Keeping it in the family

  • Nick
  • 29 Jan 08, 09:27 AM

First an MP is found guilty of paying £50,000 to his "all but invisible" son in what was, at worst, "a serious diversion of public funds."
Then it emerges that he paid his other son and his wife too. So why is Derek Conway not in more trouble? There are many small procedural answers and one very big political reason.
Derek Conway
• It is not against the rules for MPs to employ members of their families. Indeed, many MPs defend the employment of their wives (it is, almost always wives) as secretaries on grounds of practicality and keeping marriages together when an MP’s job involves odd hours and travelling between constituencies and Westminster.

• The penalty Conway faces - repayment of up to £13,000 and possible suspension for 10 days - is severe compared with those normally handed out by the Commons.

• There has been no investigation yet into the employment - or lack of it - of his second son.

Now comes the political reason:

• Conway is a popular Tory MP who looked set to be his party's Chief Whip if David Davis had become Conservative leader. He was even talked of as a possible Speaker. Although David Cameron might be tempted to make an example of him he would be taking on a powerful coalition consisting of those who never wanted him to be leader plus the parliamentary old guard who regard questions about their allowances as challenging the assumption that all MPs are "honourable members" until proven otherwise (listen to Roger Gale MP's interview on Today this morning).

This, of course, is precisely why Labour's John Mann MP - who has turned into a professional complainer has called on Cameron to act.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:03 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Albert wrote:

The fact remains that Mr. Conway had broken the rules, and contrary to Labour's donations, this is dosh for his own family from our taxes!
Maybe Mr.Conway could not afford to pay for his children's Uni! aahh, poor chap!

  • 2.
  • At 10:15 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Matthew Cunliffe wrote:

I'm sure that if I employed my wife on a similar scale and that she did little or no work for the remuneration, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs would come down on me like a ton of bricks, force me to pay the extra tax, fine me, and possibly initiate criminal proceedings.

Yet MPs seem to be able to take lavish expenses without producing receipts, have beneficial pensions that most civil servants (or private sector workers) never see, set their own large increases in pay, but only get a rap across the knuckles for breaking the law.

Yet another example of one law for Parliament and another for the citizens. I'm pleased to see Mr Conway has been caught out, but his punishment does not compare to what would happen had he not been an MP.

  • 3.
  • At 10:31 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Ryan wrote:

The sheer hypocrisy of the Conservative party is unbelievable. They taunt Labour about not being open about donations from private individuals whilst the shadow chancellor does the same thing himself. Now another senior MP is caught red handed, stealing tax payers money to hand down to sons and wives.

When will Cameron stop dithering and sack this oaf - if he doesn't he will be left with no credibility at all.

  • 4.
  • At 10:32 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Chris Wills wrote:

Or could the answer to your question lie in the fact that many more MPs on all sides would not welcome in-depth analysis of where their 'expenses' get spent....?

  • 5.
  • At 10:35 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • chris wrote:

If this man was an "honourable member" he would resign

  • 6.
  • At 10:40 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Peter Ball wrote:

This is a big threat to the Coservative Party and Nick says that Cameron's position is too weak to do anything about it. What is wrong here is the way taxpayers money has been used and is in a different league to the accounting difficulties of private donors to the three main parties. If Cameron is this weak on such an obvious case how can he manage difficult policy issues within the party.

  • 7.
  • At 10:43 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Peter Parker wrote:

If this is an offence under parliamentary standards I expect that the vast majority of his colleagues in the house on both sides are checking they have time sheets and if not miraculously creating them or finding them under the sofa!

  • 8.
  • At 10:45 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • bill edmunds wrote:

Could somebody please find out how muh time Derek Conway devotes to his job of representing his constituents. M.P's are paid to represent their constituents and to attend debates in the Commons. It seems that the expenses system allows an M.P. to hire administrators to do the constituency work and it seems that M.P's such as Boris Johnson and Oliver Letwin have other jobs monopolising their time. It would be nice if constituents could see what their M.P's were doing for 80K per annum.

  • 9.
  • At 10:48 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • David wrote:

A very obvious, deliberate and thoroughly dishonourable mis-use of taxpayer's money. Cameron should sack him.

  • 10.
  • At 10:50 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Barry Lowry wrote:

You miss the point, Nick, in trying to cheer up the conservatives with calling John Mann a professional complainer. Westminster, through the media’s constant need for dirt, has descended into a tit for tat “your sleaze is bigger than our sleaze” school boy fight. I would think most people in this country will think the tag ‘honorable’ as attached to MP’s is at best pertinent to a few and at worst wholly inaccurate and anachronistic. The tag Dodgy is now more akin to MP’s rather than the odd dossier.
Perhaps the next step should be all MP’s should be given courtesy yellow Reliant Robins. The ones being made fools of is not the MP’s but all of us.

  • 11.
  • At 10:53 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Kenneth Dowland wrote:

I heard Roger Gale this morning on Today. His argument was an example of the detachment from reality that some of the long term "comfortable" members of parliament seem to suffer from. Mr Gale attacked the BBC, the media and everyone else who dared to question the circumstances of the case.
He harped on about "innocent until proved guilty" despite the fact of yesterday's admission of wrongdoing by Conway. "I know Derek and if he said his son worked for him, well he did!" fumed Mr Gale, two or three times.
Well, that's alright then, let's immediately rid ourselves of the inconvenient court systems and enquiry panels we have in this country and just damn well take a chap's word for it.

  • 12.
  • At 10:53 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • David H Grant wrote:

I find that to allow such obvious abuses of privilege to go unchallenged for so long is a reflection of "professional sleaze" that has been employed for many years. Too often those individuals receiving quite significant income above the average wage AND having the benefit of additional "income boosts" just seem to be thumbing their noses at other workers who have no opportunity of increasing their incomes. After nearly four decades of seeing medical professionals claiming "secretarial tax benefits" for their spouses taking a phone at home to say "Dr is not in please ring this number" takes the biscuit.

If a PAYE worker fails to disclose a small "benefit in kind" then the wrath of the whole HMRC body seems to be mobilised and the individual is a marked person from that moment on for an amount probably less than £100.

  • 13.
  • At 10:57 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Harris Keillar wrote:

Were Conway a benefits cheat, he could be imprisoned. Labour MPs are being branded as irresponsible and hounded out of office for accepting monies that did not benefit them. Conway deliberately siphoned off public funds for his family's direct benefit. He should have to repay every penny. Possibly this 'incident' will shine a much needed spotlight into MPs perks, such as not having to account for expenses if less than £250.

  • 14.
  • At 11:00 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • John Constable wrote:

We, the English public, are tempted to just think .. well, there they go, all of them .. snouts in the trough again.

Not bad for a part-time job.

One day, the English public must start electing more independents because it is the only way this sort of behaviour is ever going to be lessened.

  • 15.
  • At 11:07 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

Reading up on the recent poll in the Independent it's interesting to see the Tory mindset behind the headlines. It's very rigid and clingy. If the Tory party leap to Conway's defence it will just add weight to the view they're not fit to govern. In any case, people like Conway and the membership will expire in their own time so I'm not really worried either way - but they should be.

Given the Tories views about efficiency savings and workfare, it's interesting that they celebrate someone who stands for ghost labour and featherbedding. The more Conway and the Tory party defend either position the more rigid and nasty they look, just like all the other people of that ilk hiding in local authorities, housing associations, and other vested interests.

If David Cameron et al want to be taken seriously they have to take a position and be held accountable. Talk is cheap when you have the luxury of status and escape routes to The City. What matters is whether you can take the pain, and I'm not sure the double-barrelled jowls and expense account waistlines of the Tories can. Unlike many of their victims, I might add.

The Tories: Soft on graft. Soft on the causes of graft.

  • 16.
  • At 11:09 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • John Paul wrote:

There is absolutely nothing wrong in employing members of your family in your business. How much you want to pay them and what hours they do is nothing to do with anyone else. I can't see what he has done wrong. Tony Blair is getting millions from banks (also our money) for doing more or less nothing.
If this chap is legally allowed to pay his son for doing more or less nothing then good luck to him. Rather than penalising him the rules should be changed so that TIME SHEETS can be itemised. The rest of the posts on this appear to be people who hate the self employed.

  • 17.
  • At 11:13 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Phil Adams wrote:

I'm a hard working 55 year old who has put my 3 boys through university - £45k would have helped ALL of them get through with a lot less stress to all of us – they worked every darn weekend and most evenings; I worried about where the money was coming from.

He’s not my MP (thank goodness), but I do not comprehend how anyone with any morals or self awareness could possibly stay in a public position after such a misuse of our taxes.

The man should resign from office.

  • 18.
  • At 11:15 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Clive Milnthorpe wrote:

Both Labour and Conservative politicians are as bad as each other. How much more financial misconduct will be 'exposed' in the coming months? It is turning into a huge political bunfight over who is most (dis)honest, and we will all be heartily sick of hearing about it in a few weeks time.

  • 19.
  • At 11:21 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Jon wrote:

This situation is appalling, the cosy environment where politicians are accountable to one another needs to be ended.

If any other public servant (Police, Civil Servant) had acted in a similar way they would face dismissal and probably prosecution.

Derek Conway's actions appear to at best incompetent and at worst corrupt. I wish the police investigation every success.

  • 20.
  • At 11:21 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Noel wrote:

Nick, surprised this scandal's not made you apoplectic? Instead you give us information, well laid out in bullet points, but alas already well known to those who care about politics in first place. Some of us have still not forgotten how appalling the Tory party was.

  • 21.
  • At 11:27 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen Morris wrote:

This whole thing makes David Cameron look very bad indeed. It stinks. This MP has been caught 'bang to rights', and if the party leader stands about doing nothing but wringing his hands, the obvious conclusion the electorate will draw is that, like a fish, it 'rots from the head down'. How much lower can the reputation of the politicians in this country fall?!

  • 22.
  • At 11:31 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Pig Man Pig wrote:

Oink! Oink!
This sort of ties in with your 'Meaningless Words' blog, Nick: Honourable Members!
Pass the swill!

  • 23.
  • At 11:31 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Mark Benson wrote:

No wonder MP's can avoid to consider 'getting by' without a rise on their already substantial pay packets. Only last week the BBC were informing us that most of the MP's expenses went on salaries. One assumed at the time that this meant for bona-fide work. Clearly the expenses system is a complete fraud, exploited to allow themselves to siphon off far more money for their personal gain. The only difference between these sort of politicians and the Marcos' is that their wives don't need quite so many shoes.

As with 'expenses' so with pensions. Can it be called representation of the people, by the people when there is one rule for them and another for the rest of us?

  • 24.
  • At 11:33 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Concerned taxpayer wrote:

The sooner it's made illegal for Mps to employ sons, daughters or close family members, the better.

Furthermore, all MPs'expenses should be detailed and made public. This isn't difficult to do, as they know what their allowances are at the start of the financial year. All salary payments and other expenses are logged. After all, this is taxpayers money and we have a right to know where it is being spent.

  • 25.
  • At 11:34 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

Not only was Mr Conway previously responsible as Chief Whip for disciplinary and compliance rules in his party, he was also for several years when he lost his previous seat the Chief Executive of a major Charity (Cats Protection). If any charity trustee or member of staff or indeed any civil servant had even attempted such nepotism and sleight of hand from public funds they would face disciplinary action and probably loss of their job.

Mr Conway has no excuse: not only did he know the rules he applied them to others. Saying 'sorry', paying back and possibly being suspended for 10 days is hardly a suitable sanction for a trusted Right Honourable Gentleman who has acted in such a deceitful and arrogant manner.

  • 26.
  • At 11:38 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

The main reason is that so many people do it. There are many ways to get hold of the office costs allowance. One, for example, is to employ your partner for the exact amount of the allowance. That way all of it is paid into your family bank account and then you can pay real staff from that (often in cash) and keep the difference.
Another great favourite is to only employ people October to July. Part time, cash in hand and none of those nasty holidays that full time employees want. Another I have seen is to insist people work for free for 6 months if they want the job. And then get rid of them. I also remember one MP employing children and mum all at the same time.
Hence the real reason for the crashing silence.

  • 27.
  • At 11:38 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

This story makes me want to weep. There are always bad apples but I am shocked at the muted Tory response. How can I vote for Boris as a new broom for London if I think he supports a party which retains the likes of Mr Conway?

  • 28.
  • At 11:40 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Colin wrote:

This whole episode has a sense of deja vu about it - we have been here before. It simply serves to underline that the current system should be replaced by a regime in which all such expenses and allowances are abolished.

MPs should be well remunerated; and they should also be well-resourced, in my view. The House of Commons should provide office space, staff and equipment as required, which should be paid for centrally and directly to the employees (researchers, secretaries etc). Staff would berecruited and employed by the House of Commons, not by MPs individually. At a stroke, this separation of office staff pay from MPs' 'expenses' would remove the temptation to 'employ' wives, girlfriens, children etc which always has a haze of sleaze hanging over it, as exemplified by the hapless Conway example (let's not forget that the whole Conway family seemed to be on the payroll).

Additionally, expenses actually incurred, such as travel, should be reimbursed in exactly the same way that a company employee incurring expenses in the course of their employment gets reimbursed - and has to account for it to HMRC annually.

None of this seems difficult or disadvantageous: in fact, the increase in transparency would surely benefit MPs of all stripes. So why doesn't someone take the initiative and get it done?

  • 29.
  • At 11:40 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • JC wrote:

The man should be prosecuted and brought before the courts - no mercy should be shown.

It's about time that MPs are forbidden to employ family members and their whole expenses regime brought under the control of an independent auditing body.

They can complain all they like but they've proven themselves unworthy of trust - if they don't like it they can always leave and get one of these jobs that they claim they're missing out on. That might be a good way to reduce the number of snouts to three or four hundred instead of us maintaining the current herd.

  • 30.
  • At 11:41 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • jim brant wrote:

Where are all the usual posts from Conservative Central Office this morning??

I left the Conservative Party because they are all up to things which a naive person sees as just wrong.

They've always got a good reason to keep things as they are, and woe betide you if you start asking awkward questions.

The trouble is they had it so good for so many years, and as you point out, there are always good reasons why you can't do what needs to be done, because you risk creating division and dissent.

All I can say is I wouldn't vote for Mr Conway, and I wouldn't vote Conservative. Although I am intellectually a Conservative, their organisation is such disarray, they can't actually operate effectively.

My conclusion is that these stories will mean that the Conservatives will lose the next election, and the next one after that. A right wing party will have to emerge with a new name and a new structure. The old one is incapable of reform.

  • 32.
  • At 11:51 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • sue wrote:

Given this resulted in personal gain for his family I think this is far worse than the Peter Hain/ Alan Johnson issues. Conway clearly must have deliberately disguised the fact that his son was doing no work. I wish I had access to such a handy fund for university expenses. It is really 1990s old guard Tory behaviour - which is why DC needs to act.

Give the money back and resign .

It is becoming clearer by the day that parliament has neither the wit nor the desire to control the profligate expenses, perks, pensions and often dubious practices employed by its membership.
This is no surprise since no organisaton can adequately control itself and it has resulted in the electorate being treated as fools and with contempt as major amounts of public money continue to be claimed by members, often without any requirement to justify their claims.
It is little wonder that trust and faith in the integrity of politicians - of all parties - has reached an all time low and that the electorate are losing interest in both politics and voting at elections.
The solution - to which parliament is unlikely to ever agree - has to be the formation of an publicly elected and non-politically motivated Parliamentary Governance Board which will be protected from political influence and be directly responsible to the electorate.
Its roles would be:
- to review all aspects of parliamentary practice with a view to
ensuring probity and integrity of the membership.
- to issue detailed guidance to members in respect of all their parliamentary financial dealings
- to ensure all MPs sign or make a public verbal declaration that the understand their responsibilities and will observe probity in all their financial dealings.
- To take swift and effective action against MPs, - including referrals to the police - in instances where an abuse of the public purse is suspected.
Failing such radical and decisive action to convince the public that MPs will be compelled to meet the required standards of public integrity I have major concerns that the electorate will view MPs as greedy and arrogant people riding an unacceptable gravy train.

  • 34.
  • At 11:53 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Edward Cockram wrote:

What is the difference between Derek Conway's actions and theft from one's employer?

  • 35.
  • At 11:55 AM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Mark Davies wrote:

The problem is that we, the electorate, no longer believe the members are honourable. They don't resign, they can never give a sraight answer to a straight question, and seem more concerned with 'feathering their own nests' than with looking after our soldiers, policemen and all the other people they expect to get us out of the messes they put us in.

  • 36.
  • At 12:00 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • The last toryboy wrote:

There is no doubt that Conway should have the whip withdrawn if not have criminal charges filed against him - but on the other hand, where was the MSM when Hain's snout was in the trough? Or Gordon Brown with his Smith Institute?

I smell double standards.

  • 37.
  • At 12:03 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Paul Taylor wrote:

If our political leaders are reading this, reflect on the fact that this incident and the raft of examples of underhand payments only adds to the general loss of faith by the populace at large. This in turn undermines the foundations of our representative democracy, and encourages those who would seek to subvert it. Its time we stopped voting for those who abuse out trust.

  • 38.
  • At 12:03 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • GrumpyOldman wrote:

Having had Labour on the ropes in recent weeks after several 'administrative oversights'David Cameron needs to make an example of Mr.Conway. Whatever the exact parlianmentary niceties, to the average person what Mr.Conway has been doing at face value apprears to be at best a misdiversion of public funds, and more likely what would be a criminal offence to most people. Sureley there must be some sort of misrepresentation to claim large sums for 'staff' who did not actually do anything, whether or not they are family members?

  • 39.
  • At 12:06 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Paul Maddocks wrote:

If this happened in the world of business. The individual would be sacked and police called in to investigate the fraud.

Why are politicians allowed to operate outside the rules that govern everybody else?

  • 40.
  • At 12:07 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Paul Taylor wrote:

If our political leaders are reading this, reflect on the fact that this incident and the raft of examples of underhand payments only adds to the general loss of faith by the populace at large. This in turn undermines the foundations of our representative democracy, and encourages those who would seek to subvert it. Its time we stopped voting for those who abuse out trust.

  • 41.
  • At 12:11 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • humble scholar wrote:

So many members of our current political class in Westminster seem to have no concept of personal integrity and responsibility or belief in what the rule of law involves. They seem to be simply there so they can get their faces well and truly in the trough. God save us from these political midgets.

  • 42.
  • At 12:19 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • sandymac wrote:

Cameron has known about this for 8months, he has not dithered he has stuck his head in the sand. This is out and out theft!

  • 43.
  • At 12:23 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • laugh-a-minute wrote:

How relieved they must be in Downing St. Now people can be made to look away from the continuing police investigations into New Labour.

For all his stupidity, Mr Conway is not yet under police scrutiny. The real test will come if the police decide to investigate because, as I understand it, he is "charged" with a procedural matter rather than a criminal offence. He was, under existing rules, entitled to do what he did (pay his son), it is the amount that has been called into question.

  • 44.
  • At 12:29 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • bruce wrote:

Well gordon brown is handing over powers to a foreign power (EU). That is high treason and we all know the penalty for that is. We wont have ofcourse mention the dodgy dealings of would be deputies of the Labour Party , or the Passport issues in the past, or the cash for questions shall we nope not us! And we all know most MPs use wives as paid secretaries where as IT Contractors (IR35) cant even though they have ltd companies.

  • 45.
  • At 12:32 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Ten years ago Tony Blair was going to radically reform our politics. What did he do? Scrap heridary peers and replace them with his cronies, introduce a flawed devolution settlement that risks the very Union, and ride roughshod over ancient, well-proven liberties. He should have started with the absurd concept of MP's (of all parties) being "honourable". This is not a party issue; they are all at it.

Responsibility for their pay, pension arrangements and allowances should be removed from parliament (they are only public servants after all, even though they behave like our masters)and bestowed upon an independent tribunal upon which politicians are forever excluded. Any claim for expences should be strictly controlled, and only payable upon production of valid receipts. The present wholly unsatisfactory mess simply reinforces the public perception of pigs at the trough. What is worse, as each party seek to highlight abuses by their opponents to turn the spotlight off their own member's woes, it distracts attention from the real business at hand: democratically governing my country. I am sick of the whole sorry bunch of today's politicains!

  • 46.
  • At 12:39 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Westminsterfun wrote:

How utterly ridiculous of the rabid lefties to demand criminal prosecution, they do themselves no favours. The point has been missed. David Cameron is weak, he should remove the whip from the man, not for paying an over inflated salary to his son or sons, nor for bending rules that exist in the House to his own advantage. No, he should remove the whip because he has brought the party into disrepute. Once that is done he can look Gordon Brown in the eye and say "I have dealt with my party, now you deal with yours". Harriet Harman, Wendy Alexander (admittedly a Scottish parliament member) and Peter Hain can be dealt with accordingly.

  • 47.
  • At 12:39 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Roberoonie wrote:

Just another sad example of a corrupt MP. He should resign, but of course he won't because, rather than being a conviction politician, he's only interested in looking after himself. Cameron is tarred with the same hypocritical brush if he doesn't sack him.

  • 48.
  • At 12:44 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Robert P wrote:

How easy it is to play the benovalent father if it's not your money.

If I was the parent of child who had just left university saddled with large debts, I would find Mr Conway's staffing arrangements very hard to take.

  • 49.
  • At 12:45 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen Hatton wrote:

Roger Gale is right. We should accept Mr Conway's word as that of an honorable gentleman. After all he is a Tory MP and that should be enough to assure us of his honesty. Now can we all get back to the important matter of Ken Livingstone and his nefarious practices.

  • 50.
  • At 12:49 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Clive Hill wrote:

I note that the Lib Dem candidate in Conway's constituency has involved the police. Nothing wrong with the Lib Dem's actions - it's just politics - but it seems to me the police should not be involved in the political affairs of the House of Commons.

Perhaps there should be a small - 2 or 3 people - group in the Serjeant-at-Arms' office or similar who investigate matters like donations and payments to family. Their report can then go into the public domain and to the Privilege committee who decide the punishment.

I notice the Labour Party spin posters have been out in force on this blog, by the way...

So it was a member of the BNP that made thw complaint against Derek Conway. What have they got to gain from such a move and how did they know there was something dodgy going on? Are they being equally watchful over other MPs expenses details? If not, why not? And why here? Who supplied them with the necessary information? Who is supplying information to the media about Johnson, Hain, Alexander, Harman etc etc?

Notwithstanding the rights and wrongs of donations and expenses, this non-stop media manipulation by political parties and other interested parties is the worst aspect of all of this.

  • 52.
  • At 12:53 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Pete Jones wrote:

At 11:55 AM on 29 Jan 2008, Mark Davies wrote:

"The problem is that we, the electorate, no longer believe the members are honourable."

Did we ever?

  • 53.
  • At 12:55 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Shaun Crowther wrote:

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first......................." and I'm sure Members from ALL sides of the House know the rest !!

  • 54.
  • At 12:55 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • laugh-a-minute wrote:

How relieved they must be in Downing St. Now people can be made to look away from the continuing police investigations into New Labour.

For all his stupidity, Mr Conway is not yet under police scrutiny. The real test will come if the police decide to investigate because, as I understand it, he is "charged" with a procedural matter rather than a criminal offence. He was, under existing rules, entitled to do what he did (pay his son), it is the amount that has been called into question.

BTW, the availability and up-time of the blog sucks! Please improve it.

  • 55.
  • At 12:57 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • sam wrote:

i do quite agree with the opinions already posted, i do believe that his punishment should be greater than what it is but seeing as how we are a democratic country i do not believe this is possible, i think there should be a nationwide vote on whether he should stay in Parliament and then if he is ousted then a By-election should be held with all Parties being considered for the seat. I am not outrightly saying that he is guilty as I stand by 'innocent until proven guilty' but I believe that he should have to produce sufficient evidence that the work has actually been done and the right amounts of pay have been received.

  • 56.
  • At 12:58 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • derek barker wrote:

whats the answer Nick?give mp's unlimited resources?then fade off into the the sunset when it all goes wrong?you know! there is an unease about the whole political spectrum,it really is on the edge,do we return to the days when only the gentry would become mp's,something has got to give Nick,Britain needs a strong and untainted parliament more than ever,these people have got to give themselfs a shake or else they will drag this whole nation down to an unpresidented level"reforms what about a return to running the country by means of honest commitment"

  • 57.
  • At 12:58 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • simon wrote:

All MP's are put there by the people to represent us and to do so honrably. Any of them who abuse this position should removed from office, and the full force of the law used against them.
I expect like most people, I'm becoming very fed up with the political system where all these MP's just seem to rally round to support the wrong-doers, when they should be making examples of them.

  • 58.
  • At 01:00 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Steve Way wrote:

What amazes me is that no one is highlighting the amount paid per hour for a student. Most Students have to survive University doing jobs somewhere near the minimum wage. Even if (big if) his sons did work for 18 hours per week at an average student wage of £6 per hour this would be £108 per week (approx £5k per year). They have been paid double this PLUS bonuses. Pay for family provided services should be capped at corresponding skill rates only.

The party of Aitkin and Archer strike again..

  • 59.
  • At 01:05 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Alison Squire wrote:

Was this job ever advertised at a going rate? Or was being a relative an essential prerequisite?

I know there are hundreds of eager students, keen to develop a career in politics, who are hampered by the need to work for free doing unpaid 'internships' before having any chance of securing a position.

I'm pretty sure that any one of them would have been prepared to work at the very lowest end of the pay scale, let alone 6% above the midpoint arranged around their degree course.

  • 60.
  • At 01:05 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • John wrote:

When I watched this article on News24 yesterday I couldn't help asking the question "Isn't this Obtaining Property by Deception?"

Surely to claim money for a Son who isn't working for you is a Criminal Offence not just a breach of Parliamentary Procedure.

They're all pigs at the same trough which is why they just want to cover it up with some in house punishment.

  • 61.
  • At 01:06 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • John Constable wrote:

I think our posters must come to the conclusion that it is unrealistic to expect those who are 'milking the system' to be the same people that change it to something more accountable.

English people, vote in some decent independents at the next opportunity and then things might change for the better.

  • 62.
  • At 01:09 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen J wrote:

Someone earlier wrote that this debate displays a hatred of the self-employed.

This man is not self-employed. He is employed by the people of the UK.
If he wants to run his own business he can appoint his son as managing director and his pet labrador as research assistant if he so chooses, but he wouldn't be raking in taxpayers money, which as an MP he very merrily is.

And so are his children, and perhaps his wife too.

What was that old song - Nice Work (If You Can Get It)?

Ha ha.

  • 63.
  • At 01:12 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Geoff wrote:

The reason that Conway has not been given a much harder time by other MP's is simple .... a significant number of them (across all parties) are thinking "There but for the grace of God ..."

It is a sad fact that any system open to abuse will be abused. The whole system of allowances is open to that abuse and it roundly has been.

Politics as a whole is gaining a reputation as a greedy self-serving institution populated with people of dubious ethics.

No wonder ordinary people are disillusioned by the whole thing and voting at elections is falling ...

MPs are elected to represent us and our views, not line their own pockets.

Sad, but predictable....

  • 64.
  • At 01:14 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Simon wrote:

Whilst it's not to be condoned, I'm surprised this has surfaced - especially since Mr. Conway won't be the only MP on either side of the house doing this.

Mind you, saying that, after the recent scandals, every Labour MP will have been under orders to desperately dig for dirt on the Tories.

So, the ball is most definitely back in the Tories court, and I guess it's now down to who can fiddle and file their timesheets and expenses the quickest...

  • 65.
  • At 01:17 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • sue arthur wrote:

I am self employed working for a charity. HMRC is currently enquiring into my tax return and I am having to justify every penny received into our bank accounts. I have declared all my income, refunds for mileage and everything else, but I am required to PROVE that any other payments into our account are NOT income. So whether I have received a £30 cheque from my mother for my birthday, a £200 cheque from our student son repaying us for advancing him money when his laptop was stolen or a refund from BT because our account was in credit, I am required to prove that these monies are NOT income otherwise I will be taxed on them. This is a stressful and time consuming exercise, but I can see that HMRC need to do spot checks to be sure that people are not avoiding paying tax. What makes me angry, though, is that the same rigour does not seem to be applied to MPs in their financial affairs. With one son at University and another about to start in October, we would love to be able to support them by more than the £50 a month we can currently afford!! One rule for the average citizen, another for their representatives in Parliament......


  • 66.
  • At 01:21 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Matthew wrote:

The Whip has been removed, which shows Cameron is taking it more seriously than you suggest.

Another Tory MP has been arrested for assault! There are only 190 or so, aren't there?

  • 67.
  • At 01:26 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Serf wrote:

Although David Cameron might be tempted to make an example of him he would be taking on a powerful coalition consisting of those who never wanted him to be leader plus the parliamentary old guard

Quite frankly if he's not up to the job, then he can always resign. Being a leader means accepting responsibility.

I am a Conservative and I am disgusted by Mr Conway's behaviour and Mr Cameron's lack of moral fibre. There is a word for taking what doesn't belong to you and its not "mistake".

Withdraw the whip immediately.

  • 68.
  • At 01:30 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • fed Up with Politicians wrote:

Like almost everyone I talk to I am totally fed up with politicians trying to find ways of "getting at" other politicians.
I am not alone in believing that MP's are underpaid and that if they were paid substantial 6 figure salaries then more intelligent, capable and competent people might be attracted to stand.
MP's should get on with trying to run this country which i wish i could emigrate from, and leave any alleged irregularities to a regulator which has the power to sort things out.

  • 69.
  • At 01:30 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Robin wrote:

It's a shame that so many who have jumped to ctriticise the Tories for this 'scandal' had nothing to say about their own party as it has sunk deeper into the financing mire. In fact quite the contrary - they were full of praise for their dear leader and his party.

As for the Tories coming up with some policies = inheritance tax? This caused the biggest collapse in Labour party fiortunes for a decade and an election to be cancelled.

  • 70.
  • At 01:31 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Jeremy wrote:

You observe that John Mann is turning in to a “professional complainer”. True but what you do not say is that as far as I can tell John Mann is only complaining about Tory MPs! So arguably this complaining is merely political posturing. Interestingly if you go on to “They Work for” you will see that John Mann has apparently never voted for a Transparent Parliament. I wonder why.

  • 71.
  • At 01:31 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Pyers Symon wrote:

It looks as if the near-universal condemnation on Conway from within the party (see ConservativeHome for example) has had its effect since thw whip has now been withdrawn from him. A good move. Pity it wasn't done yesterday though.

  • 72.
  • At 01:36 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

Calm down everyone.

The issue with Conway is the amount that has been paid and the insinuation that his son did no work for it.

Almost every MP employs staff. A large number employ a relative - can they all prove they actually do any work or enough to justify their pay ?

Bear in mind that MP Staffs' salaries are paid directly to them by the House of Commons Department of Finance and Administration. So they know who they are employing what they are paying and who they paying.

The point is that the whole issue of MPs expenses needs to be made completely transparent rather than virtually opaque.

  • 73.
  • At 01:37 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Alan Backhouse wrote:

To Clive Hill - I'm guessing that you are a Tory ? Why must you assume that the comments with which you disagree must all be from 'political opponents' ? Maybe they are just the opinions of the general populace who have lost faith in politics and politicans over issues such as this. Have a look in the blog on the Daily Telegraph's site and see what other Tories are thinking about Derek Conway's actions .

  • 74.
  • At 01:39 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Glynn Ashman wrote:

Kinnocks Cronies, Conways Cronies, there is no wonder we do not voice our critisms over Mugabe too forcefully. Its about time MPs only stood for Parliament for a limited period of time and then only after being in the workplace for a few years. Apparently Conways son didn't do any noticable work. Obviously in training to become a fully fledged member of the Palace of Westminster. Guy Fawkes where are you.

  • 75.
  • At 01:39 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Martin Drake wrote:

Sadly I wonder whether most politicians actually care very much what an increasinly apathetic and anesthesthetized population think about them and their antics, like this latest example from the predictably dreadful Conway, regardless of whether many of the commentators on here think they would or even should.

  • 76.
  • At 01:45 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • martin gisbourne wrote:

Roger Gales impassioned defence of Mr Conway on the Today programme was heavy on emotion but sadly lacking in fact. It is true that so far there is insufficient evidence for a successful prosecution. But given the evidence which has come to light, e.g Freddy's inability to name the constituency secretary, or to produce any electronic correspondence from the time etc, there is a balance of probability conclusion that says it is hard to believe Freddy has done the work for which he was paid. Ranting on about witch hunts, people with an axe to grind, and the meaning of justice reminds me of another famous speech...the one given by Jonathon Aitken.

  • 77.
  • At 01:45 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Mark Presswood wrote:

Nick, am surprised by the vitriol in some of the comments received. passions obviouly run high! MPs are however given allowances to run their office and pay their staff and there are no rules to stop family members working for them. At best Derek Conway has failed to keep adequate records of the work his son(s) have done for him and at worst he has over-paid for the services provided, hence the requirement that he re-pay SOME of the monies paid to his son. If Derek had kept his allowances to himself or paid his son who then paid the money back privately to his father then yes, that is fraud, but I'm not aware of any evidence that that has actually happened.

If Derek Conway had employed a non-family member as researcher and that person had been 'invisible' or could not demonstrate what they had done in return for the salary received you could argue that the taxpayer had not received value for money but it certainly would not have been a fraud. Just 'cos he employed his son doesn't actually change this point.

If there is a problem here it is the system, which clearly should be overhauled to prevent these kinds of issues arising in the first place, or the fraudulent claiming of expenses, or second 'homes' in London, or the mis-use of MPs allowances to fund party political activities....need I go on?

  • 78.
  • At 01:47 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Dave, Stoke wrote:

There is unfortunately a more sinister side to all this, leaving out the names and faces for a moment. The BNP have landed themselves a very big fish here. They thrive on and are doing very well at the moment with the current disaffection with politics both local and national, (particularly in the real world where I live and politicians don’t go) and incidents like this don't help. This and the fact that seemingly it’s taken the BNP to "do the right thing".
So what’s to be done?
Does Derek Conway go and take his buddy Roger Gale with him since his view seems to be we should all stump up and mind our own business, but this then gives the BNP a very high profile scalp and probably much political kudos. I don't know, any ideas Nick?

  • 79.
  • At 01:48 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • russell holmstoel wrote:

Its a nice idea that all MPs are "honourable members" until proven otherwise. We just seem to be catching them out a lot recently.

Its the murky accounting practices that lead to temptation. Transparency is required to keep them all on the straight and narrow.

  • 80.
  • At 01:49 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Mike O'Connor wrote:

It's a funny way of the Tories re-introducing the student grants they abolished.

  • 81.
  • At 01:52 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Paul wrote:

In line with the overwhelming majority of posts funded by the UK taxpayer, why shouldn't MPs' staff be recruited and appointed openly via public advertisement and competitive interview? A handful of MPs already do this. It is perfecly feasible (and lawful) for MPs to specify that job applicants must be members and/or supporters of their particular political party. If an MP's relative proves to be the best-qualified candidate, so be it. If, on the other hand, MPs were guilty of unlawful discrimination in who they appoint, they should be prepared to face the legal consequences as do all other UK employers in the public and private sectors. This might go some way to correcting the disgraceful lack of diversity among the thousands of people employed by MPs in Parliament which almost certainly would be the subject of official investigation if it were replicated in any other major workplace.

  • 82.
  • At 01:58 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Dave wrote:

The time is long past for a radical change to the way in which the House of Commons is compensated. Given that it should be a privilege to be an MP, don't pay them, and strictly limit terms to 10 years for all MPs. Give a flat allowance of say £20k to cover reasonable transport costs (that's enough for most train season tickets, and a few incidentals as well).

We know every MP makes a fortune when they leave office (look at Bliar and his multi-million pound non-exec positions with banks).

  • 83.
  • At 02:00 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • John Gale wrote:

I'd rather an MP who employs his wife as a secretary than an MP who is called John Prescott.

  • 84.
  • At 02:00 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • gaspardasalo wrote:

How honourable of the member not to mention his other son's similar terms of employemnt when presenting his apology to the house.

  • 85.
  • At 02:03 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • David wrote:

People comment that this couldn't happen in business but I think they're wrong. It standard practice for IT contractors etc to work through a company, "employ" wife as secretary pay small salary and distribute most of income as dividends between them. HMRC don't like this and have tried to stop it but so far are losing in the courts.

  • 86.
  • At 02:07 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Bill Gregory wrote:

Forget the arguments on legal or otherwise. It is a principle that you do not employ members of your own family unless you are the business owner. If you are not the business owner then you need to justify why a particular member of your family is better suited to the work than any other person and get agreement from your superiors or peers to employ them. Then you ensure that the work they do is seen and checked to ensure that your choice is justified. This is common-sense and avoids charges of nepotism. Just common practice and if you do not adhere to it then you will lose your job and deservedly.

  • 87.
  • At 02:10 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Michael Hodgson wrote:

Two years ago while working in London my company car was up for renewal, rather than have a new one I accepted a previously used car with low mileage (the driver had left the company). As a result last year while working in Saudi Arabia I received a demand from HM inland revenue for 2,800 pounds underpayment because the car was a higher grade. I feel obliged to pay this money even though I never intend working in the UK again. If the Tax man can chase me how is it MP's are exempt from tax on the additional funds whether classed as expenses or idirect university grants?.

  • 88.
  • At 02:12 PM on 29 Jan 2008,
  • Tony Jones wrote:

Yet further evidence that there is one set of rules for MP’s and another completely different set for the rest of us. I find it outrageous that with ever increasing constraints on the public purse that MP’s can “divert” money from the tax payer in a manner that is not even scrutinised.

This practice needs to be overseen by an independent body. It may be that there are legitimate scenarios where MP’s might employ a family member as a secretary, but this MP appears to have been allowed to charge the public purse with no audit trail as to what his son did to earn the money.

As usual outrageous hypocrisy from the Conservative Party, but why am I surprised?

  • 89.
  • At 12:04 PM on 30 Jan 2008,
  • Neil Marsden wrote:

Do the following criteria apply to Derek Conway?(1) A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it, shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

(2) For purposes of this section a person is to be treated as obtaining property if he obtains ownership, possession or control of it, and ‘obtain’ includes obtaining for another or enabling another to obtain or to retain.

(3) Section 6 above shall apply for purposes of this section, with the necessary adaptation of the reference to appropriating, as it applies for purposes of section 1.

(4) For purposes of this section ‘deception’ means any deception (whether deliberate or reckless) by words or conduct as to fact or as to law, including a deception as to the present intentions of the person using the deception or any other person.

If so then he would seem to have committed an offence Under S.15 of the Theft Act, 1968. Obtaining property by deception. If I did that, I would be arrested, why not this man?

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