City MP defends hiring of relatives
A CITY MP has said she and her Westminster colleagues should not be banned from employing family members.
While recognising it as 'a thorny issue', Alison Seabeck, Labour member for Plymouth Devonport, says she believes it would be wrong to bar members from hiring relatives.
Safeguards were needed, she said, but the practice should not be stopped.
Ms Seabeck made her views known in a submission to the Committee On Standards In Public Life, which is conducting an inquiry into parliamentary pay and perks following the storm over expenses.
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Ms Seabeck also said she had been 'surprised' by her constituents' support for an increase in MPs salaries, with an end to the controversial second homes allowance.
MPs face the prospect of being banned from employing family members as part of moves to clean up politics.
Parliamentary standards watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly is understood to believe a ban will help rebuild public trust in politicians in the wake of the expenses scandal.
Many MPs currently employ family members. Ms Seabeck says she hired her daughter for a short time, and Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton Linda Gilroy employs her husband.
Sir Christopher is said to agree with MPs that many relatives work far harder than non-family staff, but to believe the public will not tolerate the situation continuing.
Scrapping the practice is said to be under 'active consideration'. It was brought into disrepute by the abuse of the system by disgraced Tory MP Derek Conway, who was suspended from Parliament and had to repay cash after using his allowance to pay his sons for 'research' work in Westminster while they were actually away at university.
In evidence to Sir Christopher's committee, Ms Seabeck said: "On the thorny issue of the employment of family members, I would say that I don't think this should be stopped.
"I suspect it's often the only way in which partners get to see one another. They are also individuals you can trust implicitly and that is vital given the stressful and sensitive nature of the job."
She had employed her own daughter one summer when she found herself unexpectedly short-staffed.
"Finding someone with experience and who I trust at short notice would have been impossible.
"My daughter came in and held the fort well. She was only paid the going rate for the job."
Ms Seabeck had worked for her own MP father in the run-up to the 1979 election.
"There have to be safeguards in place but I don't think it's right to stop this practice," she said.
On her website Mrs Gilroy says she pays her husband £12,000 a year for working a 20-hour week, although it is often much longer.
She says: "Anyone who has worked on a family farm or run a small business can testify why employing a relative is sometimes better than any alternative."
Working an average 70-hour week, she says, "I doubt I'd see much of him if he didn't work for me. The attrition rate of MPs' marriages is higher than average, for obvious reasons."
She adds: "He is on call whenever I need him and wherever I am.
"This is extremely useful given the erratic working hours and the tendency for problems or events to crop up at any time.
"That said, I am outraged by those few MPs who have paid money to family members who do no real work for them – and I certainly think the employment of relatives should be done in a transparent and accountable manner."
The Committee On Standards In Public Life is due to report in the autumn.