2 Mr Stephen Byers|
24. Mr Byers was the Member for North Tyneside when
he met the undercover reporter on 23 February.
He contacted the reporter on 24 and 25 February, seeking to withdraw
some of his remarks.
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.
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.
They were not, however, sufficiently developed to amount to a
breach of the Code.
- 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
- 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.
- Mr Byers properly registered payments he received
for work he carried out for Consolidated Contractors International.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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."
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.
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.
Mr Byers' evidence
29. Having been sent a copy of the Commissioner's
findings of fact and conclusions, Mr Byers submitted the following
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.
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
Appendix 1, paragraph 181 Back
Appendix 1, paragraphs 8 and 10 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 668 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 680 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 669 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 670 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 676 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 678 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 679 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 683 Back
Appendix 1, paragraphs 671 to 675, 677 and 680 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 681 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 682 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 684 Back
Appendix 3 Back