MPs rebuked for flouting rule on Lloyd's: Former prime minister among group of Names criticised for failing to disclose syndicate numbers. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
ELEVEN Tory MPs were rebuked by a House of Commons committee yesterday for failing to declare details of their involvement in Lloyd's insurance syndicates, but the committee went on to recommend that the rule they flouted be abolished.

The apparently mild punishment drew swift condemnation from the Labour MP, Peter Hain, a long-standing critic of the underwriters' methods of operation, who called for the suspension from the House of the 11, including the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath.

The all-party Select Committee on Members' Interests said the MPs' failure to comply with a Commons-agreed rule that MPs who are Lloyd's Names disclose syndicate numbers 'sets a bad precedent and is to be deprecated'.

Disclosure of MPs' financial interests in the Register of Members' Interests is taken seriously and the committee yesterday recommended the rules be beefed up by requiring MPs to disclose the categories of insurance business they underwrite. But it also said problems surrounding the duty to register syndicate numbers had led them to conclude it should be revised.

Three Labour MPs who opposed parts of the report - Piara Khabra, Terry Lewis and Bill Michie - were outvoted by the Tories, led by Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith.

The 11 are David Ashby, Sir Richard Body, Winston Churchill, Michael Colvin, Ralph Howell, Roger Knapman, Anthony Steen, David Tredinnick, Sir Gerard Vaughan, Sir Jerry Wiggin and Sir Edward Heath.

Mr Hain, MP for Neath, said: 'The House should suspend the MPs who have openly defied its rules . . . They have been asked at least three times to conform to the rules. While a number of government ministers have conformed, these backbenchers continue to flout the will of the Commons.'

Mr Hain added: 'In recommending that the rule requiring disclosure of syndicate membership be rescinded, the committee has caved in to backstairs manoeuvres by Lloyd's and Tory MPs.'

Mr Hain claimed the result would be to cover up information available to insiders through the Lloyd's Blue Book but denied even to the House of Commons Library. 'Why should constituents and Parliament be denied such information?'

But, apart from technical difficulties identified by the committee, the report said that a combination of information from the Register with information from Lloyd's about syndicate performance would have enabled financial results of individual MPs to be derived in a way that went beyond the agreed purpose of the Register.

The change may not have an easy passage when it comes to be approved by MPs.

Mr Michie said: 'I am very disappointed . . . They (the 11 MPs) should have been brought to the House and made to apologise at the Bar.'