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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
MP faces Commons suspension
Clive Betts
The MP and his researcher were close friends
Labour MP Clive Betts has apologised to the House of Commons for breaching the parliamentary code of conduct by helping his researcher in an attempt to mislead immigration officials.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said the Sheffield Attercliffe MP had acted "extremely foolishly" in agreeing to copy a doctored document which Brazilian former male escort Jose Gasparo hoped would help extend his stay in the UK.

The MPs ruled that in applying for a parliamentary pass for Mr Gasparo, Mr Betts had risked damaging public confidence in the integrity of Parliament.

I had already arrived at the very difficult decision to make public my sexual orientation, but wished to control how this was done as well as timing disclosure
Clive Betts
Labour MP

The 53-year-old MP, who faces seven days suspension from the Commons, "apologised unreservedly" for his conduct and expressed his gratitude for the "tremendous support" he had received from family, friends and MPs on all sides over the matter.

But he insisted he had not misused public funds, used his position to influence a visa decision or tried to mislead a customs official.

Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, began his investigation into Mr Betts conduct at the MP's own request.

It followed a series of stories in The Sun in February which disclosed that he had employed Mr Gasparo - who he described as a close friend - as his assistant at Westminster.

Holiday

Mr Betts said at the time he offered Mr Gasparo a job he "genuinely believed" the Brazilian "had given up" his male escort activities and "was rehabilitating himself from that occupation".

Mr Gasparo carried out basic office tasks in the two weeks he worked for the MP from 22 January.

I was extremely distressed at the prospect of being 'outed' by the tabloid press
Clive Betts

Mr Betts had been ready to offer him more work, but his student visa was due to run out on 19 February.

The MP applied for a pass to allow Mr Gasparo free movement around the Palace of Westminster, but this was not issued for administrative reasons by the time his initial period of work ended.

The two men agreed to take a holiday in Venice together to enable Mr Gasparo to reapply for a new student visa on their return.

Loan

Mr Betts paid his 50 registration fee for a tourism course at the City of London College and lent him 4,000 to pay for future course fees.

But during their trip, reporters confronted the pair and told them of plans to expose Mr Gasparo's past in the press.

Mr Betts told Sir Philip: "I was extremely distressed at the prospect of being 'outed' by the tabloid press.

"I had already arrived at the very difficult decision to make public my sexual orientation, but wished to control how this was done as well as timing disclosure because of the need to have discussions beforehand with family, friends, staff and parliamentary colleagues."

The doctored document was a fax from the college which Mr Gasparo was hoping to use in his visa application as proof of his student status.

'Upset'

But the document stated explicitly that this could not be used for this purpose.

"Upset" by this, Mr Gasparo deleted the remark with corrector fluid, and en route to the airport, Mr Betts took it to a photocopier shop to get a duplicate produced.

Mr Betts told Sir Philip that he had urged Mr Gasparo not to try to use this document, but at Stansted Airport Mr Gasparo gave it to an immigration official.

The MP said he informed the immigration officer that the document had been altered, but she later told Sir Philip she could "most certainly recall" that this was not the case.

While the document was not acceptable, the Brazilian was given a two-month extension to his existing visa so he could make an application backed by the proper paperwork - but he appears never to have done so.

Public scandal

The MP told the standards commissioner that he has since lost touch with Mr Gasparo and did not expect to receive his 4,000 loan back.

The Deputy Serjeant of Arms, who is responsible for security at Westminster, told Sir Philip that if he had known of the Brazilian's former profession, he would not have granted him a parliamentary pass.

The committee said the MP had been "unwise" to take on Mr Gasparo, given that "past experience indicates how the employment in the Palace of Westminster of a person with a history of work in the sex industry can become a cause of public scandal".

Mike Peat, chairman of Mr Betts' constituency Labour party, confirmed support for him, saying he was "an excellent MP".

But he added: "We now look forward to continuing our selection process to determine our candidate for the next general election."




SEE ALSO:
Clive Betts
16 Oct 02  |  UK Politics



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