Friday, 1 February 2008

Another red faced Tory

MPs face tougher rules as Commons expels Conway

Derek Conway has "concluded that it is time to step down"
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor and James MacintyreFriday,

1 February 2008

MPs are likely to be able to carry on employing members of their families at the taxpayers' expense in spite of the scandal over the disgraced Tory MP Derek Conway, who was expelled from the Commons for 10 days yesterday.
House of Commons rules are expected to be tightened to require MPs to declare payments on a public register if they employ spouses or children on their expenses, which many do. Spot checks could also be introduced, after Downing Street said the idea was "interesting".
However, sources for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the Tory leader, made it clear they would not support a move to ban MPs from employing members of their families.
Mr Conway, who announced he was quitting Parliament at the next election, was suspended yesterday for "misusing" parliamentary funds by employing his sons, Henry and Freddie, for £32,000 and £45,163 as research assistants without any evidence that they did any work.
It also emerged he had paid an intimate friend of Henry Conway, Michel Pratte, as a researcher but had only paid his full-time secretary £15,300 a year for working in his constituency office in Old Bexley and Sidcup.
Mr Conway was accused by the former Labour minister Frank Field of "embezzlement" but the police are unlikely to mount a criminal investigation.
But Scotland Yard confirmed that it has received a letter asking for an inquiry into whether fraud had been committed from Duncan Borrowman, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mr Conway's seat.
Walking out of his mansion flat in central London, Mr Conway tried to play down the affair, emphasising that Mr Pratte was not a relative and saying of his sons : "Young people will be young people ... They have a right to a social life."
Last night the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke said of Mr Conway: "In any other walk of life he would be sacked."
There are many issues raised by this story. I would never dream of employing my wife or a member of my family without declaring an interest and withdrawing from the selection process. There are undoubtedly lots of advantages for those who are away from home a lot in having family around them, but that is true of many business men, consultants and trainers and most organisations would not bend the rules.
Personally I would rather that the normal recruitment process happened. A clear job description etc and a competitive interview or other selection process.
One of the nastier bits in all this is the treatment of his constituency secretary who was paid less than the family. She actually did a proper job. There should be a rate for the job and no upgrades for family. In westminster this may all be acceptable but outside it looks rotton. Thank goodness Norman Baker has spoken clearly. I cannot see why proper employment practices cannot be a condition of receiveing the Whip. We do not need to wait for Parliament to act.