Controversy over MP’s spending of Parliamentary funds has blighted the political arena so far this year. Derek Conway, Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup (pictured) was first to dominate the headlines through his employment of his son as a ‘researcher’. Conway’s son Freddie was paid over £1000 a month from Parliamentary allowances to work 17 hours a week. Although there are no rules against employing family members, the Standards and Privileges Committee found that there was ‘no record’ of what Freddie actually done, and ‘no record of what he was supposed to do’ to earn his full-time comparable £25,970.
Let’s put that into perspective. The ‘development wage’ is the term given to the pay bracket of the age group 18-21 and stands at £4.60 an hour. Considering Freddie Conway was a full-time undergraduate at Newcastle University – that would in most circumstances, given the age of the average university student put him within this particular bracket. To earn £25,970 a year on £4.60 per hour, Freddie would need to work a total of 5,645 hours a year. That works out at approximately 108 hours per week. Obviously the hourly pay that Freddie received for ‘stuffing envelopes’, as his father described the job, was much higher than the average rate.
The investigation into Freddie’s employment has ruled that his father must return £13,000 of the money paid to the student. Derek Conway has also announced that he will step down at the next election as a result of his ‘misjudgements’ in relation to this matter.
Following this unwanted attention on allowances, Commons Speaker Michael Martin has announced that there will be a review of MP’s expenses this year, much earlier than expected. To be completed by July, the review will look at ‘radical options’ and the creation of a system that will gain back public respect. Current rules give MPs the right to put forward their expense claims that are under £250 without a receipt, to prove that they made the purchase. The Commons Members Estimate Committee says that this will be reduced to £50.
Martin is no stranger to controversy himself. Mike Granett, spokesman for Martin, resigned recently over the use of taxis by Martin’s wife that were paid for by Martin’s allowance. Granett claimed that he had been led to believe that Mary Martin was accompanied on the taxi journeys ‘in connection with household expenditure that supports the Speaker’s duties’ by a parliamentary official. In fact she was accompanied by her housekeeper on the trips that were found to serve nothing more than ‘informal’ functions.
As well as being the Speaker of the Commons, Martin is the leader of the Commons Members Estimate Committee who will be investigating the use of MPs’ allowances. He has stated that he will not step down from the position.
What was it they said about lack of public respect?
The apparent misuse of parliamentary cash illustrates the disturbing lack of respect some Members of Parliament have towards public funds. Although there are no rules governing the employment of family members – ex-Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan Smith employed his wife, the former Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett’s husband is also employed as her Office Manager – it is obvious that there needs to be greater regulation in the area if MPs want to win back public trust.
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This post was written by Chris Bath