Former UK MPs in pay-off scandal

2010-03-21 21:24

London - British government ministers said on Sunday they were "appalled" by the behaviour of former colleagues after media claims they had offered to try to influence policy in return for cash.

The former ministers were filmed by an undercover reporter apparently offering to carry out lobbying work in return for fees of up to £5 000 a day.

One, former transport secretary Stephen Byers, was caught on camera describing himself as like "a sort of cab for hire".

The claims, reported in the Sunday Times newspaper while clips of Byers's interview were aired on TV news channels, come less than a year after British lawmakers were shamed by a parliamentary expenses scandal.


"What on earth do they think they were doing?" Finance Minister Alistair Darling told BBC TV. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there was "absolutely no room for anyone to trade on their ministerial office".

"I was appalled by what was said," Miliband told Sky News.

"People come into politics ... because of what they want to do for the good of the country and I believe that's true for MPs across all parties. Anything which sullies that reputation or gets in the way of that public service is completely inimical."

The sting, by the Sunday Times and broadcaster Channel 4, involved ex-ministers and MPs from the ruling Labour Party and opposition Conservatives being approached by a reporter posing as a company executive looking to hire them for lobbying work.

Those who stated they could provide influence in return for a fee included former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who together led a failed coup to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown in January, the paper said.

Wrongdoing denied

Hoon and Hewitt, who had already announced they would not be standing in a parliamentary election expected in May, denied any wrongdoing, the Sunday Times said. Byers had retracted his comments the day after the meeting.

The Conservatives, ahead in polls, said the allegations were serious and that they would be pushing to find out whether any current ministers had broken parliamentary rules.

Both major parties have promised action to tighten the rules governing the work of lobbyists and to put restrictions on ex-ministers becoming involved in lobbying.

The pledges followed fallout from an expenses scandal which infuriated Britons and tarnished the reputation of all MPs after revelations some had claimed taxpayers' money for things such as dog food, an ornamental duck house and moat cleaning.

"It just beggars belief," Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told BBC TV. "Have they learnt nothing about the expenses scandal?"