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Monday, 5 September 2016

Declaring an interest

 Example One: the chairman of a parliamentary select committee inquiring into the tax status of fee-paying schools sends his own children to a fee-paying school.

Do we have a right to know that? Of course we do.

Example Two: a select committee chairman leading an inquiry into the use of off-shore tax shelters makes use of such a shelter himself.

Do we have a right to know that? Of course we do.

Example Three: another select committee chairman, leading an inquiry into whether paying for sex should be criminalised, is himself in the habit of paying for sex.

Do we have a right to know? See above.

The reason should be self-evident. We need to know that when law-makers make laws, they do so on the basis of what they think is best for the country, not what is best for them personally.

That’s why they are required to declare an interest.

Keith Vaz’s sex life is nothing to do with us, except when it directly impinges on his parliamentary work, which we pay for out of our taxes, or involves illegal behaviour. If at the start of his committee’s inquiry into prostitution, he had announced that he had a personal interest in the issue, because he occasionally paid for sex, his colleagues would have been able to decide whether or not he should therefore stand aside from the inquiry.

(When MPs discussed whether ‘poppers’ should be made illegal, the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt announced that he was a user – Mr Vaz, however, did not.)

The issue is transparency, not morality. Mr Vaz did not disclose what he should have disclosed, nor did he stand aside from an inquiry in the outcome of which he had a direct personal interest.

If he did not wish to publicise the details of his sex life, he could simply have said: ‘For reasons that I do not wish to go into, I do not believe that I am the right person to lead this inquiry.’


If he had done so, the Sunday Mirror would have had no legitimate reason to publish its story. For MPs, just as for the rest of us, honesty is the best policy.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you're a committee member for a local charity, say, then you are expected (indeed, required) to declare any potential conflict of interest regarding the agenda for your next meeting. Why does this MP - or any other MP - think that they should be exempt from this?

Vincent Graff said...

Do you you think that had he excused himself from the inquiry using your choice of words that the press and the Internet would have responded "fair enough, Keith/Jim. No further questions"?