The ban on MPs employing their relatives: two Lib Dems protest

by Stephen Tall on October 30, 2009

The Telegraph reports today that two Lib Dem MPs – Malcolm Bruce and Matthew Taylor – are among the 17 MPs who have protested to Sir Christopher Kelly at the proposed ban on employing relatives:

Malcolm Bruce
Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon
Employs wife, Rosemary Bruce, as Office Manager and Diary Secretary
“Having my wife as office manager, diary secretary and constituency PA operating from an office in our home is invaluable not only to me but, I strongly believe, to constituents and other organisations I deal with as part of my parliamentary and constituency duties.”

Matthew Taylor
Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell
Employs wife, Victoria Taylor, as part-time Researcher
“As with many small businesses this can be the most viable way of running an MPs’ office and keeping family together, especially given MPs are working at two ends of the country and unsocial hours.”

Many will have sympathy with the arguments each puts forward: there are clearly some very good reasons for MPs employing spouses or other relatives. The trouble is – and this is true of a number of the Legg and Kelly proposals – that too many MPs have abused the self-regulated system in the past for there to be any public trust that the system might not also be abused in the future. The guilty few have spoiled it for the innocent many.

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker – one of the doughtiest of Parliamentary reformers – acknowledged just this point yesterday in his Guardian article, while also flagging up some of the practical problems that might arise from such a blanket ban:

Kelly also proposes, it seems, that MPs should not be allowed to employ family members. This is also right, and inevitable, given some of the abuses that have occurred, most notably those involving Tory MP Derek Conway. But it will mean that some spouses who have genuinely worked hard for their other halves will find themselves out of a job. Under these circumstances, they may well have a case for unfair dismissal. The new ban may also lead to “wife-swapping” between MPs, to get round the ban. It also raises difficult issues in determining exactly who will be banned. Suppose a relationship is struck up between an MP and a member of staff. At what point will that trigger an employment ban?

What do LDV’s readers think: is the ban right and necessary, or is it a sledgehammer to crack a nut? (Or both?)