Letter: Suitable `outside' work for MPs

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From Mr M. J. Green Sir: Norman Fowler challenges "the view that writing sagas, television presenting and journalism are self-evidently politically correct outside interests for Members of Parliament, while being a company director automatically raises grave ethical questions if not the presumption of `sleaze'," ("If you can't defend it, don't do it", 27 January). Let me help him understand the differences between the two types of employment.

The first distinction relates to choice. Consider the example where the industry in which the company director operates is a monopolistic public utility. The public has no alternative to living with the consequences of parliamentary decisions relating tothat industry, particularly where they affect prices and the availabilty and quality of services provided. On the other hand, we can choose whether to consume the products of wordsmiths and television presenters: if not, we can at least mediate their effects through a knowledge of the political interests of their authors.

The second is the legal distinction between being a director of a company and an ordinary employee or freelancer. The director is accountable for the company's rules and practices, and thereby the well-being of its customers, employees and shareholders (including himself!). The legal framework for this situation is subject to parliamentary decision. The employee or freelancer merely earns a wage within that framework.

An understanding of these distinctions and their implications for ethical behaviour is held by most of the electorate, if not by Mr Fowler, whose party may eventually suffer the consequences of such wilful uncomprehension.

Yours faithfully, M. J. GREEN Winneresh, Berkshire

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