Photographer: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Exclusive: Ministers tell Commons standards committee a cap on such earnings would be ‘impractical’
Plans to cap second-job MPs’ earnings were abandoned months after the issue sparked a sordid scandal that plunged Boris Johnson’s government into crisis, The Guardian can reveal.
Ministers told the House of Commons rules committee that a time limit or ceiling on such earnings would be “impractical”.
The prime minister vowed last year to clamp down on MPs’ second jobs after the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal and the furore over Geoffrey Cox being paid nearly £6m as a barrister since he joined Parliament. parliament, voting by proxy on days when he was doing paid work.
At the time, Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, said the government would support reasonable limits on MPs’ external earnings, saying: “You could do it one of two ways, you could do it for quantity or you could do it for number of hours.” . We have asked the standards committee to work out the details by January.” Another minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, suggested that 10-15 hours a week would be reasonable.
However, the government revealed that it no longer supports such limits in its submission to the current Commons standards committee consultation, seen by The Guardian.
The conclusion, by Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Mark Spencer, Leader of the House of Commons, said: “The government’s initial view is that the imposition of fixed restrictions, such as time limits on the amount of time that Members can devote to external work would be impractical.
“Imposing time limits would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns about paid defense and the primary duty of parliamentarians to serve their constituents. It might be possible, for example, for a member to perform work within accepted time limits, but that does not necessarily mean that such work is ‘appropriate’, even if it does not constitute ‘paid advocacy’.”
They add: “With respect to a cap on earnings from outside work, imposing such a cap could serve to prohibit activities that do not exert undue influence over the political system. Earnings from activities such as writing books, for example, would not preclude members from complying with his primary duty to his constituents.
During his time as MP, Johnson recorded £88,000 as an advance from publisher Hodder & Stoughton for a book “not yet written” in 2015.
The government said it would support reforms to “restrict the kind of outside work that parliamentarians can do”, but did not state what those should be beyond supporting the current proposal to ban “paid parliamentary advisory, consultancy or strategy services”. It will make its final decision after the consultation is complete and the committee has produced its final report.
Rather, the Committee on Standards in Public Life tabled a suggestion for an “objective means of setting reasonable limits” on MPs’ earnings from a second job.
“We believe that the Standards Committee and the House should set an indicative limit on hours and pay, with a rebuttable presumption that paid outside employment in excess of those limits would be considered unreasonable,” its chairman, Lord Evans, said in his presentation.
The government also took issue with a number of other suggested changes, including the idea that MPs could be referred to the standards commissioner for behavior in the House of Commons. He opposed changes to the MPs’ code of conduct to make it an offense for any member to “subject anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attack in any medium”. The government said this could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and unduly prevent MPs from expressing their views.
Numerous MPs, mostly Conservatives, also responded to the consultation on their rules regime with a wide range of criticism. Conservative MP Craig Whittaker described some of the proposals on limits and the declaration of contracts for second jobs as “more nonsense! Bureaucratic, burdensome and just plain ridiculous” and “another ‘crazy’ idea!”.
Philip Dunne, a Conservative MP and a former minister with a second job paying him £3,400 a month as a non-executive director, warned that a system to ban paid parliamentary consultancy had “led to the loss of experienced and qualified experts from parliamentary speech”. ” of the House of Lords.
The standards committee published its proposals for the code of conduct in November. He said MPs should face a complete ban on working as paid consultants and ministers should be more open about any potential conflicts of interest.
Other recommendations included a requirement for MPs to have a written contract for any outside work, available for inspection if necessary, and specifying that they cannot lobby on behalf of the employer.
He also raised the possibility of limits on how much time MPs can spend on outside work or other interests, and how much they can be paid for it, but said this would need cross-party support.