A parliamentary committee has called for a crackdown on American students working in Britain's House of Commons, citing cases of stolen books and discussions of American football in the library.
The handful of U.S. college students who first came to work for British legislators in 1977 has mushroomed to about 80 a semester. An all-party select committee recommended this week that a limit of 50 be set.
"There's a danger now of seeing Parliament as an American finishing school," opposition Labor Party lawmaker Bruce George said. His statement reflected a souring of relations between British legislators and U.S. students working for them for free.
Robert Rhodes James, a Conservative who was first to complain about the Americans two years ago, said he expects the full House of Commons to approve the ceiling soon.
"It's not anti-American," he insisted. "But I don't see why Britain should be regarded as a free way for students from second- or third-rate American universities to gain some free knowledge of the rest of the world. They have absolutely nothing to offer. They know nothing about this country."
George and other lawmakers have sought out American students, saying that with only $12,720 a year for secretarial and research expenses, they are happy to get free help.
The select committee said it was the right of a member of Parliament to choose his own staff but recommended the ceiling. It cited already overcrowded facilities in the Commons, an increase in stolen and defaced books and abuses of photocopying machines. It also urged security checks on all research assistants.
"I don't believe American students are acting like that and stealing from Parliament," said Lisa Toelle, program director for the oldest program, run by the University of Rochester in New York state and Catholic University in Washington.
Spokesmen for Beaver College in Pennsylvania and American University in Washington, which operate a program with Leeds University, refused to comment.