Parliament ban for Hoon over 'cash for access'

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Indy Politics

Two former Labour cabinet ministers are facing disgrace and the loss of their privileges as ex-MPs after being found guilty of a "particularly serious" breach of parliamentary lobbying rules. Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers had been in line for peerages until they were caught on camera offering "access for cash" to undercover journalists.

Yesterday, in an unprecedented move, the cross-party Standards and Privileges Committee recommended suspending their right as former MPs to enter Parliament, and ordered Mr Hoon to apologise in writing to the House of Commons. It called for a review of lobbying rules for all MPs and former MPs.

But the committee cleared former health secretary Patricia Hewitt of breaching the Code of Conduct while finding she was "unwise" to agree to meet what she thought were representatives from a lobbying firm. Another former minister, Adam Ingram, and a former Tory MP, Sir John Butterfill, were also cleared of wrongdoing but criticised for bad judgement.

Mr Ingram was also cleared of wrongdoing, but had been "unwise" to agree to meet the reporters, the report said. Sir John, who represented Bournemouth West, made comments about his potential elevation to the House of Lords that were "clearly unwise" and "reflected poorly on him", but were not outside the code.

The committee was particularly damning about Mr Hoon, a former defence secretary, who just last month lobbied for a peerage, The Independent understands. The report said Mr Hoon committed a "particularly serious" breach of the rules when he claimed he could access and pass on confidential information from the Ministry of Defence about the Strategic Defence and Security Review for the benefit of business clients. His Commons pass should be suspended for five years, the report recommended. Former transport secretary Stephen Byers was caught on film describing himself as a "cab for hire", requesting £5,000 a day and boasting how he had secured secret deals with ministers over a rail-franchise contract and food-labelling on behalf of private companies. The committee found he too had committed a "serious breach" and should have access rights restricted for two years. He has already apologised for his actions. The former sports minister Richard Caborn, was recorded discussing services he could offer, quoting a rate of £2,500 "plus expenses". Mr Caborn was also ordered to say sorry for his actions and faces a six-month suspension.

The committee said a wider review into lobbying restrictions was needed, including tightening rules on MPs advocating causes that would benefit organisations or individuals paying them. Contacts between ex-MPs and their former colleagues who are still in the Commons should also be looked at, as should contacts with officials.

The report added: "We agree with the [Standards Commissioner John Lyon] that there is a strong case for a review of the rules relating to lobbying... We intend that such a review will be carried out as soon as time permits." The pass suspensions will need to be rubber-stamped by the House of Commons before being implemented. Commons leader Sir George Young said the Commons would decide next Wednesday whether to enforce them.

Caught on camera

* Stephen Byers

What he did

Mr Byers, a former transport secretary, was filmed boasting that he had reached secret deals with Lord Adonis, at that time the Transport Secretary, over a rail franchise contract, and with Lord Mandelson, then Business Secretary, over food labelling.

What the committee found

Mr Byers' suggestions were untrue. The committee said Mr Byers brought the House into disrepute.

What he's doing now

Non-executive chairman of a water treatment firm, and he also works for a company promoting closer ties between Ukraine and the EU.

* Geoff Hoon

What he did

Mr Hoon claimed he could provide confidential information from the Ministry of Defence about the UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review. He said he was not covered by the Code of Conduct because he had been discussing work he might do after stepping down as an MP.



What the committee found

The watchdog found he had brought the House into disrepute.



What he's doing now

After standing down as an MP in May, Mr Hoon set up TaylorHoon Strategy, a consultancy with the former head of McDonald's in the UK, Andrew Taylor.



* Patricia Hewitt

What she did

Ms Hewitt said she helped to obtain a key seat on a government advisory group for a client paying her £3,000 a day. She also offered a service helping clients to influence legislation.



What the committee found

The committee decided Ms Hewitt's claims were exaggerated but not improper.



What she's doing now:

She has a few private-sector jobs, including consultant to Alliance Boots, adviser to private equity company Cinven, and non-executive director of BT Group.

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