Left-right split on Nolan report

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The committee of MPs considering the Nolan recommendations on disclosing outside earnings is deeply split along party lines, with Tory opposition threatening to rule out an agreed formula for implementation prior to a Commons debate in less than a fortnight.

Taking their cue from Tory backbench opinion, which MPs say is hardening against disclosure, Conservative members of the select committee have been holding out against the change in a series of fraught meetings over the last week. An inconclusive meeting last night will be followed by another marathon session tonight.

Labour members want full disclosure of annual income from outside interests, or disclosure within monetary bands, as recommended by Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards in Public Life.

But the gap between Labour and the Tory members has proved so difficult to bridge that the committee's report could end up containing up to six options for MPs to vote on - ranging from full disclosure to no disclosure - when it comes to the House before the end of the session early next month.

The debate was promised in July, when a majority of MPs on the select committee asked for more time to consider the Nolan report. Labour denounced the request as deliberate foot-dragging.

Among fall-back suggestions canvassed among Tories is that declarations of outside income should be made in confidence to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards recommended by Lord Nolan without being publicly recorded. Another suggestion is a simplified banding system to allow MPs to record earnings above or below that figure.

The Tories had hoped to win the argument against disclosure by agreeing with Labour that the range of banned outside activities should be widened to include single-client consultancies as well as multiple-client consultancies as recommended by Nolan. That would rule out any need to declare earnings, provided the relevant contracts were registered with the Commons. But Labour was understood to have ruled such a deal out last night.

A key figure in resolving the row will be the committee chairman, Tony Newton, Leader of the House. He will want a unanimous final report to put before the House, and his own report may sway Tory members.

A failure to reach agreement would be a blow to John Major who signalled a determination to clean up public life by setting up Lord Nolan's committee in the wake of the "cash for questions" affair.