A new code of conduct for MPs, published yesterday, was amended at the last minute after revelations in the Independent that four MPs enjoyed an all-expenses- paid trip to a luxury Mediterranean resort as guests of Air Malta this month.
The code tightens up the definition of ethical standards expected of MPs and sets out guidelines to how the new rules should be interpreted, following the vote last year by the Commons to enact the findings of Lord Nolan's inquiry.
The main changes brought in were the ban on paid advocacy, following the "cash for questions" scandals, and the disclosure of outside earnings related to membership of Parliament.
The code contains six pages of guidance on the advocacy rule, which includes a paragraph about foreign visits inserted by MPs on the select committee on standards and privileges after the Independent's report.
The four MPs who spent the weekend in Malta, to mark Air Malta's 10- millionth passenger, were Lady Olga Maitland (C, Sutton and Cheam), Simon Coombs (C, Swindon), Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Manchester Gorton and former shadow foreign secretary) and Barry Sheerman (Lab, Huddersfield).
The guide published with the code says: "Members are reminded that when accepting foreign visits they should be mindful of the reputation of the House." It adds:"The knowledge obtained by Members on such visits can often be of value to the House as a whole."
But the code also goes on: "There is a point at which promoting the interests, of [for example] a foreign government from which hospitality has been received, crosses the line between informed comment and advocacy."
The code also sets out the seven principles of conduct MPs are expected to observe: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
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