Conway to keep coveted role... and £13,000-a-year bonus

By Ben Russell,Political Correspondent
Thursday 14 February 2008 01:00

The disgraced Conservative MP Derek Conway will keep his place among a group of MPs paid a £13,000-a-year bonus for chairing parliamentary proceedings. Mr Conway's political career was apparently in ruins after he was suspended from the Commons after being criticised for employing his son as a researcher.

But he has retained a prestigious and lucrative position as a member of the "chairmen's panel" appointed by the Speaker Michael Martin to oversee detailed debates on Bills.

Members get £13,107 on top of their £61,000 MP's salary to reflect their extra status and workload chairing standing committees.

Yesterday MPs questioned why the former government whip had kept the coveted job despite being stripped of the Tory whip, suspended from the Commons and forced to announce that he will stand down at the next election.

Membership of the panel is regarded as a high honour reserved for respected members of the Parliamentary establishment. MPs selected by the Speaker carry out the vital task of keeping order in standing committees which conduct line-by-line debates on Bills.

A Commons spokeswoman confirmed that Mr Conway was still a member. He is now listed on the parliamentary website as an "independent conservative" after David Cameron withdrew the whip last month.

He is joint chairman of the Commons committee that scrutinised the Health and Social Care Bill, due to have its report stage in the Commons next week.

But Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "I find it very surprising he is still in that position and nobody has seen fit to question it."

Alan Simpson, the Labour MP for Nottingham South, said: "Being part of the Speaker's panel embodies a degree of trust and respect about being an upholder of the rules and standards that Parliament sets for itself. The difficulty about Derek Conway's position is that it seems a flagrant breach of the rules."

Mr Conway, who was once regarded as a future contender for the job of Speaker, was given a place on the chairmen's panel in 2001. Its members are eligible for £13,107 extra salary after five years' service – a pay rise authorised in 2005 when MPs voted to give a similar bonus to select committee chairmen.

The extra payments to committee chairmen are highly controversial, with some MPs saying they have created two tiers of MP.

Mr Conway is currently serving a 10-day suspension from the Commons after MPs voted to order him to return £13,161 paid to his son Freddie.

The Old Bexley and Sidcup MP was censured for paying his son as a researcher while he was still a full-time student.

The affair has led to a full-scale review of MPs' allowances and the way they employ staff.

A committee of senior MPs chaired by the Speaker will report by the autumn. Options for reform include making the parliamentary authorities responsible for employing staff or giving MPs a salary increase in return for axing some allowances.

The major parties have been attempting to open up scrutiny of MPs' spending. Last week David Cameron said all Tory frontbenchers would have to publish details of the relatives they employ and a breakdown of office and other expenses.

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