MPs' staff fuel `sleaze' row

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The Independent Online
Political lobbyists have been working for MPs as researchers, obtaining House of Commons passes while being paid by outside consultancies, it was revealed yesterday.

Twenty-two MP researchers are listed as carrying out paid work for lobbying or Parliamentary monitoring firms in a little known document called The Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants.

The disclosure, by the BBC1 programme On the Record, will add fuel to the debate over MPs' links with lobbying firms, which has come under the Nol-an Committee's scrutiny as part of its inquiry into standards in public life.

As well as those working for lobbying firms, another seven researchers declared that they had been paid for work as freelance lobbyists or consultants, and eight listed payments from company lobbying divisions.

Among those listed in the register is Oliver Colvile, former researcher and constituency agent for Dame Angela Rumbold, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. According to the document, he was paid by lobbying firm Decision Makers.

Dame Angela resigned as a Decision Makers director last October. The company had successfully lobbied for a Channel Tunnel rail link station at Ebbsfleet, Kent. The Labour Party claimed her role was crucial.

In evidence to the Nolan Committee last week, Dame Angela admitted being paid up to £12,000 a year by Decision Makers for "general strategic advice", but denied lobbying ministers on behalf of the firm or its clients. She made no mention of Mr Colvile, now a Decision Makers director. Dame Angela was not available for comment yesterday.

Jeff Rooker, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, said: "If you are being paid by an organisation involved in lobbying, you should not have access to the Palace of Westminster."

But Dame Peggy Fenner, a Conservative member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, said as many MP researchers work part-time, there is no reason why they should not have outside financial interests.

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