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City MP defends hiring of relatives

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: August 21, 2009

  • Alison-Seabeck

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A CITY MP has said she and her Westminster colleagues should not be banned from employing family members.

While recognising it as 'a thorny issue', Alison Seabeck, Labour member for Plymouth Devonport, says she believes it would be wrong to bar members from hiring relatives.

Safeguards were needed, she said, but the practice should not be stopped.

Ms Seabeck made her views known in a submission to the Committee On Standards In Public Life, which is conducting an inquiry into parliamentary pay and perks following the storm over expenses.

Ms Seabeck also said she had been 'surprised' by her constituents' support for an increase in MPs salaries, with an end to the controversial second homes allowance.

MPs face the prospect of being banned from employing family members as part of moves to clean up politics.

Parliamentary standards watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly is understood to believe a ban will help rebuild public trust in politicians in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Many MPs currently employ family members. Ms Seabeck says she hired her daughter for a short time, and Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton Linda Gilroy employs her husband.

Sir Christopher is said to agree with MPs that many relatives work far harder than non-family staff, but to believe the public will not tolerate the situation continuing.

Scrapping the practice is said to be under 'active consideration'. It was brought into disrepute by the abuse of the system by disgraced Tory MP Derek Conway, who was suspended from Parliament and had to repay cash after using his allowance to pay his sons for 'research' work in Westminster while they were actually away at university.

In evidence to Sir Christopher's committee, Ms Seabeck said: "On the thorny issue of the employment of family members, I would say that I don't think this should be stopped.

"I suspect it's often the only way in which partners get to see one another. They are also individuals you can trust implicitly and that is vital given the stressful and sensitive nature of the job."

She had employed her own daughter one summer when she found herself unexpectedly short-staffed.

"Finding someone with experience and who I trust at short notice would have been impossible.

"My daughter came in and held the fort well. She was only paid the going rate for the job."

Ms Seabeck had worked for her own MP father in the run-up to the 1979 election.

"There have to be safeguards in place but I don't think it's right to stop this practice," she said.

On her website Mrs Gilroy says she pays her husband £12,000 a year for working a 20-hour week, although it is often much longer.

She says: "Anyone who has worked on a family farm or run a small business can testify why employing a relative is sometimes better than any alternative."

Working an average 70-hour week, she says, "I doubt I'd see much of him if he didn't work for me. The attrition rate of MPs' marriages is higher than average, for obvious reasons."

She adds: "He is on call whenever I need him and wherever I am.

"This is extremely useful given the erratic working hours and the tendency for problems or events to crop up at any time.

"That said, I am outraged by those few MPs who have paid money to family members who do no real work for them – and I certainly think the employment of relatives should be done in a transparent and accountable manner."

The Committee On Standards In Public Life is due to report in the autumn.

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    Albert Dock, DILLIGAF  |  August 23 2009, 7:42PM

    HOW ABOUT THIS If your job legally entitled you to employ whoever you want at whatever capacity as long as they could do the job.......Would you employ the idiot down the road or give your own family a chance????? I think the Idiot down the road may not get the job. Then again ..Its not your shout as ......you probably don't work. SIMPLES

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    Mu, Plymouth  |  August 22 2009, 11:32AM

    Gilroy and Seabeck are total wasters!. They have milked the system and still hold their heads high!. Gilroy employs her husband 'Benny' no not Benny Hill and he works 20 hours a week for £12000 per year. I don't see any jobs advertised for these hours and salaries in Plymouth! Umm!!. Seabeck you are also a waste of space and all you can come up with at present is speed humps to detract from real issues such as mp's with their snouts in the trough!!!!!!. I hope they both end up at the Jobcentre where they will be treated with the contempt they deserve!.

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    Mr Justice, Plymouth  |  August 22 2009, 10:18AM

    'Ms Seabeck also said she had been 'surprised' by her constituents' support for an increase in MPs salaries, with an end to the controversial second homes allowance' Is she also surprised by the amount of constituents who want to see the back of her and Gilroy? I don't know anyone who wants MP's to get more and i dare say neither do any of you. Another bit of spin by a Liebour MP

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    mick, Gateway 2...................  |  August 22 2009, 9:43AM

    I forgot to add that the other claimed £20,283 for 2nd Home Allowance,£14,057 for office expences, £85,836 for staffing and £921 for Central stationary. Some people like working with there spouses.

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    mick, Gateway 2...............  |  August 22 2009, 9:36AM

    I agree with all the previous comments. The way they have milked the system stinks. Let their dearly beloveds get out into the job market and compete on a level playing field with everyone else. She claimed £20,037 for 2nd Home allowance,£21,169 for office expences, £89,712 for staffing and £642 for Central Stationary. Now tell us there's nothing wrong with a member of the family working for her. How cosy.

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    Monty, Shafted in Plymouth  |  August 22 2009, 9:20AM

    Seabeck and Gilroy what a waste of space why do we end up with rubbish councillors or rubbish MP's down here in Plymouth. Time for change.

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    William, Plymouth  |  August 22 2009, 8:27AM

    Seabeck and Gilroy just don't get it and still try to defend the indefensible. Never mind, in a few months they'll both be making their way to the Job Centre and hoping someone will be desperate enough to employ them.

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    Reg, Efford  |  August 22 2009, 7:37AM

    These MP's really do not learn a thing, the penny still has not dropped that you have to be whiter than white. You do not employ relatives, you do not employ other Councillors through Companies and you do not fiddle your expenses no matter how hard you try to paint over the detail hoping no one will look. I sincerely hope people remember how these MP¿s have worked so hard for the people of Plymouth and I look forward to seeing Linda and Alison at Jobseekers.