A SENIOR Tory MP is paying his son to act as his parliamentary assistant even though he is still a full-time undergraduate at university.
Commons records reveal that Frederick Conway was paid at the rate of £981 a month from the parliamentary staffing allowance handed to his father Derek, a former government whip.
Derek Conway’s wife, Colette, is also on the payroll and is paid £3,271 a month as another of his registered parliamentary assistants, according to the returns for November last year.
Conway, who ran the leadership campaign of David Davis, the shadow home secretary, is the latest MP to stand accused of exploiting the expenses awarded to parliamentarians.
Frederick Conway’s personal website reveals he is a geography student at Newcastle university set to graduate this summer.
As a registered parliamentary assistant he has a Commons pass and last summer held his 21st birthday party on the House of Commons terrace overlooking the Thames, attended by his parents and friends.
He has also played for the parliamentary rugby team.
Photographs of the events appear on his Facebook website. It is not known how long he has worked for his father or in what capacity, although parliamentary records show he had a Commons pass in 2005.
Derek Conway, 54, is one of the most senior Tory backbenchers. He was first elected to parliament in 1983 and served as a junior minister before becoming a whip under John Major’s premiership. He is regarded as a parliamentary bruiser and has criticised the conduct of Labour cabinet ministers, including John Prescott. He sits on the all-party Commons administration committee that oversees the operation of the parliamentary estate.
Conway, now MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in southeast London, has previously attracted criticism over his expenses. In 2005-6, he claimed £4,072 for car mileage, which can be claimed for journeys between home, Westminster and the constituency, and for travel up to 20 miles outside of an MP’s seat on local business. Conway’s claim would equate to about 1,000 trips between Westminster and his constituency.
He also claims the full allowance for the costs of running a second home for those who need a constituency and a central London base.
Yesterday, when asked about his son’s employment, he initially denied a professional relationship. However, when confronted with details of the payments he said: “It’s not something that I am going to be drawn into talking about . . . I’m not talking about individuals and you must print what you want to print. I am not going to comment.” Although the question was put to him six times, he declined to respond further.
MPs receive a “staffing allowance” of more than £80,000 annually to pay employees in their parliamentary and constituency offices. These staff are entitled to full-time contracts, pension entitlements and other perks. The rules stipulate that members of staff must be “employed to meet a genuine need in supporting you, the member, in performing your parliamentary duties; [be] able and (if necessary) qualified to do the job; [and] actually doing the job.”
The Sunday Times has established that several other MPs are also employing family members as parliamentary staff. Malcolm Bruce, the LIberal Democrat MP, pays his wife Rosemary £28,500 a year.
Sir Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, employs his wife Margaret for £35,000 a year and Nick Ainger, Labour MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, pays his wife Sally about £19,000 a year. They all confirmed the arrangements and said they had complied with the rules.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, had to resign amid allegations that he was paying his wife for parliamentary duties she did not perform. An inquiry later ruled that she had carried out the work within the rules.
The latest disclosures come amid growing unease at attempts by MPs to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. MPs disclose only total expenditure claims – but are under pressure to reveal a breakdown of their staffing, office and other expenses. After a battle, the Commons had to publish a breakdown of travel allowances by car, train and flights. This embarrassed Barry Gardiner, the environment minister, as it showed he had claimed mileage allowances last year equivalent to driving his family car to Delhi and back, even though he is a London MP with an official government car.
The information commissioner believes even more detailed information on every claim met by the taxpayer should be published. A similar disclosure in Scotland led to the resignation of David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory leader, who could not account for £5,000 of “personal” taxi journeys.
A Whitehall review of parliamentary pay and allowances, which will report to the prime minister next month, is expected to call for an end to the “gravy train” of MPs’ expenses.
MPs can claim £250 “petty cash” a month without stipulating what the money is for. A further £400 a month can be claimed for food without producing receipts. In total, MPs can legitimately pick up £7,800 tax-free per annum on trust because they are presumed to be “honour-able” members.
The Senior Salaries Review Board is conducting a review of parliamentary pay and allowances which will report to the prime minister next month. It is also understood to be analysing the system of claiming expenses.
One source said: “They are looking at the system itself and the reputational impact that some of the current practices may have. However, there is a lot of pressure from senior MPs on the board only to look at the level of pay and not make recommendations on the detail.”
Ten days ago MPs caused uproar after voting in favour of a backbench bill which would exclude them from FOI laws, apparently with the tacit support of the government and the opposition front benches. The bill is now due to be heard in the Lords.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both pledged to continue publishing information about expenses. This is unlikely to include the detailed breakdown being demanded and the information commissioner would have no powers to force the release of the information.
If you are referring to MPLAD funds, then Parliament should have information on them. MPLAD funds are a consequence of a Act of Parliament, so ideally, MP's must be giving some expense statement on this to Parliament. Let me do some "research" on this...hmmm looks interesting for follow up.
Just remembered Sharu Rangnekar's tips on "how to be corrupt & survive" reproduced in apaul's blog: how to survive with corruption
Providing jobs for kith and kin is considered a moral obligation in India. However, providing job in the executive's own organization creates a lot of talk. Arranging with another executive from a different company on a quid-pro-quo basis is less audible.
Perhaps the British MPs need a lesson or two from the Indian Management Guru.