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I hope all my constituents know that I employ my wife, Julia as my secretary and have done since I was elected. And of course I have always done so in complete accordance with the rules and recommendations of the House of Commons.

I chose Julia as my secretary partly because we felt it would keep us closer together as a couple than would otherwise have been possible, but more importantly because she was well qualified for the job and so has given my constituents an outstanding service over nearly 16 years.

We are a team and I have always made that clear in election addresses, on this website, in my most recent annual report and our writing paper. Because our workload has increased so much in recent years (largely thanks to e-mail!) we now employ a full-time research assistant and a part-time secretary, but the chances are that when you ring my office, it is Julia who will answer the phone – and if your case needs more calls made to the Child Support Agency or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, for example, it is Julia who will make them.

An MP's office is rather like a very small business - our product is words, by telephone, letter and e-mail, and, of course in parliamentary questions and speeches. Like so many thousands of small businesses the length and breadth of the country, many of us have found that the dedication, loyalty and discretion we get from close relations is much stronger than anything we could find from anyone else. Our work involves being told the deepest secrets of our constituents and tackling their biggest personal problems with sympathy and understanding. The trust involved is huge and none is better placed than a wife or husband to respect that trust. (The only downside is how often we find ourselves talking about constituents' problems on Sunday mornings or during walks in the Worcestershire countryside - but we both love the job, so we don't mind!)

I resent suggestions, therefore, that MPs have been slow to declare that they employ their wives or husbands, or that there is anything improper about doing so. Yes, recent revelations in one case have been very damaging and for all I know there might be other individual cases where MPs have fallen short of the high standards voters are entitled to expect - although I have no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. There is a strong case for finding new mechanisms to reassure people but there should be an end to kind of witch hunts the national media have been conducting this week against those of us who have nothing to hide.

British democracy is stronger, not weaker, thanks to the dedications of the wives, husbands and long-term partners of our MPs who, paid and unpaid, support us in ways and through difficult times than only those involved in the political process can begin to understand.

So I offer my public thanks not just to Julia, but to all those long-suffering partners of MPs on all sides of the political debate. You are not part of the problem - you are part of the solution!

Peter Luff, 1st February 2008

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