The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards yesterday cleared Edinburgh-born Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw and said the “damage” done to the former MPs could have been avoided if Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had “accurately reported” the exchanges they had filmed.
But the newspaper said it believed voters would find it “remarkable” that parliament investigates the misconduct of its own members, while Channel 4 issued a defiant statement defending its journalism and took the unprecedented step of asking Ofcom to look at the case.
Undercover reporters claiming to represent a Hong Kong-based communications agency called PMR that was seeking to hire senior British politicians to join its advisory board secretly filmed the former MPs.
Sir Malcolm, pictured, was said to have claimed that he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world because of his status, while Mr Straw boasted of operating “under the radar” to use his influence to change
European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which paid him £60,000 a year.
Commissioner Kathryn Hudson found “there was no breach of the rules on paid lobbying” or the rules of the House “other than in Mr Straw’s case – by a minor misuse of parliamentary resources”.
She added: “If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of the House.”
In a report published by the Commons standards committee, MPs said Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw had been “scrupulous in observing the requirements relating to registration of interests”.
The committee also raised concerns about media coverage of the allegations and claimed the former ministers had been “presumed guilty” before any investigation had taken place.
Sir Malcolm, who stepped aside as chairman of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee and quit as an MP at the election following the claims, said the months after the sting had been a “painful period” for him and his family.
He said: “Channel 4 Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph must recognise the judgment of the Standards Commissioner and the standards committee that they were responsible for ‘distortion’ and misleading the public in making these allegations.”