Labour kept to new rules for MPs

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Union-sponsored Labour MPs who supported trade union rights in a Commons motion did not break the new rules banning paid advocacy, Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has ruled.

But some of the MPs were wrong not to have recorded an "R" next to their names to denote that they benefited from paid interests, Sir Gordon has told the Tory MP Michael Fabricant in a letter.

Mr Fabricant, MP for Mid-Staffordshire, had complained to Sir Gordon that nine sponsored MPs had fallen foul of the rule barring MPs from advocating any cause or matter on behalf of outside bodies in return for direct or indirect payment or benefit.

But Sir Gordon has decided that an amendment tabled by the MPs to the motion on the Queen's Speech was too general to be regarded as advocacy. The amendment deplored, among other things, the diminution in trade union rights and called for "socialist" policies.

Some MPs removed their names from the amendment following Mr Fabricant's complaint. Others inserted Rs after their names but a number declined to do so. Mr Fabricant said he would be writing to Sir Gordon again over what action should be taken in relation to them.

The decision appears to confirm Labour advice to its MPs that motions couched in general language are not likely to be caught by the new rules.

Waiting in the wings is the potentially much more serious complaint by John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, against former Tory minister Patrick Nicholls who is alleged to have agreed to promote a water purifying firm with ministers in return for a 5 per cent shareholding if it made a profit. Mr Prescott has argued that such a deal is indistinguishable from "cash for questions", and falls foul of the previous rules.

Sir Gordon is awaiting the appointment of members of the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges before beginning an investigation.