MPs face tougher rules as Commons expels Conway

MPs are likely to be able to carry on employing members of their families at the taxpayers' expense in spite of the scandal over the disgraced Tory MP Derek Conway, who was expelled from the Commons for 10 days yesterday.

House of Commons rules are expected to be tightened to require MPs to declare payments on a public register if they employ spouses or children on their expenses, which many do. Spot checks could also be introduced, after Downing Street said the idea was "interesting".

However, sources for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the Tory leader, made it clear they would not support a move to ban MPs from employing members of their families.

Mr Conway, who announced he was quitting Parliament at the next election, was suspended yesterday for "misusing" parliamentary funds by employing his sons, Henry and Freddie, for £32,000 and £45,163 as research assistants without any evidence that they did any work.

It also emerged he had paid an intimate friend of Henry Conway, Michel Pratte, as a researcher but had only paid his full-time secretary £15,300 a year for working in his constituency office in Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Mr Conway was accused by the former Labour minister Frank Field of "embezzlement" but the police are unlikely to mount a criminal investigation.

But Scotland Yard confirmed that it has received a letter asking for an inquiry into whether fraud had been committed from Duncan Borrowman, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mr Conway's seat.

Walking out of his mansion flat in central London, Mr Conway tried to play down the affair, emphasising that Mr Pratte was not a relative and saying of his sons : "Young people will be young people ... They have a right to a social life."

Last night the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke said of Mr Conway: "In any other walk of life he would be sacked."

Speaking on BBC1's Question Time, Mr Clarke added that "public feeling is very, very strong and should not be underestimated". Referring to allegations of "sleaze" across both main political parties, Mr Clarke called for state funding for political parties.

Sir George Young, the Conservative chairman of the standards committee, told the Commons that the allegations around MPs' expenses were damaging the reputation of Parliament.

"This is money our constituents have paid for through their taxes. It is important MPs can demonstrate robustly if challenged, that their use of allowances is above reproach," Sir George said.

The Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, is refusing to publish the full details of MPs who employ their relatives.

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