Call for ban on MPs employing family

Review of expenses begins as Malik faces further inquiry into claims
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Indy Politics

MPs could be banned from employing relatives in their offices in moves to clean up Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal. Harriet Harman, the Leader of the Commons, yesterday accepted it would in future be "unsustainable" for politicians to give jobs to family members.

More than 200 MPs – almost one-third – employ wives, husbands, partners, sons, daughters and other close relatives at taxpayers' expense in their offices. Whether or not the practice should be outlawed is being examined by Sir Christopher Kelly, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, in a review of the expenses system set up by Gordon Brown.

Giving evidence to the first hearing of his inquiry, Ms Harman argued that spouses and relatives worked harder than other people would because they "lived the job" round the clock. But she added: "I think it is almost impossible to convince the public that actually there is fair employment opportunity. I think my own view is that it is just too difficult to sustain public confidence."

The first register of family members working for MPs was published in January. Last year Ms Harman suggested MPs should not be allowed to give jobs to their children, but now she has gone further. An aide last night said she was speaking in a personal capacity, rather than on behalf of the Government, and did not want relatives currently employed by MPs to lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, Shahid Malik, the Communities minister, faces a second investigation into his use of Commons allowances – just a week after he was reinstated in the Government after being cleared of breaching the Ministerial Code. John Lyon, the Parliamentary standards commissioner, announced yesterday that he had accepted a complaint about the Dewsbury MP's accommodation and office costs. It was submitted by an organisation campaigning for transparency in government.

Mr Malik stepped down from the Government last month amid allegations he risked a conflict of interest by renting a constituency home at a below-market rate. Sir Philip Mawer, Gordon Brown's adviser on the Ministerial Code, concluded there had been "no preferential rate", although criticised him for being unable to produce receipts or a rental agreement. But Mr Malik now faces separate allegations, which he strongly denies, that he claimed expenses simultaneously for offices both in his constituency and his London homes.

Labour's ruling NEC last night announced that it would bar Jim Devine, the MP for Livingston, from standing at the next election following an investigation into his expenses claims. He had faced allegations, strongly denied, that he had submitted a claim for rewiring his London flat based on a receipt bearing a bogus VAT number and had claimed for shelving work carried out by the landlord of his local pub.

The Tory MP Ian Taylor yesterday became the latest MP to announce his retirement at the next election since the expenses furore began.

Mr Taylor faced criticism in his Surrey constituency of Esher and Walton after it emerged he claimed more than £23,000 last year for a second home in London even though his main residence is in Guildford, within easy commuting distance of Westminster.

In his resignation letter, he said there were "several factors" behind his decision, including, "criticism of me recently for my failure to 'commute' rather than on the substance of whether I hold views and/or take actions on key matters on behalf of my constituents".