Channel 4's Dispatches this evening.



The Business and Transport Departments issued statements denying Mr Byers' claims to an undercover reporter that he had secured secret deals with ministers.



The North Tyneside MP has himself retracted the claims, insisting he had "never lobbied ministers on behalf of commercial interests" and had exaggerated his influence.



Ms Harman said the public were entitled to be completely confident that when ministers reached a decision it was made "in the public interest and there is no impropriety whatsoever".



Civil servants in the Department of Health, one of the departments at the centre of the allegations, were satisfied they made the correct decision "in the public interest and were not responding to any inappropriate or undue influence".



In each case raised, the department had looked into the allegations and confirmed they are satisfied decisions had been made "without the impropriety alleged".





Ms Harman said: "The Prime Minister today sought the Cabinet Secretary's assurance that departments had looked into these claims. Permanent secretaries ... have assured the Cabinet Secretary that they are satisified that there has been no improper influence on Government policy or ministerial decisions.

"I want to reassure MPs and the public that ministers act in the public interest. It is an absolutely fundamental part of the duties of their office."



She said any allegation that an MP had broken the code of conduct would be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the House could impose sanctions.



"We have high standards, clear rules and clear remedy for breach."



Ms Harman said the Government had been working with the lobbying industry to set up a register of lobbyists.



"Building on this work and in the light of the latest allegations, we think this should be put on a statutory footing - that there should be a legal register of lobbyists which would require them to register as lobbyists and to register the identity of clients on whose behalf they are acting.



"This is necessary to give the public confidence that this is the law and it will be complied with."





Sir George said the statement left a number of "unresolved issues" and the fact that Ms Harman had had to make it was an indication of the "seriousness" of the allegations.

He said they threatened to become "the next big scandal in Westminster", adding: "The sight of former Cabinet ministers offering to lobby Government on behalf of corporate interests for private gain - in one case as a kind of "cab for hire" for up to £5,000 a day - will have deeply appalled the public and further undermined trust in politics at a moment when we all hoped we were turning the corner.



"The public will now expect the Government to treat these allegations with the seriousness they deserve.



"But rather than clarifying the facts, Downing Street appears to be doing the opposite."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border