Livingstone takes 50 seconds to make his apology

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Ken Livingstone formally apologised to the Commons yesterday for his failure to declare more than £150,000 of earnings from journalism and after-dinner speeches.

However, the Brent East MP was immediately attacked by Labour MPs for the length of his statement to the House - just under 50 seconds in total. One MP compared it to Emperor Hirohito of Japan's apology over war crimes.

Mr Livingstone, who was rebuked by the Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges over the affair, admitted he should have offered a more comprehensive account of his income. His campaign for mayor of London hit its first serious setback last week when it emerged that he had failed to reveal all earnings paid to his company, Localaction Ltd.

Accounts for Localaction, which is based in Brighton, show that media work and speeches earned him a total of £220,992 on top of his MP's salary between June 1998 and February this year. The select committee ruled that Mr Livingstone had breached rules on registration of interests and failed to observe the principle of openness required by the Code of Conduct for MPs.

In a speech to a packed but silent chamber, the former Greater London Council leader said that he accepted the reprimand from both the select committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin.

"I wish to apologise to the House for breaching the rules on registration of interest and for not observing the principle of openness which the code of conduct requires," he said.

"When I was first elected to the House in 1987, I checked with the authorities that income from earnings paid into my firm Localaction Ltd did not need to be individually declared in the register."

Mr Livingstone added that in line with an updated code of practice for MPs, he wrote in 1996 to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to clarify the position. "My outside earnings then developed in such a way that my registered entry was no longer adequate. I ought to have made a comprehensive entry covering all the services I provide through Localaction, but I did not in fact do so," he said.

"As soon as possible after the issue was raised with me by the present Parliamentary Commissioner, I amended my entry in the register in accordance with the rules."

By convention, MPs do not question members making personal statements. But Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, attacked Mr Livingstone, claiming that Londoners would ask if they could trust a man who was "cavalier" with his finances. Mr Pound called it "the most grudging apology" since Emperor Hirohito's.