Robinson faces Commons ban over rules breach

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Indy Politics

The millionaire Labour MP, Geoffrey Robinson, is to be suspended from the House of Commons for three weeks after being found guilty of misleading the Parliamentary sleaze watchdog.

The former Paymaster General was found guilty of "a serious breach of the rules of the House" after insisting he had not received a £200,000 cheque from a company that was owned by the disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell.

Mr Robinson apologised yesterday following the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee ruling that his conduct fell "below the standard the House is entitled to expect of its members" and that he failed to co-operate with an official inquiry into his business affairs.

The punishment, one of the toughest to be meted out by the committee of MPs, will come as a severe embarrassment to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is a close ally of Mr Robinson, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has taken holidays at his Tuscan villa.

However the committee did not uphold a ruling from the standards commissioner Elizabeth Filkin, who found "compelling" evidence that Mr Robinson had received the cheque from a company in Maxwell's empire. The watchdog's inquiry looked into an agreement negotiated in 1990 to provide management services between Mr Robinson's TransTec engineering firm and AM Lock, a subsidiary of Maxwell's Hollis Industries. Mr Robinson submitted an invoice for £200,000, which included his work as executive chairman which he failed to register in the Commons register of members' interests.

When questioned in 1998, Mr Robinson failed to "make available the documents relevant to the Lock agreement and the invoice he sent to Hollis".

The former minister claimed that he had simply "forgotten" about the arrangement when he was asked.

In its fourth inquiry into Mr Robinson's business affairs since 1997, the committee on standards and privileges berated the former Paymaster General for failing to register a financial interest. The Tories yesterday called on Mr Blair and Mr Brown to return thousands of pounds Mr Robinson gave their private offices before the 1997 election.

Mr Robinson resigned as Paymaster General after the revelation that he had lent the MP Peter Mandelson £374,000 to buy a house in London.

The Shadow Cabinet Office minister, Tim Collins, said: "Mr Blair needs to explain why he held on to him as a minister for so long, well after it became clear he should not be in public office."

Martin Bell, the former independent MP and member of the committee, said the allegations about Mr Robinson were among the most serious he had ever considered.

Mr Robinson denied yesterday that he had "at any stage" attempted to "mislead or deceive the House".

"I have co-operated fully with both the standards committee and the standards commissioner throughout this inquiry and while I do of course accept the committee's decision and apologise, the fact is that neither I nor any company associated with me received a payment of £200,000," Mr Robinson said.

But the committee rebuked the former minister for failing to "provide the then commissioner and the committee with full and accurate responses to their questions".

The Shadow Trade Secretary, David Heathcoat-Amory, who first complained about Mr Robinson, said the Government continued to "cover up" for him by refusing to release the DTI report on his activities.

"It is actually the fourth time Geoffrey Robinson has been reprimanded by the committee," he said. "It does vindicate the fact that I have always pointed out, that there was wrongdoing here.

"But there is actually a bigger issue which is that all this was known to the Department of Trade and Industry two years ago -- that was under Stephen Byers. And that report still hasn't been published so there is actually a cover-up here."

The recommended suspension from the House, which will mean that he is not be able to vote or listen to debates, has to be agreed by MPs after a full debate in the Commons.

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