MPs should focus on aiding constituents not top up £84k salary with lucrative side-lines

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to clamp down on MPs’ taking second jobs in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal and amid a public outcry over Sir Geoffrey Cox QC being paid almost £6million since becoming an MP.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said at the time the Government would support reasonable limits on MPs’ extra earnings, adding it could be done by amount or the number of hours.

In March the Government appeared to row back on the idea with then-Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay and Commons Leader Mark Spencer describing it as impractical.

Cross-party pressure group Unlock Democracy says there are about 50 MPs earning more than £40,000 per year on top of their parliamentary salary though it notes some MPs with second jobs carry out roles in the NHS.

It is calling for action on MPs’ second jobs so elected representatives are fully focused on supporting struggling households.

The group’s director Tom Brake, who was Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington until 2019, said: “I know from my own experience as an MP for over 20 years, that being an MP should be and is, if done properly, a full time commitment.

“MPs’ constituents, struggling in the midst of a severe cost-of-living crisis, want to know their MPs are totally dedicated to finding ways to help and support them.

“Instead, far too many MPs are busy topping up their comfortable £84,144 annual salaries with lucrative side-lines that benefit nobody but themselves.

“This has to stop. We need a cap on any extra earnings and extra hours spent on outside business interests.”

Unlock Democracy says parliament’s rules on second jobs are outdated and open to abuse.

According to the Institute for Government, some MPs have argued they need second jobs to maintain their lifestyle or to meet childcare costs.

But the Institute argues concerns over the inappropriate influence which might be exerted over parliamentary proceedings by MPs taking employment elsewhere are more pressing.

Former Education Secretary Sir Gavin Williamson hit the headlines last month when it was revealed he took a £50,000 a year job with RTC Education Ltd less than a year after he was dismissed from his Government role.

Others MPs listed as having or having had second jobs, include Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who received £17,598 for legal advice given before 2020, and Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, whose two roles ended earlier this year with payments used to benefit his disabled son, according to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Tory MPs David Davis, Nusrat Ghani and Chris Grayling also appear on the list as having received income from second jobs.

Mr Brake’s call to curb hours and earnings comes at a time of increasing pressure on Government to increase support for families grappling with soaring energy bills and increased fuel costs.

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It emerged this week that more than four million households are in serious financial difficulties and have resorted to buying lower-quality food, selling possessions and cutting back on showers to make ends meet.

A report found an extra 1.6 million households have reported being in financial difficulty since October last year as the cost-of-living crisis worsened.

Abrdn Financial Fairness Trust and the University of Bristol found 4.4 million households are now struggling. Households earning more than £100,000 a year were the only group not reporting an increase in serious hardship.

Parliament’s Standards Committee in May proposed a new Code of Conduct for MPs, including an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice and a tightening of lobbying rules.

This month saw the Committee publish a proposed Procedural Protocol, outlining processes for dealing with breaches of the MPs’ Code of Conduct.

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Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Standards Committee, has urged the Government to bring forward a debate on the proposals before the summer recess.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Committee on Standards recently published its recommendations on MPs conducting work outside of their Parliamentary obligations.

“We are considering those findings and will respond in due course. MPs will have the opportunity to vote on any changes.”

Post-ministerial moves into second jobs are vetted by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), which acts as watchdog.

It cleared Sir Gavin’s appointment at RTC Education Ltd, but warned the former Tory Chief Whip it would be inappropriate for him to contact the Department for Education on behalf of the company.

ACOBA chair Lord Eric Pickles agrees the Government’s rules around business appointments are “toothless”.

He has welcomed changes to the Ministerial Code, including the use of fines for breaches.

According to ACOBA’s latest annual report covering 2018-20, it considered 346 cases related to ministers and officials from over 20 Government departments. Eighty-six percent of these were for paid positions. A total of 89 posts were not taken up or saw applications withdrawn over the same period.

The highest proportion of applications came from the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence, the report notes.

Sir Gavin Williamson, Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Ed Davey, David Davis, Nusrat Ghani and Chris Grayling have been approached for comment.

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