MPs keep it in the family

More than 50 MPs have laid off members of their staff after the Derek Conway expenses scandal. The researchers being dismissed by MPs are largely thought to be family members and the mass exodus suggests that many MPs are unwilling to publicly defend or justify their employment.

It comes amid claims that new disclosure rules are being delayed to allow MPs to clean up their financial affairs.

Harriet Harman, the leader of the House of Commons and deputy Labour leader, backed calls for greater transparency over how MPs spend their taxpayer-funded expenses. Harman's intervention comes after a long-running legal battle by Parliament to prevent detailed breakdowns of MPs' expenditure being released, despite the information being demanded by the Information Commissioner.

"The public need to be absolutely sure there is a proper system for validating claims and there is not abuse," she said. "If it is public money, by and large the public want to know how much public money is being spent and they want to know it is spent properly."

She also appeared to back calls for more information to be released under Freedom of Information laws. "The Freedom of Information Act applies to the information held by Parliament, by the House of Commons authorities in the same way it applies to everyone else," she said. "Of course, Parliament should comply with the FoI Act."

The row over MPs expenses erupted after it emerged that Derek Conway, a Tory MP, had used taxpayers' money to employ two of his sons despite there being no evidence of any work being conducted. In the wake of the affair, more than 150 MPs also admitted employing family members.

Fifty MPs sack staff after expenses scandal (Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2008)