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MPs have approved the suspension of Derek Conway from the Commons after criticism of his use of parliamentary allowances.

The Conservative MP faces a 10-day ban from the House after the Commons standards and privileges committee said it had found no evidence of work undertaken by his son.

He was also ordered to repay more than 13,000 paid to his younger son for working as parliamentary researcher while he was a student Newcastle University.

The Commons backed a motion approving the committee's report without a vote on Thursday.

The chairman of the committee said it was not necessarily the case that the son had done no work but that there was an "absence of any evidence" that enough work had been performed to justify the payments.

Sir George Young also said Freddie Conway had been paid at too high a rate on the salary and bonus scale for researchers compared to his experience.

Conway had the Tory whip withdrawn on Tuesday and on Wednesday he announced that he would be standing down as MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup at the next election.

"I have had tremendous support from my local party, my family and friends but have concluded that it is time to step down," he said.

The MP also faces an investigation into complaints about payments to his older son Henry and a possible police inquiry following a request from Liberal Democrat Duncan Borrowman.

Conservative leader David Cameron has described Conway's use of public funds as "unacceptable".

Meanwhile, reports on Thursday claimed that he had also paid his one of his son's friends more than 11,000 to work as a research assistant.

Commenting on the extensive press coverage of the case, Sir George denied that his committee was either a "kangaroo court" or a "gentlemen's club".

And he said that the "committee was satisfied that reporting to the House, rather than to the police" was satisfactory.

The committee's conclusions were backed by both leader of the House Harriet Harman and her Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadows, Theresa May and Simon Hughes.

Reform
The case has prompted calls for greater scrutiny of MPs' allowances and staff.

Justice secretary Jack Straw told Sky News on Thursday that: "I have never understood, for the life of me, why MPs are not required to say who they employ."

And he was backed by Gordon Brown, whose spokesman said he agreed with Straw.

"The prime minister agrees there should be greater transparency," Downing Street said.

"How this should be achieved, though, is a matter for the House authorities to consider."

In the Commons, Sir George said that was "a debate for another day".

However he added that it "is important that members can demonstrate, robustly when challenged" that taxpayers' money is spent appropriately

Senior Labour backbencher Frank Field said it was "difficult to think how much lower our collective reputation might sink".

He also questioned "whether our series of punishments are adequate".

The Birkenhead MP argued that "embezzlement on this scale" by staff from the Refreshment Department, for example, would have resulted in immediate sacking.

But he defended the principle of employing family members due to the "unique" circumstances of MPs' employment.

Fellow Labour backbencher David Winnick backed him on that point but claimed that he was not satisfied "that the necessary controls" are in place to ensure transparency, such as a register of MPs' staff.

However Hughes urged "caution" on such a move due to security concerns around exposing staff to threats. But Conservative Peter Bottomley said MPs should not be "too prissy" about the matter.

31 January 2008

 Last updated: 31/01/2008 16:43:00



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