Parliamentary watchdog to investigate after row over donations to North-East MP (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson defends dealings with Hitachi
A NORTH-EAST MP hit back tonight after Parliament’s watchdog was asked to investigate a row involving the £4.5bn Hitachi train assembly scheme.
A Conservative MP accused Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson of failing to properly declare two donations before speaking about the project in a Commons debate.
Now John Glen has reported Mr Wilson to Kathryn Hudson, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, for a “potential breach of the code of conduct for MPs”.
In a letter, he said the Sedgefield MP had registered £5,700 donations from both Hitachi and Merchant Place Developments, which owns the Newton Aycliffe site earmarked for the factory.
On January 31, Mr Wilson spoke about the project, but, Mr Glen wrote: “At no time did he draw attention to his entry in the register of members’ financial interests.”
Mr Glen wrote: “The code of conduct clearly states that ‘a financial interest should be declared if it might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question’.
“I note that Mr Wilson has mentioned Hitachi’s investment on no less than 22 separate occasions in Parliament and lobbied ministers in its favour.
“Clearly, it is a matter of public interest to know whether or not there was any expectation of future financial interest when he made these speeches?”
With Hitachi poised to create at least 500 high-quality jobs in England’s poorest region, Mr Glen acknowledged an MP’s right to argue for investment in their constituency.
But he added: “Where a member has received significant political donation from a company, it is essential for transparency and public faith in parliament for this to be made clear.”
However, Mr Wilson hit back, saying: “All my dealings with Hitachi Rail Europe have been above board.
“I asked the registrar if I needed to make reference to the donations before I spoke about Hitachi in the Commons and was told I did not need to.
“The donation was made to the constituency party and the MP has only picked up on it because I was transparent and declared it.”
Mr Glen also made an error in his letter, because Mr Wilson raised Hitachi in a debate on January 30 – not the following day – during a debate about the European Union.
Criticising David Cameron’s EU policy, he said: “It is called “Hitachi Rail Europe” for a reason - it wants to export trains and rolling stock to Europe. I would have thought that it wanted not uncertainty, but clarity.”
If the standards commissioner finds against Mr Wilson, she can require him to “rectify” any error.
More serious cases are also investigated by MPs who sit on the all-party Committee on Standards and Privileges.