Friday 26 March 2010 | Politics feed


Lobbying row: Lord Adonis admits he had private discussion with Stephen Byers

Cabinet Minister Lord Adonis has admitted that he had a private conversation with Stephen Byers over a controversial deal to renationalise the East Coast railway line.

Lobbying row: Lord Adonis admits he had private discussion with Stephen Byers
Lord Adonis (left) and Stephen Byers

However, Lord Adonis said it was “pure fantasy” to suggest that his decisions surrounding National Express had been influenced by the former transport secretary or that the pair had “come to any arrangement”.

The news came just hours before Mr Byers, together with fellow former Cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party pending a full inquiry into the affair.

The disclosure was seized on by the Conservatives who have accused the Prime Minister of a “cover-up” after he ruled out a Whitehall investigation into the cash-for-influence scandal.

Gordon Brown said he did not believe a formal inquiry was necessary into whether ministers changed policy after being approached by Labour MPs, including Mr Byers, acting on behalf of private companies.

In a secret recording, Mr Byers – who described himself as “sort of like a cab for hire” – alleged that he had persuaded Lord Adonis to agree to a preferential deal involving National Express. Lord Adonis has angrily denied the allegation.

Mr Byers was also recorded claiming that he had intervened on behalf of Tesco to get Lord Mandelson to stop new food-labelling laws. Tesco said it did not discuss the matter with the Labour MP and Lord Mandelson said he had “no recollection” of any such conversation. Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary, was secretly recorded saying she had helped a private health firm win a place on a government advisory panel.

The Conservatives called for an investigation into whether the ministerial code of conduct had been broken.

A spokesman for Mr Brown said: “The most important thing is to be sure – as we are – that there has been no impropriety in these departments about which there have been allegations. There is no need for an inquiry.”

Eric Pickles, the Tory party’s chairman, said: “This looks increasingly like a cover-up at the heart of government.”

Yesterday, Mr Byers referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who will rule on whether he has breached any parliamentary rules.

Mr Byers has tried to withdraw the comments he was recorded making, saying that he exaggerated his role. He insisted he was not paid by Tesco or National Express.

In the House of Lords, Lord Adonis said: “There is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Stephen Byers came to any arrangement with me on any matter relating to National Express.”

The Channel 4 Dispatches documentary also showed secretly recorded footage of three more politicians apparently offering to help the bogus lobbyists.

Baroness Morgan, a former senior aide to Tony Blair at Downing Street, boasted that she “knew the right people to scream at” on behalf of clients.

Margaret Moran, the disgraced Labour MP found to have abused her expenses, offered to help the undercover reporters make contact with ministers’ special advisers.

The only Conservative politician to be exposed by the sting was Sir John Butterfill. “I could organise a minister,” he was recorded as saying.

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