Thursday, January 31, 2008

Employment of the family

Was down in Cardiff yesterday to do AM/PM for the BBC. Enjoyable hour and a half on the settee with John Marek and the Beeb's Phil Parry. It had been arranged for weeks. Just my luck that the Derek Conway story had blown up - particularly since I employed Mrs D part-time for the whole 8 years that I was an Assembly Member. And then I called in to say 'Hello' to the Western Mail's David Williamson in the adjacent office - and what was he doing but writing a story on 'You've guessed it'. That's how I came to feature in David's piece in today's edition.

I didn't make any comment on Derek Conway's position - that's secondary to the main question and just too sensitive for me. The bigger issue is how we react to what has happened. I've probably taken an unusual upfront stance on the issue from Day 1, in that I've never ducked being interviewed about it. I've always reckoned that if I'm spending taxpayer's money, I should be publicly accountable for it. Downside is that I finish up being the one who is always interviewed. Over the last few years I've featured in several programmes discussing the issue - and same thing happened today. No-one else was 'available' to appear on Richard Evans' phone-in on Radio Wales.

In general, I've always thought that employing family members is an OK thing to do. When I realised that I was likely to be elected to the Assembly, I re-designed our house so that my 'constituency office' was in my home. I reckoned this would allow me more time at home and effectively deliver a 24 hours a day service. Mrs D manning the office was an essential part of the equation. No-one else could have free run of the house. Always felt that there was not much objection to it. Other AMs had their own individual reasons. All fair enough, so I thought. But it was only acceptable if it was totally transparent - which it is in the Assembly. In fact, this debate is 'old hat' in Wales.

Under present arrangements, I would not employ a family member if I was elected an MP. There would have to be some changes. The last few days have been deeply distructive of the public's trust and confidence in our system of democracy. I've winced as commentators report their best guesses about how many politicians employ family members. Seems to me that this information should be volunteered clearly and immediately - in my personal opinion of course. I also think we have reached the stage when positions should be advertised, even if the terms of employment might mean that no-one else could apply (who else would want to work 4 hours a day, 3 of them in London and 2 at our home?). In addition I accept that supporting evidence might have to be provided, via time sheets etc.. This would cause outrage amongst traditionalists of course. And I dislike it as much as anyone - but society is changing. There is less acceptance of the tradition of the 'Honourable Member' today. And systems of accoutability are a bit like pregnancy - not at all or the full works. Anyway, that's my developing personal opinion and that's what I've been saying yesterday and today.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

I read the piece on IcWales. My family has had some distasteful experience of nepotism and "jobs for the boys" in Mid Glam County Council. My mother worked part time at a Sports Centre and the favourtism shown employing Counselors’ offspring and friends of Counselors was quite outrageous and very offensive. It seems that's how things on the Council were run in Mid Glam that is why I argue that MPs (and AMs) should not knowingly employ relatives of other AMs or MPs or if this does happen, it has to be a clear exception to the rule. The public have lost trust in their 'elected' representatives (many of the public’s representatives are not voted in which in itself is an outrage, but not relevant to this discussion). Nepotism and favouritism OR the appearance of nepotism must be GONE GONE ASAP.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

... and the same goes for 'Councillors'

Glyn Davies said...

Christopher - this issue is problematic. I don't go all the way with you. I think we should try transparency and open advertisment. A parliamentarian's life is so disruptive that sometimes employment of a partner is a sensible arrangement. But I realise this will not completely satisfy everyone - and it may eventually be that British parliaments will follow the 16 others that ban the employment of family members entirely.

Anonymous said...

Did the public have access to your home when you claimed an allowence for working from home?
Capitol gains comes into play for most us when we calim expenses for an office at home to.

Troy said...

About time you knocked the link off to David Davies MP
He must still be sulking with the whips office.
Nudge nudge wink wink.
Ask him on the QT next time you speak.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn: I can assure you that the life of an MP is no-way-no-how as disruptive as a post-doc's life. Researchers routinely suffer LDR's - wife in one country, them in another. They frequently don't have the money to move - DON'T get any help with living in two places. Often can't live in their own house for months if not years on end. MPs are not a special group of people, if they think they are then they are arrogant and should be voted out of office.

As to running job adverts. What's the point in running job adverts if the MP is going to employ his/her spouse or other close relative?

It is not like MPs are not given financial resources to hire staff.

Members of the public have lost confidence in their politicians (many of whom are not even voted into their positions).

We are going to have to disagree on this one. I don't accept for one second that MPs are a special branch of people who have to pay their spouses or close relatives out of the public purse.

I don't pay my mother who often fields calls for me, takes notes, reminds me of this that or the other to do with my law firm. Who reviews stuff to do with my law firm. She does it for free - if an MP's spouse doesn't want to help out for free - then hire some one else.

The rules must be changed to make it the exception, not the rule, to hire close relatives as MP/AM assistants. I think it is appalling to run job adverts when the intention is hire a close relative - that is AWFUL and such scams should be punished with prejudice.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - yes they did have access to my office. Often had meetings there. Capital gains don't come into it because I paid for all the work myself. I didn't bother to claim anything because it was difficult to identify what related to the office and what to the house - and because I reckoned there would be people like you who would try to make just the sort of point you have just done. Looks as if it was a sensible decision!

Troy - no idea what point you are trying to make.

Christopher - I accept that you have the high ground here, but I'm not prepared to go as far as banning family members altogether. And I wouldn't want to ban others from doing the same thing.
I absolutely agree with you about the pointless advertisment - which is why I pointed out the sort of difficulty that could occur if no-one would be willing to do the job. The last few days has changed the position a lot and I think change is inevitable. I'm afraid that were I to be an MP, any family members who helped me would be treated in the same way as your mother!

johnny foreigner said...

So, one may assume that the job held by the fragrant Mrs. D. for eight years was publically advertised and that she was the winning candidate, having won through a normal interview and selection process, or was it that her publically funded job was entirely based on your chosen domiciliary arrangements?

Nice work if you can get it.

Unfortunately we can't.

Your put-out pal.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> well you are an honest, fair and open fellow; also you have stated that you intend to apply the "Christopher's mum golden standard" (CMGS)! So the issue is pretty much banged into touch/rendered moot. It would be better though if the CMGS was enshrined in new rules.

Unfortunately given the antics of at least one MP (Derek Conway) there needs to be "a bright yellow line" - which does mean banning MPs (and AMs) paying close relatives out of the public purse. Spouses can help out sure, but no money from the public purse.

MPs and AMs no longer enjoy the confidence of the public and the tired old argument that MPs and/or AMs belong to some kind of special grouping is just that, a tired old argument. Hell, soldiers and Navy people go off for months at a time, some even die fighting for Queen and Country. There is no-way-no-how that MPs or AMs deserve any kind of special treatment - especially in light of the fact that these politicians earn well above the national average salary and are paid allowances to hire people.

Britons are no longer going to give MPs or AMs the benefit of the doubt. It's a new era. MPs and AMs need to wake up to that or get kicked out of office (elected or unelected).

Glyn Davies said...

johnny - I thought I had conceded that it was the latter reason. It was the point of my post. As it happens I've never actually interviewed anyone for employment with me, in my private businesses or public offices. Its always been word of mouth, or taking on the person who has been doing the job for my predecessors. But I do think that times and expectations have changed.

christopher - An interesting point for those who think employing family members altogether should be banned. At what point? When they are married? So many people do not marry today. Is it OK to employ a lover - and is it necessary to dismiss any employee if a relationship is started - and when would a relationship be deemed to have started. And so on....Trouble with banning something is the avoidance of creating loopholes and anomalies.

Troy said...

David Davies has not posted or said much since last September.

Troy said...

"So many people do not marry today. Is it OK to employ a lover - and is it "

Some of us already have!!!

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn: an MP can employ a family member - but they should NOT be paid out of the public purse.

It is, now more than ever, in the public interest to have a "bright yellow line". There is such a conflict of interest here that MPs and AMs should be barred from employing relatives using public money to pay them.

Glyn: your 'solution' will just reinforce the public's growing lack of trust in their politicians.

Put another way: public interest TRUMPS MPs/AMs paying their relatives money from the public purse.

We are way past giving MPs/AMs the benefit of the doubt. I strongly suspect that the Derek Conway matter is the tip of the iceberg.

Either MPs 'get it' and enshrine this 'bright yellow line' into the rule system governing Parliament or there will be a 'drip drip' outing of other Derek Conway's.

With an election on the horizon, the leader of the Conservative Party can ill afford to be seen dragging his feet on this matter.

Rightly or wrongly the public see MPs with noses in the trough.

Given that this is the public perception, it is absolutely necessary to enshrine this bright yellow line rule in law to avoid further undermining public trust in the UK political system.

This is the biggest issue now; Brown would do well to take the initiative by supporting this bright-yellow line rule.

Glyn Davies said...

Troy - it tells us something about modern society that your identity remains entirely secret. Enjoy.

Christopher - I'm interested in your response to who the ban on family members should apply. It is not a straightforward question.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn, are you trying to raise some kind of straw-argument?

No ban per se on employing anyone, just no money from the public purse for 'employing' spouses and/or children. There's an obvious conflict of interest here.

According to at least one newspaper article, there are 70 Conservative MPs employing close relatives (spouses or children).

Rightly or wrongly, the public will see this figure as unacceptable - beaks in the trough.

Solution: impose a bright yellow line, no public money to pay spouses or children of MPs/AMs. Not whatsoever. Any MP/AM taking public money to pay close relatives should have to declare such payments in full on a publicly accessible register so that voters can decide whether they should vote the pertinent MPs/AMs out of office. There are of course some politicians who were never voted for - an outrageous situation, but for another day.

Glyn Davies said...

christopher - so its OK to employ a gay partner or a new partner that an MP had abondoned the spouse for. And this is a not a straw argument. The dangerous dogs dogs law taught us to think through new laws. And, generally speaking, I'm nearer to your point of view than most.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn, there's "always the exception to the rule", so if you are laying out a rebuttal based on "the exception to the rule" all I can say is that this speaks to a very weak rebuttal.

As to gay partners, what's the difference in your book? If a couple are of the same sex and married under the law of the land then they count as spouses. If they are not married then they are the same as a heterosexual couple in a relationship but not married. Being a boss and in a sexual relationship with an employee risks all sorts of issues regardless of the sexual preference of either the boss or worker.

The bright-yellow line rule is easy to enforce if it sticks to family members. Clouding the issue with some law about dangerous dogs being messed up is just throwing up straw man arguments to detract from what is an obviously simple rule. No payments out of the public purse to 'employed' spouses or children. Such limitations to the rule will keep it simple to enforce. To wit,

No MP shall use MP Allowance monies as compensation to pay monies to his/her spouse or his/her children in the MPs employ.

Such a rule doesn't mean the MP can't employ his/her spouse or his/her children, but does mean he/she can't use MP allowance money to pay salaries. The terms "MP Allowance monies" and "children" should be defined using appropriate restrictive language.

Glyn Davies said...

Christopher - Just watched Newsnight and exactly the same point about definition of family memeber was being made. It is not a frivilous point - and is one of the reasons why I do not think the sort of ban you want to see will happen

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn: Oh, I have no doubt that many don't want it to happen, not because of silly tangential arguments but because there are too many interested parties who don't want such a rule!

It is VERY easy to define a child and a spouse to enable easy enforcement of the rule. It is my sincerest hope that other Derek Conways receive the oxygen of publicity.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Oxygen of publicity ...

The Independent newspaper published a rather interesting article today (Feb 2, 2008) about the Speaker of the Lower House, Mr Michael Martin.

I quote (from The Independent): “It seems unlikely that MPs will mend their ways in the wake of the revelations about Derek Conway's freeloading. One reason is that any proposed reform of the system is likely to be blocked by the powerful figure of the Speaker Mr Michael Martin … Mr Martin's own record in the area of questionable expenses has not gone unremarked. It has been revealed that his wife Mary has claimed huge sums, including nearly £50,000 for free air travel when accompanying her husband on various overseas trips. She has even claimed a few thousand for her shopping trips by taxi "in connection with household expenditure in connection with the Speaker's duties". Meanwhile, the Speaker already gets a salary of £137,000 while he and his wife have free accommodation inside the parliamentary estate.”