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Ex-ministers rebuked over lobbying

Three former Labour ministers face being barred from Parliament after being rebuked for breaching lobbying rules.

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.

Ex-sports minister Richard 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 judgment.

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 for Channel 4's Dispatches and the Sunday Times.

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conduct was wrong and had not apologised in such unequivocal terms, we would have recommended that this entitlement be withdrawn for a much longer period."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, 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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