Cash-for-access scandal hurts us all, says Norfolk MP

Former cabinet ministers Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Photo: PA Wire

Former cabinet ministers Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Photo: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Cash-for-access scandals tar all MPs with the same brush, a Norfolk MP has said.

Keith Simpson, Broadland MP

Keith Simpson, Broadland MP - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

Broadland MP Keith Simpson said accusations against two former foreign secretaries - Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind - who are facing accusations that they were prepared to use their positions and contacts to benefit private companies in return for payments, reinforced public cynicism about politicians.

'However hard your works as MPs, indeed as ministers or shadow ministers, it only takes one or two incidents and you are tarred with the same brush,' he said.

Mr Straw and Sir Malcolm are facing fresh pressure over cash-for-access allegations following an undercover sting.

Senior Labour MP Mr Straw has denied wrongdoing after the Daily Telegraph claimed he was taking a job with a firm that won a £75 million government contract after he privately lobbied a minister on its behalf.

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Meanwhile, Tory Sir Malcolm is under pressure to step down as chairman of the parliamentary committee that oversees the intelligence agencies after suggesting he could arrange 'useful access' to every British ambassador in the world because of his status.

Both politicians have denied that their comments to undercover reporters from Channel 4's Dispatches and the Telegraph broke Commons rules and have asked the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to investigate.

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Mr Straw has suspended himself from the Labour Party while he fights to clear his name, and the Tory whip has been withdrawn from Sir Malcolm.

Prime Minister David Cameron has declined to say whether he believes Sir Malcolm should stand down from his position as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

'I can't interfere with that - it is a matter for the committee and the House of Commons,' he said.

In the first tranche of revelations, Mr Straw was filmed boasting of operating 'under the radar' to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which paid him £60,000 a year.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Straw also talked about privately lobbying Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on behalf of Senator International, saying he had helped the office furniture firm 'get on the ladder' and secure contracts to supply the Government.

He indicated he would probably take an executive position with the firm after the next election. 'I happen to have helped them over the last four years anyway. I mean, without taking a penny from that,' Mr Straw said.

'But as a result of getting the name out ... they've said would I be interested ultimately in going on the board?'

Mr Straw - who is stepping down at the election - said in a statement: 'I have acted in accordance with the parliamentary rules at all times in respect of Senator International, as in all other respects. All of these matters will be scrutinised by the Parliamentary Commissioner.'

Kensington MP Sir Malcolm, who first entered Parliament in 1974 and served for more than a decade in the cabinets of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, dismissed allegations of wrongdoing as 'unfounded' and vowed to fight them 'with all my strength'.

But Labour's Kim Howells, a previous chairman of the ISC, said he was 'bewildered' that Sir Malcolm had time for outside work. 'It became for me a full time job, trying to get through that material and make sense of it,' he told BBC's Newsnight.

'If the intelligence and security services are not properly overseen, if they are not properly accountable to Parliament and the people then all hell can break loose.

'One would have thought that great care would have been needed by anyone who is chairing that committee. I think it is going to be very difficult for him.'

But Mr Howells added that the decision could not be made by the Government.

'That committee must remain independent, and in the end it has got to be a decision for the committee and for the chairman,' he said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband seized on the row to call on David Cameron to join him in banning MPs from taking directorships and consultancies.

Labour MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates have already been warned that the party's rulebook will be changed to stop them holding such posts after the May general election - a commitment that will be in the Labour manifesto.

Mr Miliband also revealed he was consulting on legislation to put the ban into law for all MPs and to impose a cap on outside income similar to that in place for members of Congress in the US, who may earn no more than the equivalent of 15% of a minister of state's salary on top of their pay as politicians.

Party sources stressed that no figure has been set on the proposed cap, but the US example suggests that a level of around £5,000-£15,000 a year may be under consideration.

Mr Miliband told the BBC: 'We've got to settle this issue of second jobs once and for all so we remove any suspicion that MPs are working not for their constituents' interests but someone else's interests.'

But the Prime Minister rebuffed Mr Miliband's proposals, saying: 'On the issue of outside jobs and outside interests, I think we do have very clear rules and they need to be properly enforced.

'I don't favour a complete ban on all outside jobs or interests. I think Parliament is enriched by the fact that we have, whether it's a GP doing some time in a practice, a minister who's actually an obstetrician ... or people who have small businesses or sit on other businesses and draw some interesting experiences from that that they can bring to the House of Commons.

'What I see from the Labour proposal is actually not outlawing outside business interests, but putting a new set of rules which, for instance, would allow someone to work as a trade union official but wouldn't allow someone to run a family shop or a family publishing business or suchlike. I think that doesn't make sense.'

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