Well done the Guardian who, in an exclusive today, has revealed that Ministers are saying that no action will be taken to limit the amount of time and money that MPs can earn from a second job.
In some ways that is good news for the Lib Dems! Remember the North Shropshire by-election caused by a greedy MP, Owen Paterson, being caught out? Lib Dems overturned, from third place, a huge Tory majority and swept into the seat with the first non-Tory MP for over 100 years.
But what is good for the Lib Dems is not, in this case also good for the Country. Our nation is in crisis. The cost of living is soaring, Brexit is hitting our jobs and wealth. A relatively near neighbour is at war and the climate is going to pot and will soon be unsavable.
On top of this MPs represent about 70,000 electors and 85,000 people each. These people have a multitude of problems and an expectation that their MP will be available to deal with them.
Parliament itself is demanding place to work. On behalf of their constituents, MPs should be challenging the Government; advocating alternative policies; taking an interest in specific areas of public sector work; working with pressure and advocacy groups to make the public sector better and more connected.
How can you have a demanding second job when there is all this work to be done. What do most people pay MPs for? We can only assume for their access to privileged information and the conversations they can on the side-lines of Parliament.
I have no problem with the principle of MPs doing none-Parliamentary things especially in the very long recesses that Parliament has. I accept that an outside interest may bring added value to the MPs knowledge and considerations. But it is a question of degree. MPs will shortly be earning more than 3 times the national media wage after a £2,000+ wage increase. They have generous pension provisions and other perks. They should live on that to give them some experience of what it is lime to be an ‘ordinary’ person in the UK.
So, let’s say for a day a week they can work outside their MP role. Given their level of pay why can’t they work with a charity, or a social enterprise or somewhere else which can give them knowledge of what is happening in the Country but frees them from the taint of being a mouthpiece that can be bought and sold?
Ministers have told the Commons standards committee that a time limit or ceiling on such earnings would be “impractical”. This is, of course, total bollocks. A cap could easily be set on the amount they receive from outside earnings. This could be validated in a confidential way by the tax authorities in addition to the statutory declarations they have to make to the parliamentary authorities. These can too easily be avoided as we saw in the case of Owen Paterson.
The prime minister pledged last year to clamp down on MPs’ second jobs after the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal and a furore over Geoffrey Cox being paid nearly £6m as a lawyer since joining parliament, voting by proxy on days he was undertaking paid work. Like his other pledges this one has evaporated like snow off a hot tin roof.
At the time, Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, said the government would back reasonable limits on MPs’ outside earnings, saying: “You could do it in one of two ways, you could do it by the amount or you could do it by the number of hours. We’ve asked the committee on standards to work up the detail by January.” Another minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, suggested that around 10-15 hours would be reasonable.
The conclusion, from Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and Mark Spencer, the leader of the House of Commons, said: “It is the government’s initial view that the imposition of fixed constraints such as time limits on the amount of time that Members can spend on outside work would be impractical.
“The imposition of time limits would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns over paid advocacy and the primary duty of MPs to serve their constituents. It could be possible, for example, for a Member to conduct work within the accepted time limits but that does not necessarily mean such work is ‘appropriate’ even if it did not constitute ‘paid advocacy’.”
They add: “In respect of a cap on earnings from outside work to impose such a limit could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system. Earnings from activities such as writing books for example, would not preclude Members from meeting their principal duty to their constituents.”
In contrast, the Committee for Standards in Public Life has put forward a suggestion of an “objective means of setting reasonable limits” on earnings by MPs from second jobs.
In their submission Lord Evans, the chair of the Standards committee said, “we believe the Standards Committee and the House should set an indicative limit of hours and remuneration, with a rebuttable presumption that paid outside employment exceeding those limits would be considered unreasonable,”
The sad fact ere is that too many Tory MPs have their snouts in the trough. Their protestations bring to my mind the Shakespearian response, “methinks they do protest too much”. They bring a load nonsense to support the fact that they really wish only to preserve their bank accounts. The concept of serving ones Country by being an MP is outside their understanding.
Tory MP Craig Whittaker described some of the proposals on limits and declaring contracts for second jobs as “more nonsense! Bureaucratic, burdensome and just plain ridiculous” and “another ‘barking mad’ idea!”. Well, he would, wouldn’t he!
The committee on standards released its proposals for the code of conduct in November. It 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 an obligation for MPs to have a written contract for any outside work, available for inspection if needed, and which would spell out that they cannot lobby on behalf of the employer.
It also raised the possibility of limits on how much time MPs can spend on outside jobs or other interests, and how much they can be paid for them, but said this would need cross-party support.
It’s time the parliamentary sleaze was ended. Whilst some snouts are in that trough the fact that most MPs and councillors happily serve their council or country with only a wish to able to pay the bills for basics by their work and not make a profit from it.
Let’s hope the Labour, Lib Dem and other Parties get together to sort this out once and for all in the next Parliament.
Which the so called Lib Dems have also had their noses in said trough