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

4  Mr Geoff Hoon


37. Mr Hoon was the Member for Ashfield when he met the undercover reporter on 3 March.[47] 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. The Commissioner received a complaint against Mr Hoon from the Member for Putney, Justine Greening, on 22 March.[48] The Commissioner accepted the complaint for investigation on 23 March.

The Commissioner's findings

38. The Commissioner has concluded that Mr Hoon committed a "particularly serious" breach of the rules of the House in making statements to the undercover reporter about disclosing confidential information he implied he was receiving or could access from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review for the benefit of business clients who might be considering seeking contracts with the MoD and for the benefit of a private equity fund. In the Commissioner's judgment, Mr Hoon's conduct brought the House of Commons and its Members generally into disrepute, contrary to paragraph 15 of the Code of Conduct.[49]

39. The Commissioner's main findings are set out below.

  • Mr Hoon's comments to the undercover reporter that he was looking forward to translating his knowledge and contacts about the international scene into "something that, bluntly, makes money" were ill-judged but because they related to his prospective employment after leaving Parliament they did not breach the Code or the rules.[50]
  • Other remarks made by Mr Hoon, about chairing companies, leading a delegation to a Minister, gaining personal access to Ministers, briefing a private equity fund on defence policy, and supplying an academic paper on defence policy were within the rules.[51]
  • Mr Hoon told the undercover reporter that he had met officials who were working on the defence review. The Commissioner concludes that there was no requirement for Mr Hoon to declare a financial interest to those officials, because at the time he met them he did not expect to have such an interest.[52] But the Commissioner also concludes that Mr Hoon did breach the Code of Conduct, because he offered to brief the fictitious company's clients about the review, giving at least the impression that he would draw on what he had learnt in his meeting with officials.[53]
  • Mr Hoon suggested that he might brief a private equity company on defence policy, giving the impression that he was offering an inside track on defence strategy. Although it was less clear-cut than the other breach, this offer also breached the Code.[54]

Mr Hoon's evidence

40. Mr Hoon sent us written evidence on 29 November.[55] He gave oral evidence on 30 November. Mr Hoon also sent us a statement he had intended to make at the start of his oral evidence.[56]


41. In his written evidence to us, Mr Hoon develops his argument, also made to the Commissioner, that the Code should not apply to what he believed at the time was a private conversation about his future as a private citizen.[57] Mr Hoon writes that the Commissioner was "factually wrong" to suggest that the Advisory Body on Business Appointments (ACOBA) considers public appointments; he points out that ACOBA considers all relevant appointments for former Ministers within a certain timeframe after they leave office. The fictitious job for which Mr Hoon—who at the time of the interview was no longer subject to ACOBA guidelines—was being considered would not have been public in the sense of being required to be published.


42. In his written statement; in his introductory statement; and in his oral evidence, Mr Hoon argues that the Commissioner was wrong to conclude that he gave the impression that he was briefed by Ministry of Defence officials about the strategic defence review. Much of the case made by Mr Hoon rests on whether he said to the undercover reporter that "some of the people in the team in the MoD … briefed me about this." In the context of the discussion, "this" would logically refer to the strategic defence review, which Mr Hoon says he was not briefed about and even if he had been he would not have offered to share such a briefing with others. Mr Hoon contends that it is not clear that he said "this" and that he was actually referring to a briefing he gave to the same officials about a NATO policy review in which he was playing a part, which was therefore something he could repeat to others. The Commissioner concludes that Mr Hoon did say "this". Some of us listened to a recording of the conversation between Mr Hoon and the undercover reporter and we conclude that Mr Hoon definitely said "this". The sense that we gained from watching the interview was that "this" was a reference to the strategic defence review.

43. Whether Mr Hoon said "this" matters because, if he did, and if "this" referred to the strategic defence review, then it appears that he was giving the impression that he would be prepared to use information from a briefing by officials to brief a paying client. Mr Hoon asks us to accept that there are other possible interpretations of what he said. He also points out that people rarely speak in perfectly formed sentences in an informal setting.[58] He says that he has heard from many people who have sympathised with him for these reasons and because he was only trying to make the best case he could for getting the job.[59]

44. Mr Hoon has acknowledged that in offering to brief clients about defence matters he may have been "showing off his knowledge and experience of the MoD and the people in it" but he denies strongly that it was or could have been his true intention to imply that he was in a position to share a confidential MoD briefing on the strategic defence review.[60] He rejects completely the Commissioner's conclusion that in the context of the discussion, what he said could only have been understood as an offer to brief clients on the review, drawing on briefings he had received from MoD officials.[61] He argues that the Commissioner is wrong to find that he has committed a serious breach of the Code when "there is sufficient doubt about the meaning of the words that I used to allow a different conclusion to be reached" and he suggests that a high standard of proof should be required for such a finding.[62]


45. Mr Hoon's written evidence to the Committee provides a fuller explanation than that which he provided to the Commissioner of his role in a policy review carried out by the NATO Group of Experts, of which he was a member.[63] Mr Hoon also acknowledged in oral evidence that he had not explained to the undercover reporter in detail what this role entailed and that much of the review's work was publicly available.[64] If he had provided such an explanation, Mr Hoon might have avoided giving the impression that, in the Commissioner's words, he had "an inside track on defence strategy" which was based at least in part on confidential briefings from officials in the MoD.[65] The Commissioner has concluded that by giving that impression, Mr Hoon brought the House into disrepute and breached the Code. When we questioned him about this, Mr Hoon denied that his knowledge and understanding of the issues was dependent on official briefings.[66] He continued:

    It's difficult for me to say what impression I created, in the sense that I clearly had in my mind at the time the fact that I believed that I was suitably qualified for the job that appeared to be on offer. I was trying—I accept this—to talk up my qualifications and experience for the role. If, in talking that up, I failed to properly set out all the detail, then I accept that there is some force in what you're saying.

    But part of the point of coming here is to try and emphasise that, in my mind, I was doing no more than what I think many people would do in the context of what was presented to me as being a job interview, and trying to find a way to explain my background and understanding of these issues that would appeal to the people interviewing me.[67]

Conclusions and recommendation


46. In oral evidence, Mr Hoon accepted that most of what was said at the meeting with the undercover reporter had related to his experience of public life.[68] That public life was of course as a Member of Parliament and a Minister. For us, this is the key point. Mr Hoon was still a public figure—still an MP—when he attended the meeting, during which he referred constantly to his experience of public life as qualifying him for the appointment he thought he was discussing. Because he was an MP, talking about his experience as an MP, we conclude that his behaviour and statements at the meeting were covered by the Code of Conduct. In our view, the question of whether the appointment he thought he was discussing was or was not a "public appointment" is of less significance.


47. We do not share Mr Hoon's doubts about the meaning of the words he used when talking to the undercover reporter about a possible role for him in briefing their clients on defence policy. The words were uttered in the context of what Mr Hoon thought at the time was an interview for a job in which his contacts and ability to provide access to key people were a major part of his qualification. In our view, Mr Hoon was giving a clear impression during these exchanges that he was offering to brief clients about the strategic defence review on the basis of a confidential briefing he had received from MoD officials. Whether Mr Hoon intended to give that impression, only he can say; but looking at the exchanges between Mr Hoon and the interviewer as a whole we find it difficult to accept that he did not know that he was giving that impression. Having considered very carefully Mr Hoon's written and oral evidence, we agree with the Commissioner that this was a breach of the Code of Conduct, because it brought the House of Commons into disrepute. And it was a particularly serious breach, because of the clear implication that Mr Hoon was prepared to share inside knowledge.

48. The Commissioner reached his conclusion on the basis of a balance of probabilities. Mr Hoon has asked us to apply a higher standard of proof. We do not suggest that it is beyond all reasonable doubt that our interpretation of the meaning and effect of what Mr Hoon said at the meeting with the undercover reporter is the correct one. But we do believe it to be significantly more likely to be correct than not to be correct. In our view, that is a sufficiently stringent test to apply to this case.


49. We agree with the Commissioner that, in the context of the discussion taking place between Mr Hoon and the undercover reporter, Mr Hoon's reference to the possibility that he might brief a private equity company about the relationship between the NATO policy review and the strategic defence review was a breach of the Code, because he gave the impression that he had an inside track on defence strategy, which was based at least in part on a confidential briefing from officials in the MoD. This was a less serious breach than that identified above, because the link to the confidential briefing was more tenuous.


50. We recommend that for committing breaches of the Code of Conduct, one of which was a particularly serious breach, Mr Geoff Hoon apologise to the House through this Committee in writing and that his entitlement to a Parliamentary photopass be suspended for five years, with effect from 1 January 2011.

47   Appendix 1, paragraph 405 Back

48   Appendix 1, paragraph 10 Back

49   Appendix 1, paragraph 705 Back

50   Appendix 1, paragraph 693 Back

51   Appendix 1, paragraphs 694 to 696, 701 and 702 Back

52   Appendix 1, paragraph 699 Back

53   Appendix 1, paragraph 698  Back

54   Appendix 1, paragraph 700 Back

55   Appendix 4 Back

56   Appendix 5 Back

57   Appendix 5 Back

58   Q9 Back

59   Q11 Back

60   Appendix 4 Back

61   Appendix 1, paragraph 698; Appendix 5 Back

62   Appendix 5 Back

63   Appendix 4 Back

64   Qq5 and 6 Back

65   Appendix 1, paragraph 700 Back

66   Q5 Back

67   Q7 Back

68   Q1 Back

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