Secrecy leads to MP staffing scandal

The finding that Derek Conway MP misused his staff allowance for years is the inevitable result of a decision taken in 2006 by Speaker Michael Martin to ban all disclosure of the names and salaries of MPs’ staff.

Way back in January 2005 I filed a freedom of information request seeking a full breakdown of the names and salaries of all MPs’ staff. Initially, the Commons refused the request by claiming it did not hold the information. The Information Commissioner found that in fact it did. Commons officials then claimed that publishing the names of staff would be an invasion of staff privacy and breach their ‘health and safety’.

The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas ruled that publishing the names of MPs staff did
not violate the privacy of MPs. However, he was powerless to order disclosure after the Speaker of the House issued a certificate in May 2006 claiming publication was ‘prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.’

Now the taxpayer will be forced to pay for yet another sleaze inquiry or police investigation into politicians’ misuse of public funds when all this could have been avoided simply by providing full disclosure of MPs’ expenses when I asked three years ago. Local constituents are best placed to monitor their MPs’ performance. They are the ones who will know if those claiming to be staff are actually doing any work. Surely, it is to their constituents that MPs must be accountable?

If the House of Commons had not banned disclosure of staff names and salaries in 2006 then the current scandal would have been stopped in its tracks: saving thousands of pounds of public money. Instead, MPs continue enjoy a carte blanche system in which the only people they have to account to are faceless Whitehall bureaucrats. If MPs are to have any credibility with the public they must disclose a full breakdown of ALL their expenses.

7 Responses to “Secrecy leads to MP staffing scandal”

  1. Edward Whitley says:

    Having known Derek Conway since his days as an MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, I am not in the least surprised that his career should have ended in this disaster. Not only has he let himself and his family down, but the whole of the Conservative party. Gordon Brown must be absolutely delighted that Conway’s gross abuse of taxpayer’s money for personal gain is perceived as being so much worse than Peter Hain’s, Harriet Harman’s and Wendy Alexander’s acceptance of private donations for their deputy-leadership campaigns.

    The matter should now be investigated by the police and, if insufficient evidence of parliamentary work done by Conway’s wife and sons can be produced, court proceedings should be instituted.

  2. Congratulations on leading the field on the Conway issue: you rightly deserved the acknowledgement Sam Coates’s the Red Box, the Times blog-spot, extended you.

    So, with the hounds of the journo hell sniffing at last, we might get greater “transparency”. Or as much of it as them as is above us allow.

    That still leaves us with a number of outstanding problems.

    First example, why did it take the Privileges Committee all these months to pronounce on what was an open-and-shut case?

    Second, even if the corruption of paying for not doing a job is stopped, will it also be the case that not paying for other jobs is also stopped? Why are MPs one of the few “employers” who can avoid minimum wage regulation by having swarms of unpaid “interns”? Even the w4mp.org, in pressing “ethical internships” seems uncomfortable with the arrangement.

    Third, even if the stuffing of wallets of spouses and sprogs is throttled off, what scrutiny can there be for the well-established tradition of MPs pushing public moolah at their belles (and beaux) de jour?

    And, fourth, what about the other perks and privileges? Conway seems to have claimed the equivalent of a thousand round trips a year between Westminster and his constituency. He was also pulling the second home allowance (to avoid a 12-mile commute? in a car at 40p a mile or whatever?) Then there’s the £10K a year for running an MP’s web-site (and some of the efforts are pathetic). And so on …

    [Heavy sigh] There’s still a lot of undergrowth still to be hacked down.

  3. Nick says:

    How many months is it since this case was referred to the Standards Committee on 15th January?

  4. Rob Jones says:

    Edward Whitley says “Conway’s gross abuse of taxpayer’s money for personal gain is perceived as being so much worse than Peter Hain’s, Harriet Harman’s and Wendy Alexander’s acceptance of private donations for their deputy-leadership campaigns.

    The matter should now be investigated by the police and, if insufficient evidence of parliamentary work done by Conway’s wife and sons can be produced, court proceedings should be instituted.”

    So much worse than Peter Hain’s?
    His actions could be construed as illegal,(hiding the source of money, through an “Incompetence” PPF Peter’s Personal Fund – deputy contest fund! No office, telephone number, or website?(according to the press, and before you reply I don’t believe everything I read, especially if written by a serving Politician)

    As a company director, if I was “Incompetent” with money HMRC would very quickly be on first name terms with me.
    We all know HMRC work on the principle of Guilty until proven innocent, PAY UP, then you may get it back) If the winning of the position of Deputy is “not for peronal gain” I don’t know what is.

    I don’t know all of the facts – but as a member of “Joe Public” I think it’s high time the word “Honourable” actually started to mean something to these people. It seems they ALL have something to hide, and when they are caught out, there is no genuine contrition, just attack/blame the opposite party, whatever its colour.
    I am heartily sick of hearing what the Honourable Gentlemen/Women have done next.

    Rob

  5. heather says:

    Thanks for the comments – it’s certainly been an exciting week with lots of TV news appearances. To answer a few of your questions.

    Nick – It’s my understanding that the case of Derek Conway MP was referred to the committee by a Lib-Dem in May 2007 – so it took about eight months to investigate.

    Malcolm – thanks and yes I’m pleased to be credited in some media for starting this whole bandwagon though to be fair I filed this request along with the BBC’s Michael Crick. He decided not to appeal his initial rejection as he knew I would be doing so, but he was right there investigating this story at the beginning.

    I’ve also asked for a detailed breakdown of all MPs additional costs allowance which deals with all costs associated with a second home and staying away from home. This is actually going to the Information Tribunal for a hearing Feb 7 and 8th. I’ll be blogging about this shortly.

  6. Nick says:

    It was referred to the Commissioner for Standards (not the Committee) in June. The Committee received his report in mid-January. In between, there were complaints about a dozen or so Members dealt with by the Commissioner, including rather more significant ones such as George Galloway and the Welsh Assembly electioneering cases, as well as the Parliamentary recess. It doesn’t seem realistic for him to push aside other cases to deal with this one, nor does it seem realistic to expect him to gather a great deal of information over the recess.

    So the timescale doesn’t seem excessive, frankly. Particularly if it gathers the information to demonstrate that this is an open and shut case, which presumably is why the COmmittee was able to deal with it so quickly.

  7. Nemesis says:

    Conway is a common criminal and should be dealt with accordingly.
    It is my money, and every other taxpayers, that he has been fraudulently snouting out of the Westminster Gravy Train Trough and spending on his family.
    If he had half a shred of integrity, he would resign as an MP and hand himself in to his local nick (if its still open!!!) or try some voluntary work helping some of the pensioners and disabled people he has robbed!

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