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Tory MP Tomlinson's voice cracks as he says sorry in Commons for leaking report

Published 15/09/2016

Justin Tomlinson shared the draft findings of an inquiry into Regulating Consumer Credit with an employee of payday lender Wonga
Justin Tomlinson shared the draft findings of an inquiry into Regulating Consumer Credit with an employee of payday lender Wonga

Conservative former disabilities minister Justin Tomlinson has said he is "truly sorry" for leaking a parliamentary report.

The North Swindon MP told MPs he had been naive when he shared the draft findings of an inquiry into regulation of the consumer credit industry with an employee of payday lender Wonga.

Mr Tomlinson faces being suspended from the House of Commons for two days after a Commons sleaze watchdog found he "committed a contempt" in disclosing the report.

Making a statement in the chamber, the Tory MP's voice cracked as he said: "I accept that my actions in sharing the report constituted interference in the work of the committee for public accounts and for this I am truly sorry.

"This was never my intention. These actions came as a result of my own naivety, driven by a desire to strengthen regulations on payday lenders and protect vulnerable consumers."

An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found that on May 3 2013, Mr Tomlinson used his personal email account to send a message to a Wonga employee who had given evidence to the PAC.

The email contained a 35-paragraph draft of a report on regulating the consumer credit industry.

The employee responded the next day with comments from himself and a colleague describing "areas we thought the committee might want to focus on".

Over the course of more emails, the employee set out four recommendations: a new measure to replace outdated and misleading annual percentage rate rules, a strict limit set at three rollovers per loan, rigorous credit checks, and interest being frozen after 60 days.

The day after receiving the list, Mr Tomlinson emailed one of the committee's staff with suggested changes for the report.

They included the four recommendations from the Wonga employee and a fifth of his own.

Mr Tomlinson later sent an email to the employee from his private email account containing a revised text of the draft report.

Commissioner Kathryn Hudson said Mr Tomlinson's actions "provided Wonga with an additional opportunity, not available to or known to anyone else, to influence the recommendations of the committee".

She found that he had "committed a serious breach" of conduct rules but she had "seen no evidence that his actions were for personal gain".

Ms Hudson was told about a newspaper article that linked a sponsorship deal, said to be worth £30,000, between Wonga and Swindon Supermarine Football Club, with donations made to Mr Tomlinson by the current club chairman Jez Webb, when she was asked to investigate.

The article said that Mr Tomlinson had accepted donations of £30,218 from Mr Webb since 2014.

Mr Tomlinson suggested Wonga as a potential sponsor to his local football club in 2010/11.

Ms Hudson said: "The close juxtaposition of these facts in the article led to the possible inference that Wonga's sponsorship of the club was in some unspecified way related to Mr Webb's financial contributions to Mr Tomlinson's activities.

"I have found no evidence to support that interpretation of the facts and the newspaper has published a clarification from Mr Webb. I do not uphold this part of the complaint against Mr Tomlinson."

The Commons Committee of Privileges said it had taken into account "significant mitigating factors", including Mr Tomlinson's "motives, his relative inexperience and his immediate and unreserved apology for his actions".

Its recommendation that Mr Tomlinson is suspended from the House for two sitting days will go before MPs for approval on October 10.

Liberal Democrat business spokeswoman Lorely Burt said: "Leaking a select committee report isn't acceptable - particularly not to someone with as grubby a record as Wonga.

"Wonga may use puppets in their adverts, but they don't get to have one on a parliamentary committee."

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