Members' Interests: Who scrutinises the honourable scrutineers?: The Watchdogs

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TWO COMMITTEES of the House of Commons are currently scrutinising the declared - or undeclared - interests of MPs, and the members of both committees have a lot of interests to declare themselves, the register shows.

The entry for Peter Griffiths, Tory MP for Portsmouth North and member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, is simple: nil. Alone among the committee's 13 members, he has taken a principled stand against any outside interests since he was first elected in 1979.

'I don't accept facilities of any kind from anybody,' he said. 'It avoids the sort of problems that have been discussed in the past couple of weeks.'

The Interests Committee is a long-established body which examines MPs' behaviour and makes recommendations on a day-to-day basis.

The Privileges Committee is recalled to consider specific issues and allegations of abuse of privilege. The only members of the 17-strong committee - charged in July with examining the 'cash for questions' affair - to record no interests are Tony Newton, leader of the house, who is disbarred by virtue of his office, and John Ward, Tory MP for Poole. Last year even he recorded that a car was provided by Taylor Woodrow, the construction company.

Bill Michie (Lab, Sheffield Heeley) who is sponsored by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union with no personal gain and is a member of both the Interests and the Privileges Committee, said being an MP should be a full-time job.

'I don't believe there is such a thing as a free meal. Quite a few Tories are coming around to thinking the same way, as they don't want to be tarred with the same brush. It makes it a lot easier to sleep at night'.

Several Labour MPs' entries are thin, reflecting their trade union affiliations and little else.

But other members of the committees retain extensive interests. Dudley Fishburn, member of the Interests Committee, is chairman of three rented housing business expansion schemes, a non-executive director of Business Post and HFC Bank and a consultant to a US bank, a US law firm and a corporate communication company. He is a governor of the English National Ballet, a member of the board of overseers of Harvard University, and a member of the executive committees of the National Trust and the Prison Reform Trust. The last four are unpaid.

Sir Anthony Durant (Con, Reading West, and on the Interests Committee) mentions a Hong Kong charitable trust and is political adviser to the National Federation of Demolition Contractors.

Four members of the Interests Committee registered foreign visits, including a visit to India by Piara Khabra (Labour, Southall) and his wife, paid for by the Government of India and a visit by Bob Dunn (Con, Dartford) and his wife to Dubai provided by Emirates Airlines.

MPs on the Committee of Privileges also roamed freely, with Tony Benn (Lab, Chesterfield) registering sponsored visits to France, Denmark, America, Canada and Cyprus; David Alton to Ireland, the Czech Republic and Egypt; Doug Hoyle (Lab, Warrington N) to Hong Kong and Gibraltar and Sir James Spicer (Con, West Dorset) to South Africa and Azerbaijan.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Tory chairman of the Interests Committee, has four non-executive directorships and is parliamentary consultant to the Eagle Star Group, an insurance company, and Philips Communications Systems.

He said it was up to members of the House of Commons to change the rules if they wished.

'To a large extent developments reflect the mood of the House and things have been tightened up,' he said, pointing to the need to declare an interest on early day motions and parliamentary questions where the questioner has a direct involvement.

Sir Geoffrey said he understood those who maintained MPs should have no outside interests, but he believed this could only be done following a complete review of the role of MPs, their salaries and allowances. No outside interests would inevitably lead to higher salaries, he added.

'The control over MPs by constituency selection committees in these circumstances would be formidable,' he said.

(Photographs omitted)