Labour seeks anti-sleaze Act

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RADICAL proposals for a new Governance of Britain Act to stamp out political sleaze will be put to the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life by Labour leaders this week.

A far-reaching package of reforms will be put to the 10-member inquiry chaired by Lord Nolan on Tuesday, when it starts its investigation into the ethical behaviour of MPs and lobbyists.

Arguing that existing measures lack bite, Labour wants a new Code of Conduct for ministers and public servants, restrictions on ministers taking jobs in companies they have privatised, and an effective register of interests for the 40,000 government-app o inted members of quangos who spend £55bn of public money every year.

The submission, tabled by Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, and Frank Dobson, shadow environment spokesman, also demands a new regime for the funding of political parties, including a ban on foreign and large secret donations and limits on general election spending.

Lord Nolan, a law lord, sitting in public with a group of academics, Privy Counsellors and others in Central Hall, Westminster, will take evidence in its first week from former prime minister Lord Callaghan, Roy Hattersley MP, Dame Angela Rumbold MP, andthe constitutional historian Lord Blake. Journalists and lobbyists are also scheduled to give evidence.

In its first two weeks, the Nolan Committee will concentrate on the conduct and behaviour of MPs, including the issue of members' outside interests, the "cash for parliamentary questions" scandal, and the role of lobbyists.

The committee was set up last October by John Major amid mounting parliamentary and public disquiet about allegations of serious misconduct and abuse of their position by two ministers, Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton, and claims that two Tory backbench MPs, David Tredinnick and Graham Riddick, had accepted payment to ask questions in the Commons.

Labour says: "Public confidence in the system of government in Britain is now dangerously low. This has serious implications for the effectiveness of the democratic process itself , and for the social cohesion of our country."

Labour calls for a "democratic renewal" based on an emphatic dividing line between the public interest and the private interests of politicians, public servants and business. It points to members of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet - Lord Tebbit, Lord Walker , Sir Norman Fowler and Lord Young - sitting on the boards of companies they privatised or regulated, and calls for a long quarantine period on ex-ministers taking up directorships with privatised utilities they have dealt with while in office.

There is "a clear link" between membership of quangos and political donations to the Conservative Party, Labour claims.

"The packing of quangos with Conservative appointees is both a reward for services (and donations) rendered, and a warning to those who do not accept the new environment," it says.

"For example, any firm wishing to trade with the `new' NHS will quickly spot the connection between the local Conservative establishment and those running Trusts and associated bodies."