LONDON - Caught by concealed cameras as they offered to trade influence for cash, three former government ministers have been suspended from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor Party, setting off a new political furor Tuesday as Britain edges toward elections.
The Labor Party announced the suspensions late Monday, hours after a documentary on Channel 4 television showed the former ministers -- Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt -- talking to an undercover reporter they believed to be a representative of a U.S. lobbying company.
The three remain members of Parliament, but they had already announced that they would not seek reelection before the suspensions. A Labor legislator, Margaret Moran, was also suspended.
The controversy was the latest in a series of political blows for Brown ahead of the elections, likely to be held on May 6.
After a brief surge in the polls last month, Labor is again trailing the opposition Conservatives badly in most surveys, and televised scenes showing an apparent readiness by three Cabinet figures under Tony Blair to sell their influence seemed likely to compound Labor's woes.
Byers, the former transportation minister, told the interviewer that he was like a "cab for hire" and charged $7,500 a day for using his contacts to secure advantage for companies.
Hoon, who was defense secretary at the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said he wanted to use his international contacts to make money. He set his prices at $4,500 a day -- the same amount as Hewitt, the former health secretary.
Under lobbying laws, which are more relaxed than U.S. ones, it seems unlikely that the suspended members will face prosecution.