Conway to quit as MPs face ban on employing family

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Indy Politics

MPs are under pressure to accept a ban on employing their wives and children because of the scandal that has ended the political career of the senior Tory Derek Conway.

As Mr Conway announced yesterday that he would step down as an MP at the next general election, there was growing support for Parliament to adopt the approach taken in the US, where members of Congress are not allowed to employ relatives. In Britain, more than 40 MPs list relatives among their Commons staff, although not all are paid and some merely have security passes.

Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: "This case is undoubtedly a very serious breach of parliamentary rules and further undermines public trust in our politicians. I understand why there are calls for rules to ban MPs employing members of their families, and, indeed, there are international precedents for doing this, and it could be the right thing to do."

Sir Christopher said such a ban could seem a "rather harsh answer to the problem" and an alternative approach would be to insist on greater transparency.

He said his committee may launch an inquiry into MPs' expenses. But he wanted to see what action Parliament took. "I know many MPs will share the view that the actions of a few can bring all of them into disrepute," he said.

Many MPs accept the rules on their expenses will have to be tightened after the affair in which Mr Conway was accused of overpaying his two sons, whom he employed as part-time researchers while they were university students.

There is a widespread recognition among MPs that they will have to disclose more details of their expense claims, which averaged £135,000 last year.

The Liberal Democrats are considering calling for a ban on employing relatives. David Cameron supports greater transparency but is not yet persuaded such a ban is necessary.

Several MPs argued that employing their wives had kept their marriages together and opposed a ban. One cabinet minister said: "The time has come when we will have to declare everything we pay our spouses. But I don't believe we should be stopped from employing them." Mr Conway, 54, who was deprived of the Tory whip by Mr Cameron, said: "I do not wish my personal circumstances to be a distraction in any way from the real issues to be addressed."

Mr Conway was found to have "misused" parliamentary funds by paying an annual salary of £11,773, plus bonuses totalling more than £10,000, to his younger son Freddie while he was a full-time student in Newcastle.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee found the arrangement was "at the least, an improper use of parliamentary allowances: at worst, it was a serious diversion of public funds". Mr Conway will be suspended from the Commons for 10 days and required to repay up to £13,161 of the money.