Sir John Butterfill, Mr Stephen Byers, Ms Patricia Hewitt, Mr Geoff Hoon, Mr Richard Caborn and Mr Adam Ingram - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents

2  Mr Stephen Byers


24. Mr Byers was the Member for North Tyneside when he met the undercover reporter on 23 February.[22] He contacted the reporter on 24 and 25 February, seeking to withdraw some of his remarks.[23] On 11 March, he contacted the reporter, withdrawing his name from consideration for the appointment for which he had been told he was being considered. The interview was referred to in the Sunday Times article of 21 March and parts of it were broadcast in the Dispatches programme the following evening. Mr Byers sought to refer himself to the Commissioner in an e-mail on 22 March but the Commissioner received a complaint against him from the Member for Putney, Justine Greening, later the same day.[24] A valid complaint takes precedence over a self-referral; the Commissioner accepted the complaint for investigation on 23 March.

The Commissioner's findings

25. The Commissioner has found that Mr Byers committed a particularly serious breach of the rules of the House when he made false statements to the undercover reporter, because these statements brought the House and its Members into disrepute. Mr Byers' attempts to withdraw some of his remarks went some, but not the full way to undoing the damage he had caused.

26. The Commissioner's main findings in relation to Mr Byers are set out below.

  • Mr Byers' statements to the undercover reporter that he had access to confidential information from Number 10 and that he knew very well someone in the Office of the then Leader of the Opposition were untrue.[25] They were not, however, sufficiently developed to amount to a breach of the Code.[26]
  • Mr Byers' statement that an election period was a good time to gain access to civil servants was not a breach and there is no evidence that Mr Byers had himself acted in this way.[27]
  • Mr Byers' suggestion that he could help a paying client to remove regulatory obstacles to the client's business was not a breach and there is no evidence that Mr Byers had himself acted in this way.[28]
  • Mr Byers properly registered payments he received for work he carried out for Consolidated Contractors International.[29]
  • Mr Byers suggested to the undercover reporter that he could use Parliamentary facilities to entertain the fictitious company's business contacts, which would be contrary to the rules, but his offer was not taken up and it would therefore be unfair to conclude that he was in breach of the rules.[30]
  • My Byers told the undercover reporter that he was like "a sort of cab for hire". This statement was clumsy and ill-judged, but it referred to Mr Byers' availability for work after the forthcoming General Election and it did not, therefore, breach the rules of the House.[31]
  • Mr Byers that he charged between £3,000 and £5,000 a day for work outside Parliament. This statement was true and Mr Byers had properly registered the payments he had received, so he had not breached the rules of the House.[32]
  • Mr Byers' suggestion that, as the architect of the Enterprise Act, he knew ways round it was untrue, as were other statements about amending food labelling regulations, about what was said at a meeting he had held with Lord Adonis, about working for Rio Tinto, about influencing Ofwat's investment programme, and about contacts with civil servants on behalf of water companies. By telling these untruths, Mr Byers brought the House and its Members generally into disrepute, contrary to paragraph 15 of the Code of Conduct.[33]

27. The Commissioner explains in his memorandum why this was a "particularly serious" breach of the Code. Mr Byers claimed to have acted in ways which "were both unethical and, in some cases, possible examples of paid advocacy on behalf of a particular client."[34] His claims can only have given the impression that this was how MPs behaved or were allowed to behave. They also cast aspersions on the behaviour of Ministers and of commercial companies.[35]

28. The Commissioner accepts that it is to Mr Byers' credit that in the course of the inquiry he offered his sincere and unreserved apologies for his conduct. But it took some time for Mr Byers to reach this point: he made several attempts to retract some of the things he said before he withdrew completely from the bogus recruitment exercise. This was not enough to undo the damage he had by then caused to the reputation of Parliament.[36]

Mr Byers' evidence

29. Having been sent a copy of the Commissioner's findings of fact and conclusions, Mr Byers submitted the following evidence:

    I believe that the Commissioner has carried out a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the complaint made against me. I accept in full his findings of fact and conclusions in relation to my conduct.

    I could try and put together all sorts of excuses as to how I came to make the statements I did but I must accept that I simply should not have spoken in such terms.

    I deeply regret that my statements caused damage to the reputation of Parliament. Having had the privilege of serving in the House for 18 years this is the last thing I would want to have done.

    I would like to take this opportunity to offer to the Committee and the whole House my sincere and unreserved apologies. I was wrong to have made the statements I did and am sorry for the damage they caused to the reputation of Parliament.[37]

Conclusion and recommendation

30. We welcome Mr Byers' full acceptance of the Commissioner's conclusions and his unreserved apology to the House for his conduct. We agree with Mr Byers that he was wrong to make the statements he did. The deep regret that he has expressed goes some way towards putting right the wrong. But this was, as the Commissioner has found, a particularly serious breach of the Code. We do not believe that the matter can be allowed to rest with an apology.

31. 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.

22   Appendix 1, paragraph 180 Back

23   Appendix 1, paragraph 181 Back

24   Appendix 1, paragraphs 8 and 10 Back

25   Appendix 1, paragraph 668 Back

26   Appendix 1, paragraph 680 Back

27   Appendix 1, paragraph 669 Back

28   Appendix 1, paragraph 670 Back

29   Appendix 1, paragraph 676 Back

30   Appendix 1, paragraph 678 Back

31   Appendix 1, paragraph 679 Back

32   Appendix 1, paragraph 683 Back

33   Appendix 1, paragraphs 671 to 675, 677 and 680 Back

34   Appendix 1, paragraph 681 Back

35   Appendix 1, paragraph 682 Back

36   Appendix 1, paragraph 684 Back

37   Appendix 3  Back

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Prepared 8 December 2010