Nolan prepares warning on abuse of consultancies

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MPs will be warned to curb payments as general professional lobbyists in the report by the Nolan committee on standards in public life.

The committee, which met yesterday to draft its final recommendations to the Prime Minister, will hold back from calling for MPs to end their private consultancies, directorships and other earnings outside the Commons.

But sources close to the committee said last night: "There will be quite a lot said about the question of payments to MPs." The committee will recommend that MPs limit their lobbying to particular interests to avoid being accused of tabling questions for cash.

MPs who break the rules could be subject to a new independent scrutiny, like the Audit Commission, to investigate breaches and advise the members' interests committee of the House.

The Nolan committee has defied objections by the Government to imposing independent checks on former ministers taking up posts in the private sector when they leave office. The Government told the committee the Cabinet Office rules of procedure for ministers were a sufficient safeguard against abuses. But the public concern over former ministers who have found lucrative careers in the private sector after leaving office convinced the Nolan committee that an independent check was needed.

Oversight of former ministers is likely to be given to Lord Carlisle, the former education secretary, who chairs the business appointments committee which vets civil servants who take up private posts.

Former ministers may be threatened with a "cooling off" period before being allowed to take up posts. In practice, it is likely to be rare for the Carlisle committee to recommend that former ministers serve the quarantine period before taking jobs in the private sector.

The report to be delivered to the Prime Minister next month may disappoint critics who prompted John Major to appoint the committee to answer continued allegations about Tory "sleaze".

Jack Straw, Shadow Home Secretary, said former ministers were using inside information to gain employment in the private sector but insider trading had long been illegal in the City. He said ex-ministers should be subjected to "a lengthy quarantine period" before transferring to firms with whom they had dealings while in office.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday parted company from his party's evidence to the Nolan committee by expressing the private view that MPs should have no outside remunerated interests.

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