Anger grows over payments to MPs

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The Independent Online
BETTY BOOTHROYD, the Commons Speaker, came under pressure yesterday over the 'questions for cash' affair, with some Labour MPs demanding a far wider shake-up of the rules governing paid consultancies and directorships.

Miss Boothroyd said she had under 'urgent and active consideration' demands for an inquiry following newspaper disclosures that two Tory MPs were each willing to table Commons questions in return for pounds 1,000.

Divisions over the issue came as the MPs, Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick, were suspended from their posts as parliamentary private secretaries on the orders of John Major, who backs a thorough review of procedures.

A taped telephone conversation between a Sunday Times reporter posing as a businessman and Mr Riddick, released last night, reveals the journalist asking about the pounds 1,000 fee. Mr Riddick says: '. . . Why don't you just send it to me. Do you want my home address?'

Telling the caller he would declare the payment, Mr Riddick says: 'It seems like a good idea that businesses should have access to Parliament really. . . . So long as everything is above board, I will declare it if it helps industry and so on.'

At the heart of the controversy - reopening unwelcome 'sleaze' allegations - is the conflict between the ancient principle that payments are a breach of privilege, and the rules requiring MPs to register them. Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington, is leading calls for both the Commons Committee of Privileges and the Select Committee on Members' Interests to examine the issue.

The select committee can make recommendations for approval by a majority of MPs. But the privileges committee of senior members from all parties has a broad remit to pronounce on matters affecting the House's credibility and reputation.

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