Party divide threatens Nolan's clean-up plan

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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

A split along party lines threatens to block the implementation of key proposals from the Nolan inquiry into standards of public life.

The rift emerged when the Commons select committee examining Lord Nolan's proposals could not agree its report published yesterday.

The majority Tories and Liberal Democrat MPs on the committee said they needed more time to consider a ban on MPs working for lobbying firms and forcing them to disclose earnings from parliamentary consultancy work. Labour accused the Tories and Liberal Democrats of stalling and trying to avoid implementing Nolan's recommendations.

The MPs were in agreement on another main Nolan proposal - the establishment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to monitor the register of members' interests and investigate complaints. But the split overshadowed its progress and will provoke a row when the Commons debates the committee's report next week.

Labour wanted MPs to be required to disclose their earnings from the start of the next parliamentary session in November. Tory and Liberal Democrats claimed they needed more time because Lord Nolan had not defined what was meant by lobbying or which earnings needed to be declared. They also pointed out that the committee could discuss the issue over the summer recess and there was still time for a further report to be presented to MPs by the end of the present session in October.

"Labour are being childishly stupid about this," said Quentin Davies, a Tory member of the committee. "They are trying to play this for party- political advantage in a childish way. What they are saying is that we should ban something that has not even been defined."

The Liberal Democrats, whose Robert Maclennan sided with the Tories, said if Labour had succeeded, MPs would have been left with "an unworkable hotch-potch". Labour said that ahead of next week's debate every Tory constituency association would be targeted and asked if it could countenance having an MP who refused to introduce the Nolan proposals.

Labour said the Lib-Dem complaint was ill-founded: "By doing what he did, Bob Maclennan has let the Tories off the hook."

Meanwhile, a leaked extract of the Government's own draft response to Nolan revealed ministers have been considering a new "public interest" defence for withholding information from Parliament and the public. The response is due to be published before next Thursday's recess.

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