MPs Plan ‘Wife-Swap’ To Get Round New Rules

(Telegraph) – MPS DETERMINED TO GET ROUND NEW RULES banning family members from working for them in the wake of the expenses scandal are considering ‘swapping wives’ with other MPs.

The wives, husbands and other family members currently employed at the tax-payers’ expense plan to apply for jobs with other MPs as a way of dodging the guidelines expected to be recommended by Sir Christopher Kelly next month.

Sir Christopher, the chairman of the committee on standards in public life, has been tasked with drawing up tough new rules to stop MPs abusing their allowances and expenses after the Daily Telegraph exposed widespread wrong-doing earlier this year.

At the moment 200 MPs employ members of their families in administrative roles. The prospect of Sir Christopher banning such arrangements has angered MPs on all sides.

Labour MPs made their feelings known on the matter at last week’s meeting of backbench MPs. Downing Street has also privately acknowledged that it could represent a bigger crisis than the demands made by Sir Thomas Legg, after his audit of previous expenses claims, for MPs to pay back money.

MPs and their wives are talking about taking legal action if they are banned from jobs they have held for some time and in accordance with employment law.

Eve Burt, the wife of Alistair Burt, the veteran Tory MP, has worked for her husband for 27 years and is his current office manager. She earns £33,500-a-year and has questioned whether people who have contracts can suddenly be made redundant.

She said: ‘We have had conversations about swapping jobs endlessly. They are water-cooler conversations.

‘It would be an option. We did work out a very complicated ‘giant wife swap’ where you all move one husband along. It would be an option.’

The case of Derek Conway, the Conservative MP, has been at the forefront of moves to tackle MPs abusing the system in relation to family members. He was told to pay back thousands of pounds after an inquiry found no evidence that his two sons had worked for salaries they were paid from the public purse.

Mrs Burt added: ‘We know there have been people who have done over the system, but they are not many. It would appear they are looking for scapegoats.’

Other high-profile MPs who have employed spouses include Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, and Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader.

Sir Christopher, who will make his findings public next week, has already said that the employment of family members ‘looks odd.’

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