Richard Caborn faces Commons ban in lobbying row

FORMER Sheffield MP Richard Caborn was today facing being barred from Parliament after being rebuked for breaching lobbying rules.

Mr Caborn, the former sports minister, is one of three ex-Labour ministers facing action.

The Standards and Privileges Committee ordered ex-defence secretary Geoff Hoon to apologise and said his Commons pass should be suspended for five years.

Former transport secretary Stephen Byers, who likened himself to a "taxi for hire" in a sting by undercover reporters, committed a "particularly serious breach" and should have access rights restricted for two years.

Mr Caborn was also ordered to say sorry and faces a six-month suspension.

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 judgement.

All the individuals involved stepped down from parliament at the general election, but retain Westminster passes as ex-MPs.

The House authorities launched a probe last spring after a sting operation by reporters.

Mr Byers was caught on film by Channel 4 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.

Ms Hewitt and Mr Hoon were filmed suggesting they would charge 3,000 a day for their services.

Mr Caborn, who stood down this year as MP for Sheffield Central, was said to have expressed an interest in working for the fictitious company but said he would not decide until after the election.

He was recorded discussing a number of services he could offer, quoting a rate of 2,500 "plus expenses".

Mr Ingram, whose constituency was East Kilbride, reportedly said he could cultivate a network of former ministers and could use his contacts to help the fake company develop a relationship with serving ministers and civil servants.

Mr Ingram said he was paid 1,500 a day or 1,000 a meeting by firms.

The comments in the recordings were condemned by politicians from across the political spectrum, and the Labour party suspended those involved.

The sleaze inquiry concluded that Mr Byers' remark about being a "taxi for hire" was "clumsy and ill-judged", but did not break the code of conduct. He had also properly registered payments for work outside parliament.

However, his claim to have access to confidential information from Downing Street was untrue, and he lied about the food labelling amendment and the rail franchise contract, as well as about working for Rio Tinto, and contacting civil servants on behalf of water companies.

This action had brought the House "into disrepute", the probe found.

The committee said: "We recommend that, for committing a particularly serious breach of the Code of Conduct, Mr Stephen Byers' entitlement to a Parliamentary photopass be suspended for two years, with effect from 1 January 2011. If Mr Byers had not accepted that his conduct was wrong and had not apologised in such unequivocal terms, we would have recommended that this entitlement be withdrawn for a much longer period."

In a statement today, Mr Byers said: "I am obviously pleased that after a full investigation the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner has found that I did not abuse my position as a Member of Parliament and specifically that I did not lobby the Government on behalf of commercial organisations and that I fully declared my outside interests.

"I have always accepted that I should not have spoken in the terms I did, which is why at the time I took immediate steps to withdraw my comments."

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