'Moonlight' MP offered the sack

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Several weaknesses in the new rules on MPs' interests have been exposed by a flood of public reaction to the Private Member's Bill to put the clocks forward an hour and synchronise Britain with the rest of Europe.

Mail has been arriving "by the sack load" for John Butterfill, the Bournemouth West Tory who plans to introduce the measure, but he fears accepting extra secretarial support could land him in breach of the Nolan rules.

Appealing to the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, for guidance, Mr Butterfill said it was beyond the normal resources of his office to deal with the flood. Even so, he had deduced the letters were five-to-one in his favour.

About 130 organisations, including Age Concern, the Police Federation and the CBI, support the Daylight Extra campaign for the change to Central European Time. They, apparently, would be happy to provide the MP with assistance, but there is a snag. "If I were to accept that assistance there is a possibility . . . that I could then be seen as advocating a cause and caught by the Nolan rules," Mr Butterfill said, meaning he could not speak for his own Bill.

Pointing up the present woolly state of the anti-sleaze arrangements, the MP said he had been to see Sir Gordon Downey, the new Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards in Public Life, but he had been unable to advise him. Nor could Miss Boothroyd. She explained that the potential conflict was certain to be considered by the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges and it would be wrong of her to pre-empt it.

But the committee has yet to be appointed. And even if it is in being before Christmas, it will be weeks before it decides whether Mr Butterfill can have more help with his post.

Helpful as ever, Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said if the extra-daylight MP could not find time to answer his letters, "he should give up all those moonlighting jobs that he's got". In the Register of Members' Interests, Mr Butterfill lists three paid directorships, five consultancies and fees for radio and TV appearances, journalism and lectures.

With MPs embarked on a Bill to allow banks to compete with the Student Loans Company, the scheme and the hardship it causes came under fire from academics in the Lords. The historian Lord Beloff commended the Australian practice of repayment through taxes. "That scheme works. This scheme clearly causes hardship."

The neurologist Lord Walton of Detchant suggested a lump-sum payment when the ex- student could afford it, while Lord Annan, the former vice-chancellor of London University, urged ministers to meet the vice-chancellors' committee to discuss changes to the system.

But the education minister Lord Henley said it was not the right moment for drastic change.

Rejecting the Australian scheme, he said the tax and National Insurance system was not suitable for debt- collection. "It would impose extra and unnecessary burdens on employers and bring unnecessary complication."

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