Complaint over MPs' union sponsorship will test Nolan rules

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Indy Politics
A Tory MP complained last night to Sir Gordon Downey, the newly appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, after trade-union-sponsored Labour MPs put down a Commons amendment deploring the diminution of trade- union rights.

In the first test of the relationship between new rules banning MPs from undertaking paid "advocacy" and union sponsorship, Michael Fabricant, MP for Mid Staffordshire, highlighted at least nine sponsored MPs of the 15, mainly left-wingers, signing the amendment to the motion on the Queen's Speech.

While the MPs are expected to contest strongly any suggestion that the rules have been broken, the development - and some of the content of the amendment - will cause embarrassment to Tony Blair, the Labour leader, in the wake of the crushing 51-vote defeat of the Government on the issue of disclosure of parliament-related outside earnings.

The MPs are John Austin-Walker (Manufacturing, Science and Finance), Alice Mahon (Nupe), Dennis Skinner (National Union of Mine-workers), Jeremy Corbyn (Unison), Dennis Canavan (Unison), Roger Berry (MSF), Andrew Mackinlay (TGWU), Ronnie Campbell (NUM) and Harry Cohen (Unison).

Under the rules ratified by MPs last week in response to the recommendations of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life, MPs are barred from advocating any cause or matter on behalf of outside bodies in return for direct or indirect payment or benefit.

Mr Fabricant said last night that he had written to Sir Gordon asking whether it was in order for the MPs to table the amendment in the first place, and whether they had broken the rules be failing to declare their interests by putting an "R" against their names.

Labour is expected to argue, however, that the rules were not intended to cover broad-brush motions or amendments on general issues and that the MPs were not acting "on behalf of" their sponsoring unions.

The amendment also deplores racism, the supremacy of market forces and starving industry of investment - while calling for "socialist" policies.

The cross-party Select Committee on Standards in Public Life, which recommended the ban in advance of last week's vote, also made clear in its report that "we are concerned to ensure that no limitation on members' freedom of action which we recommend interferes with their ability to inform themselves on matters of public concern, or with the performance of their paramount duty to represent the interests of their constituents and those of the public generally".