John Major was last night facing a bitter new row over Tory "sleaze" after the Conservative majority on the committee examining the Nolan report opted to tear up a key recommendation for the disclosure of MPs' outside earnings.
The Government is braced for what could be a knife-edge vote when the Commons debates how to implement the MPs' report on Monday, and a Labour onslaught designed to embarrass the Government over MPs' earnings between now and the general election.
The decision not to recommend earnings disclosure follows protests by Tory backbenchers - reinforced by resignation threats - which have been growing since Lord Nolan first reported in the spring.
The committee's chairman, Tony Newton, Leader of the House, and Tory members say a new ban on MPs tabling questions or engaging in other "advocacy" for outside interests - agreed by all sides of the committee - makes disclosure of earnings irrelevant.
Labour yesterday launched a campaign to embarrass Tories opposed to disclosure in the run-up to what is likely to be an explosive Commons debate, when MPs will be asked to vote on the report, published today, and a Labour amendment calling for earnings disclosure.
Labour has cancelled all trips away by its MPs, and will bring John Prescott, the deputy leader, back from a visit to Australia for Monday's vote.
There were signs of a government retreat, however, on the question of when the reforms would bite. Mr Newton had been considering proposing a delay until the the next Parliament, on the ground that it would be unfair to change the rules when MPs were already locked into existing contracts with consultancies or companies. But the committee reached broad agreement at its final meeting last night for much of the new regime to take effect within a few months.
The committee majority's move to make the advocacy ban a quid pro quo for not disclosing earnings, which Labour sources claim was prompted by pressure from ministers, could play badly for the Government. Dale Campbell- Savours, the Labour MP for Workington, said the ban on advocacy still left MPs able to advise their clients. "They are making money out of being an MP and they should declare it," he said.
Tory sources yesterday claimed the final shape of the package went "much further" than Nolan's recommendations, which called for disclosure of outside earnings in full or within bands, and a ban on MPs holding multi- client consultancies with PR firms or professional lobbyists. The latter recommendation is now a dead letter.
The advocacy ban is likely to cover the tabling of written questions, Early Day motions, amendments, oral questions or Private Members' Bills for any outside interest for which MPs are paid consultants. They would also be barred from speaking in debates or arranging delegations to ministers on behalf of clients, and from tabling amendments to Bills in standing committee if they had relevant outside interests.
While Labour supports such a ban, it opposes any further re-writing of the Nolan report. It yesterday resolved to write to all Tory MPs in marginal seats to press them to support disclosure.
While some Tories were confident last night that their action in getting agreement to the advocacy ban had effectively tied Labour's hands, Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Southend East, warned: "People will think there is something rather sleazy about the Conservative Party unless we agree to full disclosure."
The first Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who will police the reforms, was last night named as Sir Gordon Downey, the former Comptroller and Auditor General.Reuse content