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.
Derek Conway MP: "With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement to the House. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has today issued its report on the complaint made against me for employing my son as a researcher and parliamentary assistant.
I will not delay the business of the House by going through the contents of that report, as it is publicly available. The Committee was entitled to reach the conclusions that it did and I have accepted its criticisms in full. I unreservedly apologise to the House for my administrative shortcomings and the misjudgments I made. In my submissions to the Committee and the commissioner, I set out my case and I leave it to hon. Members to form their own judgment of my conduct. I should like to make it clear that throughout the investigation the commissioner acted with absolute courtesy and the Committee afforded me every opportunity to explain my position.
In apologising to the House, I would also like to apologise to my constituents and to the Old Bexley and Sidcup Conservative association, which has been so very supportive to me and my family throughout a very difficult period. The House will comprehend the impact that this matter has on me personally and also on my family. I have let them down very badly indeed, and no judgment from any quarter could be more harsh than that which I apply to myself."
"There have been problems at the hospital, but they have been met, despite the hospital not having a financial level playing field for a number of years. We accept that there must be some changes. Nobody is sticking their head in the sand. What is confusing, however, is the number of fingers in the pie. NHS London seems to be wobbling all over the place. Who will count, Darzi or Alberti? Will the clinical boards take into account travel times? I am told that that is not part of their remit. The “A Picture of Health” consultation is being steamrollered through, so the number of hospitals will fall from four to two with no one sure what is intended. The care trust has got its finger in the pie, and the acute trusts are all over the shop. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Lord Warner pushes on through the swirling, confusing mess.
I have a warning for the Minister. We are glad that she is present, and we look forward to hearing what she says, but those who stand behind her who are creating this swirling mess need to know that closure of the hospital will be bitterly opposed."
More from Hansard here.
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