Brown is accused of cover-up in 'cabinet for hire' row
GORDON Brown was accused of a "cover-up" last night after blocking a Whitehall investigation into the cash-for-influence scandal.
The British prime minister said that he did not believe it was necessary for a formal probe into whether ministers changed policy after being approached by Labour MPs acting on behalf of private firms.
Three former cabinet ministers were last night suspended by the Labour Party over allegations they were prepared to use their position to influence government policy for cash.
Party sources said that Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon, and Patricia Hewitt had been suspended pending a full investigation. The decision was said to have been taken by Chief Whip Nick Brown and General Secretary Ray Collins following the screening of last night's Channel 4 'Dispatches' documentary.
The three were secretly filmed by an undercover reporter discussing the possibility of working for what they thought was an American lobby company. The MPs offered their services for up to £5,000 a day.
They were caught in an undercover sting boasting that they had changed government policy and secured preferential access to ministers for companies.
Mr Byers -- who described himself as "sort of like a cab for hire" -- alleged that he had persuaded Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, to agree to a preferential deal involving National Express. Lord Adonis angrily denied the allegation.
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 demanded that the prime minister order a formal investigation into whether the ministerial code of conduct had been broken.
However, a spokesman for Mr Brown said the prime minister was "satisfied" that there had been no impropriety on the part of ministers in the transport and business departments. "The most important thing is to be sure that there has been no impropriety in these departments ... there is no need for an inquiry."
The prime minister's decision was attacked by the Conservatives. Eric Pickles, the party's chairman said: "It is outrageous that the prime minister has ruled out an investigation into these allegations. This looks increasingly like a cover-up."
In a statement last night, Labour said: "The Labour Party expects the highest standards of its representatives and believes that they have a duty to be transparent." (© Daily Telegraph, London)