Senior MPs pledge tough new rules for expenses

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Senior MPs have promised sweeping changes to their system of expenses following the Metropolitan Police's decision not to investigate the Conservative MP who paid his son for work he did not carry out.

Pressure for reform grew after Scotland Yard said the lack of proper rules for Commons expenses would severely undermine the pros-pect of Derek Conway being prosecuted. He was suspended from the Commons for 10 days and lost the Tory whip for paying his youngest son as a researcher while he was at Newcastle University.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said yesterday that the police's statement "shows more than ever that the system of MPs' expenses needs urgent reform". He added: "There is the much wider problem that people simply don't trust the political system any more. Citizens need much more say in how their system is run if we are to regain their trust. People care, they just don't care about politicians."

Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat member of the Commons Estimates Committee chaired by the Speaker which is reviewing MPs' expenses, said: "We are getting the message, and this [review] is going to be very fundamental ... We understand the urgency." He admitted that the current system was "outdated and not really up to the case".

He was not surprised by Scotland Yard's decision since the committee decided not to refer the Conway case to the police after receiving legal advice that an investigation would be unlikely. Mr Harvey said the review would ensure that more information about MPs' expenses was put in the public domain and the introduction of more "checks and balances".

One option would be to switch from the current "small business" model, in which MPs employ their staff, to a "big business" one in which the staff were employed by the Commons.

Sir George Young, the Tory chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee said: "The House of Commons is responding. I quite understand the public concern following the Conway case. We have got to get our house in order."

Mr Conway is standing down at the next general election and Sir George said: "Derek Conway's political career has, in effect, been brought to an end, so it isn't the case that Derek Conway has escaped any punishment at all."

He said steps were under way to require MPs to declare any family member they employ. "This is the first of many steps which the House is taking to try to repair the damage that has been done to the reputation of the House of Commons."

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