Lobbygate ex-Minister 'vindicated'

A FORMER Minister and Yorkshire MP faces having to apologise and being banned from access to Parliament for six months after a newspaper sting into lobbying in which another ex-Labour Minister described himself as a "cab for hire".

Richard Caborn, former Sports Minister and ex-Sheffield Central MP, broke Commons rules by failing to declare a financial interest as a consultant for the fitness industry when meeting a local health trust boss and not declaring an interest when arranging House of Commons facilities for outside organisations.

But Commons Standards Commissioner John Lyon said the breaches were due to "careless oversight" rather than "deliberate intention" and that they were "comparatively limited".

And Mr Caborn, who retired at the general election, said the report was a "total vindication" by clearing him of more serious wrongdoing after the sting

when reporters from Channel 4's Dispatches and The Sunday

Times targeted a number of former Ministers by posing as staff from a fake communications firm interested in lobbying the Government.

Former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers faces a two-year ban on holding a parliamentary pass after being caught on film describing himself as a "cab for hire" and requesting 5,000-a-day, while ex Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon faces a five-year ban after requesting 3,000 a day and appearing to suggest he could brief clients about the strategic defence review on the basis of a confidential briefing from Ministry of Defence officials.

Mr Caborn, who has also worked as a consultant for the nuclear industry, was reported to have expressed an interest in working for the fictitious company but said he would not decide until after the election. He was apparently recorded discussing a number of services he could offer, quoting a rate of 2,500 "plus expenses".

But the investigation concluded his comments had not breached rules or brought the House of Commons into disrepute, although he was criticised as "ill-judged" for suggesting he might be given a peerage.

MPs will decide on Wednesday whether to accept the findings of yesterday's report by the Standards and Privileges Committee and suspend his right to a parliamentary pass for six months.

In a statement Mr Caborn said "This is a total vindication, after a ten month inquiry, that clears my name and reputation after 31 years in public office and I thank the Commissioner and his Staff for carrying out a thorough investigation."

In the sting, Mr 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 then North Tyneside MP's claims were flatly denied by the Labour government, and he later apologised.

The cross-party committee cleared ex-health Secretary Patricia Hewitt of breaching the Code of Conduct, but found she was "unwise" to agree to meet what she thought were representatives from a lobbying firm.

Another former Minister, Adam Ingram, and Tory Sir John Butterfill were also cleared of wrongdoing but criticised for bad judgment. All the individuals involved stepped down from parliament at the general election, but retain Westminster passes as ex-MPs.

The cross-party committee said it understood that people leaving parliament wanted to "provide for a secure future" but said it was still "surprised that experienced MPs fell for it" and said they "should have known better".

It said a wider review into Parliament's lobbying restrictions was needed.