LIAM Byrne, the immigration minister, was yesterday fined for using a mobile phone while driving.
He pleaded guilty to the offence in a letter to Sutton Coldfield Magistrates' Court, saying he had been taking an important call on a deportation matter. He later apologised for breaking a law that his own colleagues had introduced.
Mr Byrne, 37, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and a former police minister, was fined 100 with 35 costs and a 15 victim surcharge. He was also given three points on his licence, bringing his total to six.
While political parties fell short of calling for his resignation, road-safety charities and a former ministerial colleague who promoted the legislation at Westminster and Holyrood expressed the hope that his high-profile conviction would send out a message to drivers.
In his letter to the magistrates, Mr Byrne expressed remorse for the offence, accepted that there was no excuse for it and that he should have pulled over to take the call.
The magistrates said that his fine would have been 150, but it was reduced because of Mr Byrne's prompt guilty plea and remorse.
The offence took place on 6 July this year, when Mr Byrne drove along Tyburn Road, Birmingham, using a hand-held mobile phone, contrary to section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1998, the court heard.
Cynthia Barlow, the chairman of the crash victims' charity RoadPeace, said: "It's the law that you should not use a mobile phone while driving and he knew perfectly well he should have stopped and pulled over while making a call, and he did not."
The Rossendale and Darwen MP Janet Anderson, a former Labour minister whose private member's bill sparked Westminster and Holyrood to outlaw the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving, said: "I am pleased that Liam apologised for his mistake.
"People need to know that using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is dangerous."
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said that Mr Byrne should have known better. Kevin Clinton, head of road safety, said: "Far too many lives have been lost needlessly because of mobile phone calls and whether you are on a hand-held or a hands-free phone, you are four times more likely to crash.
"It is good to see him being treated in the same way as other motorists, and it shows that people who flout this important law do get caught and punished.
"Enforcement is vital. Mobile phone calls are still costing lives on our road. People should switch off their mobiles when they get into their cars so they will not be tempted to answer an incoming call."
The Institute of Advanced Motorists criticised Mr Byrne for failing to lead by example. "The annoying thing is the implication that the minister's phone call while driving was so important that he couldn't pull over to take it.
"That is totally unacceptable: everybody who has a mobile phone, a car and a job could try to claim that by way of mitigation. If this call was so important, it should never have taken place at the wheel of the car."
ON THE ROAD TO TROUBLE
LIAM Byrne is the latest government minister to fall foul of motoring laws.
In 2001 Jack Straw, the then Labour home secretary, was caught on the M4 to the West Country with his driver doing 104 mph in 2001.
Tory road transport minister Patrick Nicholls was found guilty of drink-driving in 1996 after taking to his own car following a row with a taxi driver.
Former Tory health minister Sir Nicholas Scott was accused of driving away from an accident and then found drunk in the street after an Irish embassy party in London.