Belfast Telegraph

DUP defends four MPs employing family members

By Noel McAdam

DUP MPs who employ family members at taxpayers' expense are doing nothing wrong, the party has insisted.

Four of the party's 10 MPs still employ relatives - three of them their wives.

They are East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, who all employ their spouses in their constituency offices.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson employs his father, Peter, as an office manager.

They are continuing the practice despite it being banned for new MPs who were elected in the recent general election - and there are no indications they intend to change.

Instead, the party argued yesterday their arrangements comply with the existing system.

"DUP MPs comply fully with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) employment regulations," a statement on behalf of all four of the MPs said.

According to the latest Register of Members' Financial Interests, around one-fifth of MPs employ a relative.

Of a total of 589 MPs on the Register, 122 give employment to a family member.

Announcing the new rules, the parliamentary watchdog IPSA said earlier this year employing family members was "out of step" with modern employment practices.

"MPs should be expected to follow best practice in their approach to recruiting and managing their staff, as well as to ensure the proper use of public funding," the report concluded.

"We acknowledge the need for MPs to employ people they can trust, but do not consider that these can only be connected parties.

"We have also noted that other legislatures have followed this best practice; the employment of connected parties is already restricted in the legislatures of Scotland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand," IPSA added.

However, MPs who served in the previous Parliament were allowed to continue their existing employment arrangements with relatives.

IPSA chair Ruth Evans, however, argued: "We believe that the employment of connected parties is out of step with modern employment practice, which requires fair and open recruitment to encourage diversity in the workplace."

In the past, some MPs have defended paying their spouses on the grounds that they sometimes handle confidential and very sensitive material.

A previous IPSA report said more than 40 family members were paid £30,000 or above, while six received between £40,000 and £44,999.

As far back as 2009, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, headed by Sir Christopher Kelly, recommended a ban on the practice as it was "not consistent with modern employment practice designed to ensure fairness in recruitment, management of staff and remuneration; and it will always carry with it a suspicion of abuse".

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