During the debate on MPs' expenses yesterday Derek Conway, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, made a noteworthy contribution. (He is listed as a Conservative in Hansard but is not on the Conservative Party website's list of MPs.)
He compared his own experience after being found to have paid his son for work that was not undertaken to that of the now Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Caroline Spelman. Mrs Spelman was recently cleared of deliberately breaching rules, but agreed to pay back expenses she had used to pay a nanny.
Mr Conway said:
"More than 200 close family members are employed by Members of Parliament. Many more employ lovers, who are not necessarily known to be related, and many more again employ in-laws because of the difference in their surnames. No doubt the total number of relatives employed by Members of the House is 250 rather than the lower estimate. Is that wrong? People will make their own judgments about my case, and they have done so. However, many Members of Parliament find it convenient to employ family members, not necessarily to supplement their income, because many MPs take a drop in salary when they come to this place—I halved my salary when I came back. Many Members employ family because of availability and reliability, and as many Members have experienced before me, family members are often employed for confidentiality and convenience. Is it just the money? I am not sure that that is the case, and it will be interesting to see how the Commission addresses the problems of central employment…
However, the standard of proof varies, and I say to the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee that if his reports are contrasted, they will show that there is a difference in the standards applied, not only by the current Committee but by previous Committees, to the Members before them. The House will recall the treatment that led to the loss of Elizabeth Filkin’s services, in relation to the case of the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), and more recently the comparison between the investigation into my family and that into the employment arrangements of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)…
One wonders whether Committees of the House, as we know from experience, bend over backwards to try to protect Front Benchers if they possibly can."
Both Sir Patrick Cormack and Bernard Jenkin intervened on points of order to claim that as Mr Conway had accepted the findings of the House it was a bit rich to revisit the issue again.