British lawmakers propose tightening parliament's code of conduct rules

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LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) - British lawmakers on Tuesday proposed changes to parliament's code of conduct to tighten the rules around lobbying in response to a scandal over MPs getting paid for external work that raised concerns over conflicts of interest.

Last year Conservative lawmaker and former minister Owen Paterson resigned after being found guilty by parliament's standards watchdog of repeatedly lobbying for two firms, which paid him nearly three times his annual salary. read more

Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially sought to change parliamentary conflict-of-interest rules over the Paterson affair, sparking an outcry and eventually a U-turn. It led to Johnson denying that Britain was a corrupt country. read more

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Parliament's Committee on Standards published its recommendations for reforms, including a new Code of Conduct for members of parliament (MPs), which they must now approve.

"The last year has shown that the public cares passionately about standards in parliament – and so do MPs," Chris Bryant, Chair of the Committee on Standards, said in a statement.

"Our report sets out a package of robust new measures to uphold and strengthen standards in parliament by improving transparency, tackling conflicts of interest, tightening the rules on improper lobbying and providing an enhanced means of appeal."

Currently, lawmakers cannot initiate parliamentary proceedings where they have a current financial interest, but they can participate in them. The report finds the distinction "unhelpful, is liable to abuse and is not well-understood by members or by the public", and recommends it should be removed.

The recommendations also say that ministers should disclose all benefits and hospitality that they receive, as other lawmakers do, instead of having a ministerial exemption.

It also proposes an outright ban on lawmakers providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services, and says any outside work should have a contract that makes explicit that their duties cannot include lobbying.

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Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

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