Nolan much too soft on MPs, say voters

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Public disaffection with politicians and the political system has grown sharply over the last four years, according to a "State of the Nation" opinion survey reported exclusively in the Independent today. Voters support much more drastic and wide-ranging action to control MPs' private interests than has been proposed by Lord Nolan's report on their ethical standards.

An overwhelming 75 per cent said "the present system of government in Britain could be improved", up from 63 per cent four years ago. This marks the sharp acceleration of a 20-year trend: the figure was 49 per cent in 1973.

There has been a dramatic increase over the past four years in the numbers of people who think Parliament works badly, up from 16 to 30 per cent, although they are still outweighed by the 43 per cent who think it works well.

In the wake of recent scandals, most people think MPs should not be allowed to earn any money at all outside Parliament. The survey exposes the gap between the recommendations of the Nolan committee - themselves fiercely resisted by Conservative backbenchers - and angry public opinion.

Most people who expressed a view think MPs should be banned from writing articles for money, being sponsored by trade unions, even if they do not benefit personally, and being paid to represent non-commercial interests such as the Police Federation. But more people are satisfied (43 per cent) than dissatisfied (23 per cent) with their own MP - figures which have not changed since 1991.

The survey, carried out by Mori for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, finds support for much stronger legal controls on quangos than Lord Nolan recommended, including requirements for political balance among members (80 per cent), and meetings in public (81 per cent). Voters also back publication of the identity of large financial donors to political parties (75 per cent).

The public showed strong support for a Freedom of Information Act (81 per cent), Bill of Rights (79 per cent), and a written constitution (79 per cent). But backing for a change in the voting system has ebbed.

Poll details, page 13

Leading article, page 14