Nolan may enforce disclosure laws if MPs ignore vote

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

The Nolan committee will look again at statutory measures if rebel MPs carry out their threat to ignore the new rules on declaration of their earnings from parliamentary work, Lord Nolan said yesterday.

After the first meeting of his Committee on Standards in Public Life since Monday's Commons' vote, Lord Nolan welcomed the whole package of decisions, including the "bold step" - which went beyond his committee's recommendations - to ban paid advocacy.

But it would take time for the full implications to be worked through and to resolve various "grey areas" over what payments should and should not be declared, he said. As a result, his committee planned to review the new system next July, after a full parliamentary year - rather than at Easter as originally planned. If that showed there were issues still to be addressed the committee might hold a short further inquiry next autumn.

Some of the issues, Lord Nolan said, were "difficult" and "it is quite likely that the process of implementation will give rise to further questions". Those would have to be resolved by the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, and Sir Gordon Downey, the Standards Commissioner. His committee would advise if asked, but did not expect to be.

Asked whether he would back statutory disclosure if MPs refuse to comply with the rules, Lord Nolan said his committee would look at that.

Statutory disclosure was backed by some witnesses to his committee. But Lord Nolan said: "We felt a statutory regime should be held in reserve and not employed as a first step. It would have very major and many very undesirable constitutional implications, so we took the view that the House would be able to police itself." He hoped MPs would obey the rules "however reluctantly".

The timescale of the planned review means that some MPs who plan to retire at the next election may be able to avoid declaration of their outside earnings without facing any sanction.

Lord Nolan praised the action the Commons had taken, saying: "I believe Parliament has got thoroughly fed up with the accusations of sleaze and is determined to stamp them out."

He would not be drawn into criticism of the Prime Minister's refusal to back his recommendation on declaration of earnings. "We are very relieved that the House has now decided the matter firmly and the danger that might otherwise have existed of us being lined up with one party or the other has gone away," he said.