3 former UK ministers suspended amid new scandal

LONDON (AP) — Three former Cabinet ministers have been suspended from Britain's ruling Labour Party over allegations that they tried to trade access to government officials for cash, as the country's Parliament faces a new set of ethics scandals.

Former defense secretary Geoff Hoon, former transport minister Stephen Byers, and ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt have all been suspended from Britain's Parliamentary Labour Party, the party said in a statement late Monday night, only hours after a documentary caught them apparently boasting of their influence to a fictional U.S. lobbying firm.

Byers was filmed by an undercover television documentary crew apparently offering to use his contacts and access on behalf of private clients for 5,000 pounds ($7,500) per day.

In the secretly-filmed footage — broadcast on Channel 4's "Dispatches" program — he describes himself as a "cab for hire," and boasts that he had been able to alter new laws on behalf of major companies. Byers later retracted his claims.

Hoon, who served as Britain's minister of defense at the time of the invasion of Iraq, is seen saying that he looks forward to "translating my knowledge and contacts about sort of (the) international scene into something that, bluntly, makes money."

Both he and Hewitt were filmed suggesting they would charge 3,000 pounds a day for their services. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

A fourth Labour lawmaker, Margaret Moran, who also appeared on the program, was suspended as well.

In a separate development, the BBC has accused more than 20 lawmakers from all three of the country's major political parties of breaking parliamentary rules by accepting overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

The BBC said the countries involved included popular vacation spots such as the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Mauritius, and the British Virgin Islands. The broadcaster said one of the lawmakers involved was Labour's Andrew Dismore, who sits on parliament's standards committee — the body charged with policing lawmakers' ethics.

Dismore did not return an e-mail and a call seeking comment on the BBC report, but the broadcaster quoted him as saying he denies any wrongdoing.

The revelations come at a particularly embarrassing time for the government, which is only weeks away from its toughest election since Labour came to power in 1997. They also have echoes of Britain's hugely damaging expenses scandal, which laid bare the extent to which lawmakers from all parties were cashing in on their status as parliamentarians and dented Labour's standing in the polls.