Sir: With more than 100 MPs threatening to stand down at the next general election if they are required to reveal their earnings from "consultancies", the Government is desperate for the public to accept a subtle redefinition of the term. There is, therefore, an urgent need for clarity.
At the least culpable end of the spectrum, there are MPs who are members of trade unions and professions, or who campaign for voluntary associations without payment or reward of any kind. This is where the Government would like the debate to reside.
But this only serves to obscure activities at the other end of this spectrum of culpability, where MPs exploit their privileged position to line their own pockets by selling their influence for cash. This includes not just the one-off cash payments for various services, such as putting down questions; but, more significantly, it includes the activities of PR firms, including some set up by backbench Conservative MPs, which have mushroomed over the past 15 years and now, more than any other factor, are progressively damaging Parliament's reputation and destroying its moral authority.
Setting aside the interests of their constituents, MPs sell their influence in Parliament to the highest bidder. Influence has shifted to those who can pay the large sums demanded: the tobacco and drinks industries, the multinational fast food companies, even the South African government as it desperately sought to stave off reform.
This is influence exerted not on the basis of principle, but pecuniary interest. We should not be deceived. If MPs were prosecution witnesses, we would not object to the defence bringing to the attention of the jury the fact that they are being paid for their story.
Caldas de Monchique,