MPs block move to give sleaze watchdog more power

Moves to give Westminster's sleaze watchdog greater powers to investigate politicians' private lives were blocked last night by MPs.

Tory Charles Walker, who led opposition to the plans, claimed it would lead to a focus on "the bedroom and the bottle".

The Commons agreed without a vote to amend a new Code of Conduct to prevent the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards looking into allegations which related purely to MPs' "private and personal lives".

The proposed set of rules stated: "The Code does not seek to regulate the conduct of Members in their purely private and personal lives or in the conduct of their wider public lives unless such conduct significantly damages the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole or of its Members generally."

But MPs agreed without a vote to the change proposed by Mr Walker (Broxbourne) and backed by senior colleagues including Tory 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady and former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, adding a line specifying that the standards commissioner "may not investigate a specific matter... which relates only to the conduct of a Member in their private and personal lives".

Mr Walker said: "Over the weekend I wracked my brain to try and imagine scenarios in Members' private lives that would trigger the interest of the commissioner. I'm afraid I could only come up with two things: the bedroom and the bottle, because as in common with most, these are the two weaknesses that seem most likely to compromise MPs in their private lives."

Without his amendment, Mr Walker said: "Every sexual peccadillo, domestic dispute or unguarded cross word will lead to tabloid calls for the commissioner to take action."

He added: "I am fully aware MPs can do bad and unethical things in their capacity as MPs and this is why these standards and the code of conduct are so important.

"But really, as importantly, I'm also aware that people can do silly and very stupid things regardless of who they are because none of us were born angels or saints. Therefore, I strongly believe that the House should confine itself to worrying about the matters directly pertaining to the job of being an elected representative and not those that relate to general human weakness or stupidity."

Kevin Barron, Labour Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, argued that the amendment should not be made to the code, but should be placed in the guidance to the document.

"We can revisit it in terms of guidance to the code to make sure that the House has some security that nobody who was doing the job of commissioner can go foraging into areas that would be unfair," he said.

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