I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. A manuscript amendment to the Opposition motion on paid directorships and consultancies and hon. Members has been tabled by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) to add at the end of the motion the words, “or be paid trade union officials.”
As I have said, I have already selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Under Standing Order No. 31, when a Minister moves an amendment on an Opposition day, the question before the House is that the original words stand part of the question. It is on that motion that debate proceeds and, at the end, the House is invited to vote on it. If the Opposition motion is agreed to by the House, it becomes a resolution of the House. If the Opposition motion is disagreed to by the House, the Standing Order obliges the Chair to put forthwith the question on the amendment moved by a Minister. If that is agreed to, the Chair will declare the main question, as amended, to be agreed to.
The situation is, therefore, that once a Minister has moved an amendment to an Opposition motion on an Opposition day, it is not possible for a second amendment, whether manuscript or not, to the Opposition motion to be put to the House. Assuming that the Leader of the House will move his amendment, I cannot therefore select the manuscript amendment.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker, in the light of your ruling. The manuscript amendment was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) in response to something that the Prime Minister said, in Prime Minister’s questions, that he wanted to happen. If the Leader of the House were to withdraw or not move his amendment to the motion, would it then be possible under Standing Order No. 31 for the manuscript amendment tabled by my hon. Friend to be moved?
I beg to move,
That this House believes that, as part of a wider regulatory framework for hon. Members’ second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could indicate—he could even shout over the Dispatch Box—before I begin my speech whether, in the light of the attempts by the new chair of the parliamentary Labour party to give the Prime Minister what he said he wanted at Prime Minister’s questions today, it is his intention not to move his amendment to today’s motion.
I will most certainly move the Government amendment today. It is an excellent amendment. It is not my role to facilitate the Opposition’s making up their policy as they go along throughout the afternoon.
I want to make it clear that we are actually trying to facilitate what the Prime Minister said he wanted during Prime Minister’s questions. We are not making up our policy as we go along; we are trying to include all views in it. It is in that spirit that I want to open the debate and move the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which proposes that this House bans MPs from holding paid directorships or consultancies.
Let me finish my first sentence. If our manuscript amendment is accepted, the motion would also ban paid trade union officials. The public deserve to be safe in the knowledge that every Member of Parliament works and acts in the interests of their local constituents, and not in the interests of anyone paying them.
Let me make a little bit of progress and then I will give way.
I note that, unusually, the Government have tabled an amendment that simply restates the status quo and would completely obliterate the Opposition motion. I intend to deal with all that, but first I want to take a few minutes to deal with the circumstances in which the House of Commons finds itself, and argue that the time has come to make a decisive break with the status quo on Members’ remunerated interests. I believe the current situation has become untenable.
I do not intend to talk about the detail of what was revealed in the “Dispatches” programme on Monday. I think we should concentrate in this debate on developing a solution to this recurring problem. Those events are being dealt with by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and that investigatory process must take its course, although that I note that the court of public opinion has already pretty firmly made up its mind. If the rules were clear and easy to follow, rather than riddled with grey areas and open to endless convenient interpretation, perhaps we would not find ourselves repeatedly having to deal with newspaper headlines such as the ones we have witnessed once more this week. It is undeniably true that these headlines bring this place into disrepute, as far as voters are concerned. Theirs is the opinion, I believe, that we must take the most seriously. They are, after all, the people we have been sent here to represent.
I just wondered on what basis the Leader of the Opposition thought he was an authority on being a world-leading constituency MP. He happens to be my mum’s MP and the MP for the area in which I was born and brought up. It happens to be the consensus of opinion there that he does not really care about Doncaster. He is hardly ever there. In fact, he is known locally as Ed Moribund. Why should those of us who work hard in our constituencies week in, week out take any lessons from the Leader of the Opposition on what it takes to be an effective constituency MP?
I am rather sorry I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. What we are trying to do with this debate is take a cool, hard look at the situation that faces the House in relation to its rules on outside interests, and the experience we have all had of them in this Parliament and over time. This is not about partisan views about who is a good or bad MP in their constituency. That is for the voters to decide, and they will decide that in their own way on 7 May. As a Parliament and a legislature, we all have a duty to ensure that the rules by which we operate are kept up to date and are fit for purpose. One of the arguments I am trying to make today is that we are not now in that situation, and we have to take radical action to ensure that we bring ourselves back in line with the levels of conduct that our constituents expect of all of us.
On that point, I do not think anybody in this House is condoning the breach of rules that exist for a very clear purpose. However, if we are talking about being good parliamentarians and representing our constituents, how much time over the last week, or in any week this month, have the hon. Lady and her shadow Cabinet colleagues spent away from this place, neither in their constituency nor performing their parliamentary duties, but instead campaigning on behalf of the Labour party in the country? How much time are they spending doing that, rather than pursuing their parliamentary duties?
I hope that my hon. Friend will address the argument that a second job helps MPs to keep in touch. My view is that visiting local schools, going to local businesses and workplaces to talk to managers and the work force, spending time with local charitable organisations, and going to day care centres for the elderly is how we should keep in touch with our constituents. That is the work that we should value.
My hon. Friend is right. There are many ways of keeping in touch that do not involve the exchange of large amounts of money.
An extremely bad and unfair impression of the motives of all Members of this House has now been formed, and it is being reinforced by this latest occurrence. Let me be clear: being a Member of Parliament is an extremely demanding and tough job, and it is done with integrity and dedication by the vast majority of colleagues in all parties. Unfortunately, however, the perception is growing that some MPs are in it only for what they can get, rather than for what they can give, and that is not an impression that we can allow to fester any longer. “You’re all in it for yourselves”—how many times have we heard that said?
I have some sympathy with the motion, but why does it not cover somebody who earns £15,000 outside this place lecturing, while someone earning a lesser amount through a directorship is covered? It seems a little confusing to some of us.
If we are talking about the cap—it is not referred to in the motion, but we are considering it for our own policies—we need to consult so that we can reach a sensible decision about what it should mean.
What impression are our constituents expected to form when Lord Heseltine opines on “Newsnight” that being an MP is “not a full-time job”, or when Lord Lawson tells Sky News that
“if you’re just a constituency Member, you do have time on your hands”?
That is not a description of the job of being a Member of Parliament that I have ever recognised in the 23 years in which I have had the honour to represent the people of Wallasey in this place. It is not a description, either, that the public are willing to accept. Their expectations of their MP have changed dramatically, even over the years I have been in this place, and they have certainly changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Our workloads have increased exponentially. It is time that our rules were changed to acknowledge the very different context in which we must now all do our jobs.
Will the hon. Lady confirm that it is the principle rather than the time that is important? She has spoken, as have others in recent days, about the time commitment for people who do things beyond their primary duties as elected Members of Parliament. Members of both Front-Bench teams, of course, spend an incredible amount of time on matters beyond their core responsibilities as constituency Members. Surely it is just the principle of earning outside that she is worried about.
It is about remuneration, and the perception that Members have other interests that they may be putting before their primary interests. Given the cynical age in which we live, we need to think about that a great deal more carefully than we may have done in the past.
We should really accept that this is about money. It is about Members—primarily Government Members—who want to be paid extra. [Interruption.] They want to be paid extra, and they want to be paid extra because they are Members of Parliament. My constituents know that, and their constituents know that. That is why the public are not prepared to put up with this any longer.
The Independent published an interesting league table today, listing the top 10 MPs who earn money outside the House. I am also interested in the choice of words in the motion—and, indeed, in the manuscript amendment, if we are able to see it. Does the hon. Lady believe that anything in the motion would affect the earnings of No. 1 on that list, who earned £962,000 last year—the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)?
Let me take this opportunity to make it extremely clear that the motion is not aimed at any particular individual. It is concerned with what Parliament should do to modernise the way in which it interacts with the world outside. I night add that I suspect that ex-Prime Ministers have a rather higher earnings potential than many of the rest of us. Furthermore—I should make this point, now that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) has brought the issue up—I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath gives every penny of that money to charity, and does not take any of it himself. Given the import of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I think that should be put on the record.
Will the hon. Lady acknowledge right now that some of the highest earners from outside interests are members of the Labour party? It is this Westminster establishment that the people of this country hold in such contempt. Is that not the reason why both the main Westminster establishment parties can barely exceed 60% in the polls at the moment? A curse on both their houses!
I last heard that the Scottish National party had received some particularly large donations from individuals, but I do not want to have this kind of debate about the issue. I am trying to talk about the future, and about how the House regulates matters that have such an important bearing on the way in which our constituents regard this place and us. If we are to increase trust in our politics, we must pay very close attention to what is happening in this instance.
My understanding of our position on the IPSA pay award is that the leader of our party has said that it should not go ahead as long as other public sector workers and workers in this country are experiencing a huge standard of living crisis. That is the situation as set out by my right hon. Friend.
It is time that we acknowledged the very different context in which we must all do our jobs, as it has changed. A YouGov poll in 2013 showed that 62% of people felt that MPs should focus on their parliamentary job full time, and over half favoured an outright ban on all second jobs. The proposals in the motion are just a start, but if enacted they would enable us to deal with the ongoing and corrosive issue of remunerated interests, and to begin to restore the health of our democracy and our constituents’ trust in the people they send to this place.
Let me turn to the actual terms of the motion, rather than the wildly inaccurate version that the Prime Minister sought unsuccessfully to dismiss earlier today. Our proposal states clearly that after
“the start of the next Parliament”
no Member of the House should be permitted to hold a directorship or a paid consultancy or, if our manuscript amendment had been accepted, be a paid trade union official. That is a commitment that we will honour in the Labour party by changing the parliamentary Labour party standing orders. All our existing Members of Parliament and candidates who are standing at the general election have been put on notice to expect that.
If the Government had accepted that rule when we first argued for it in 2013, the reputational damage inflicted this week would not have happened. The motion also states that we need
“a wider regulatory framework for…second jobs”
for MPs. The Prime Minister was wrong when he sought to characterise our proposals as an outright ban. We have set out some ways in which a regulatory framework might operate. That could include setting a cap on earnings from second jobs that is sufficiently high to allow, for example, Members to maintain professional qualifications. However, we will consult on that point with everyone who wishes to share their views. Our aim is to get a system that is fair and workable.
Our intention in the motion is simple. We need to be completely clear with the public that when they do us the honour of electing us to Parliament, they can expect our attention to be focused primarily on serving them.
Is the hon. Lady telling the House that there are two classes of outside interest: professionals, such as some of our colleagues who are doctors or dentists, who need to maintain their skills; and another set who are directors or consultants, who have nothing to offer the House and do not have skills that need to be maintained? If someone is in business and they need to maintain contact with industry it would be unlawful for them to carry on that business, thereby depriving the House of people with experience and preventing them from keeping their skills current.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), how would the hon. Lady deal with a farmer who was elected to Parliament? Most farms are incorporated, so the farmer would be a director. He would make a contribution to agricultural debates. If the motion is accepted, what advice would she give the farmer? Should he retire? Does he sell the farm? What?
We want to consult appropriately on this, but Ministers give up their interests and put them in trust when they go into government. There could be proposals that would enable Members to keep hold of the things they did before they were elected without being directly paid for them while they served in this place. There is a consultation process and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to get involved, I am more than happy to listen to what he has to say. It is important, however, that we make this break with the past. Decades ago, being an MP might have been seen as a second job but times have changed radically and we need to change with them.
Some of the people watching the debate will be absolutely incredulous at the views of some Government Members. The Prime Minister said that the reasoning behind second jobs was that he thought they would give people a better understanding of the world outside. I think that more people need to have a better view of the world outside before they become MPs. Does my hon. Friend agree that nobody forces us to come here and get paid £67,000, which is a king’s ransom to many of the people we represent? Those Members do not need second jobs, but if they do there are food banks in every one of their constituencies. Go and volunteer in them.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a point that is acute and important.
To those who argue that this will all narrow the experience of politicians in Westminster, I would argue that experience useful in our legislature is not purely gained by being paid for doing a second or third job. I have found many interesting and enjoyable ways over the years to stay in touch with constituents and gain a valuable insight into what is happening in the communities we represent. The payment of large supplementary incomes is not essential in gaining that experience.
Does my hon. Friend believe that for the sake of clarity, particularly for people outside this place, everyone who speaks or intervenes should say how much they earn from outside sources and what they do with the money? I will start by saying that I earn £7,000 a year and for the past 27 years every penny of it has gone to charity.
I see no reason why the cap cannot be constituted in such a way as to ensure that people can carry on serving in the armed forces. Government Members must not caricature these proposals. They are about remunerated directorships and consultancies, not about the sort of things that people did before they came to this House.
It is a matter of great regret that the Prime Minister has been so unwilling to recognise the damage that second jobs are doing to the reputation of Parliament and that he dismissed so quickly the attempts of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to make cross-party progress on a ban earlier this week. In opposition, the Prime Minister said:
“Being a Member of Parliament must be a full-time commitment…The public deserves nothing less.”
He knew it then, but once in power he refused to do anything to deal with the problem of second jobs, preferring instead to defend the discredited status quo in which the public have lost faith. The amendment that the Leader of the House will, regrettably, soon move defends the status quo, and even at this late stage the Prime Minister could admit that there is a case for change and get on board.
I have given way a lot, so I will not.
The Deputy Prime Minister said earlier today:
“The principle is if you are devoting yourself to public service, that is what you should do…I don't think anyone finds it acceptable…people regard politics as nothing more than a part-time hobby.”
He went on to say that
“the principle should be you are elected to do a job, that is your vocation, that is your act of public service, that is what you should be doing for your constituents”.
Well, I agree, and it is not often that I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister. In the light of that comment, perhaps he will confirm that he and his colleagues will join us in the Lobby tonight. If they do, we can really begin to make progress.
No, I am right at the end of my speech and I have given way a lot.
The choice is clear. Are we here to serve our constituents or are we here to serve our own self-interest? Are were going to change a broken system or are we going to ignore the public’s clamour for reform? After the election, no Labour MP will have a paid directorship or consultancy, and Labour’s manifesto will include a promise to ensure that that applies to all MPs. Wider reform is now being rejected because the Conservatives are the defenders of a tired and discredited status quo. To reform our politics, we need to stand up to vested interests, not cosy up to them. We need to stand up for the powerless, not the powerful. And we need to accept that sometimes in this place, things need to change. That time has come.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. I am sure that no Member would wish to contribute to the debate, given its subject matter, without declaring any relevant interests. What guidance can you give to Members, given the terms of the motion, on what they should declare before intervening or making a speech?
It is the responsibility of each individual Member to declare as appropriate. The obligation is no different in this debate from it would be in any other debate, and I assume that all hon. and right hon. Members are fully conscious of their responsibilities in this matter.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“reminds hon. Members of their commitment to uphold the Code of Conduct, not least that Members should act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them, that they should always behave with probity and integrity, including in their use of public resources, that no Member should act as a paid advocate in any proceedings of the House and that the acceptance by a Member of a bribe to influence his or her conduct as a Member, including any fee, compensation or reward in connection with the promotion of, or opposition to, any Bill, Motion, or other material submitted, or intended to be submitted to the House, or to any Committee of the House, is contrary to the law of Parliament.”
As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has acknowledged, the Opposition have moved their motion today because of the questions raised concerning the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). It is entirely proper that our two colleagues have referred themselves to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and we should await the outcome of those proceedings. However, as Leader of the House, I can say that, given the high regard in which those two Members have always been held, these circumstances are the cause of some sadness across the House. In the meantime, I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the contribution that the right hon. Member for Blackburn and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington have made to the House, to our national life and to international relations over many years.
It is vital for the health and strength of our democracy that the public have confidence in the integrity of—
I will just start my argument, then I will give way to my hon. Friend.
It is vital for the health and strength of our democracy that the public have confidence in the integrity of the democratic process and in the standards of conduct of all Members of this House. We live in an age of greater accountability and transparency, and the House of Commons has to live up to that. Transparency is an absolutely fundamental need in a democracy, and it would not be acceptable for Government policy to be influenced from outside by anybody in a way that was deliberately out of sight.
I should like to put on record that my interests are declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in the usual way—[Interruption.] And I am proud of those interests, too.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it smacks of extraordinary opportunism on the part of the Opposition to take a whole afternoon to debate this issue? Have they nothing to say about the OECD congratulating the United Kingdom on managing the recovery of our economy after Labour destroyed it? Should not that be the subject of today’s debate?
This is a week of remarkable economic news and good international endorsement of the Government, and that is no doubt partly why the Opposition have chosen to debate other matters today. Nevertheless, the issues of transparency and the reputation of the House are important at all times.
I will give way in a moment.
The reinforcement of transparency and accountability need constant effort, and that is part of what has been happening in recent years. At the end of the last Parliament, as the House knows, agreement was reached on the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. Since then, more has been done than ever before in Parliament and in government on transparency. We have created a statutory register of lobbyists and appointed the registrar; we are legislating for the recall of MPs; and we have strengthened the rules governing the appointment of Ministers after they leave office to business appointments to cover all appointments or employment they wish to take up within two years of leaving office—there has been a very substantial increase in transparency on Ministers and former Ministers.
The Leader of the House rightly talks about transparency, but may I just push him on that? Can he, and his Government, be wholly transparent with the House and the country by telling us how many jobs, additional to being an MP, he thinks it is acceptable for people in this House to have?
Does the Leader of the House share my concern that, understandably perhaps, 10 weeks before an election this rather opportunistic motion is put forward? These issues are not for this House; they are for IPSA. After the expenses scandal, we set up IPSA to look at this and other issues. If we want to unravel what IPSA has done, either on this matter or on the issue of salaries, we do so at our peril.
Salaries and allowances are for IPSA, but there have been independent reports on this issue. Again, I will come to that in a moment, but I just want to finish the point about the substantial increase in transparency that has rightly taken place in recent years. That does not mean we have finished the job of making Parliament more responsive to public concerns. The shadow Leader of the House has said some things about what will be in the Labour manifesto on this, but there will be matters about Parliament in the Conservative manifesto, including reducing the size of the House of Commons, and equalising the size of constituencies, thereby being fair to all parties and all constituencies, and saving money in the process.
But surely the right hon. Gentleman understands, when he talks about transparency, that it is also about how we as Members of Parliament and this House of Commons are viewed from outside. Does he therefore agree with his colleague and former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine that being an MP is
“not a full-time job”?
I was about to agree with something the Leader of the Opposition said, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will let me go on to that. Certainly I found when I was Foreign Secretary, for instance, that I still performed the functions of a Member of Parliament, even though I spent probably 90% of my time on being Foreign Secretary.
On Monday, the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister and said:
“I believe MPs are dedicated to the service of their constituents and the overwhelming majority follow the rules.”
The shadow Leader of the House said a similar thing just now, and I believe that is right, across all parties—I hope I can say that as Leader of the House. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say that
“the British people need to know that when they vote they are electing someone who will represent them directly, and not be swayed by what they may owe to the interests of others.”
He wrote that without a hint of irony, having been elected entirely dependent on trade union votes and having presided over the most union-dominated Labour party in 30 years. Of all the candidates selected under his leadership, 61% are union-linked, and more than half of those come from a single union. He did not see the irony in what he was writing.
Let me just develop this point. There are four very revealing points about the Opposition motion that I want to challenge. It is not a motion to ban second jobs—that would not be its effect—and it is not entirely clear what it would ban and what it would not ban. As one of my hon. Friends said, would it ban someone from being a partner of a professional firm? The motion does not mention that. Are lawyers, accountants and management consultants therefore in a different category, according to the Opposition? There is some discussion now taking place on the Opposition Front Bench about whether it would ban a partner of a professional firm, but there is no clarity here. The motion just asked us to make a decision. It is helpful when making a decision to know what is being put to the House. Does it ban someone from owning their own business? Are they banned from owning their own business if they are a director of that business, but not if they are not a director of that business? Have the Opposition thought that out? Does it mean—and this is an important question—that someone who sets up their own business, succeeds with it, creates jobs and contributes to the British economy is then to be barred from the House of Commons because they are a director of that business? That would be the effect. There are three-quarters of a million more businesses in this country after the past four years, and more of the people who created those businesses need to come into the House of Commons and not be discouraged from doing so. One suspects that, after a short examination, this motion shows as much understanding of business as the shadow Chancellor does on a bad night on “Newsnight”.
May I restate the concerns of the public and highlight the fact that someone who is the director of a private health care company—as many Conservative Members are—may participate in legislation that brings a direct benefit? That is appalling.
Let me continue, because I am talking about the motion. We only have to examine it for a moment to see that it is calculated to create a headline rather than to solve a problem. The next most revealing point about it is that it is different from the policy the Opposition state outside the House. That policy was described to the Guardian newspaper earlier this week—therefore it must be accurate. It said:
“The opposition Labour leader is expected to put the ban on MPs’ second jobs in his manifesto and say he will consult on proposals to limit the amount of money MPs could earn from outside parliament to 10% or 15% of their salary – in effect, limiting outside earnings to about £10,000.”
It will not have escaped the attention of the House that there is no mention of this cap in the Opposition motion, although it may be part of the wider strategy referred to in the motion. Could this be because there are Opposition Members, including in the shadow Cabinet, who currently earn more than 15% of their salaries outside the House of Commons? I will come to them in a moment.
As a graduate of the university of life and the school of hard knocks, I can say that this is the best job I have ever had. If a Member of Parliament is doing his or her job properly here and in their constituency, where do they find the time to have other jobs?
Members will have different views about that. The views of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) were given a few years ago when these matters were discussed. He was a Minister at the time. He said:
“My interests do not adversely affect my ability to discharge my public responsibilities. On the contrary, I believe they help me to be a more effective MP precisely because they sustain my practical experience in the relevant fields.”
Members are entitled to hold that view, just as they are entitled to hold the view expressed by my hon. Friend.
May I use this intervention to do what I probably should have done when I intervened on the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), which is to draw the House’s attention to my declarations in the register? My right hon. Friend has written a couple of very successful and enjoyable books while serving in this House. Does he feel that he was not serving his constituents during that period? He probably spent less of his spare time with his wife when he was writing those books, but continued to serve his constituents very well.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I understand the rules—perhaps I could get some guidance on this—a Member should declare what those interests are, as opposed simply to referring the House to the “register”.
“Erskine May” does treat of this matter. The short answer to the hon. Lady is that, yes, it should be clear to the House what is constituted by the interest, because that makes the debate that much more intelligible. It is a straightforward point, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it, and I have ruled, on advice, accordingly.
Order. Sit down. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced ex-Minister, and that was a very poor attempt at a point of order—it did not even begin to get into the category of a point of order. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Gentleman should not be wittering irrelevantly from a sedentary position. I have ruled on the matter, and I have done with clarity and accuracy. Those hon. Members can accept it, and that is the end of it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that we all want to get this right. Very often in debate all that it has been necessary to say is, “I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.” Just to be absolutely clear, I think that what you have said means that we will all have to recite into the record exactly what is in our entry in the register. If that is what you would like us to do when called to speak, I for one am happy to do it. It will take a little time, but I am very willing to do it in the interests of transparency.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The answer is very straightforward, and it is twofold: first, of course individual Members must take responsibility for what they say in this House when they rise to their feet; and secondly, very simply, the interest in question has to be sufficiently clear to be informative to the House in the context of the debate. It is a very straightforward point and I have now made it twice. I hope that it is clear to all right hon. and hon. Members.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be helpful to ask you about my understanding that it is not customary to explain points of one’s interests in interventions or supplementary questions; that is normally reserved for main speeches, the idea being that it advances the debate.
The short answer is that the declaration should be made where it does not impede the progress of debate, and it should certainly not impair the decorum of the debate. [Interruption.] Order. Members can study the matter, which is treated of in some detail in “Erskine May”. The House would be the first to complain, and rightly so, if I were to read out what is in “Erskine May”. I do not do that. I do not need to do that. Members should apprise themselves of what is said in “Erskine May” on the matter and judge their actions accordingly, which I know the hon. Gentleman, in particular, is extremely adept at doing. I suggest that others could usefully follow his example.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. For clarity, although “Erskine May” does give direction in this House, I received a complaint from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for saying in this House, “I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests”, and the complaint was upheld on the basis that I did not say what the interest was. Practically, in this parliamentary term I had to apologise to the House for declaring my interests but not saying what those interests were.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] Order. I hope that the House will understand that I cannot be expected to offer Members a tutorial on the matter. People would think it very odd if the Speaker were inclined to do so. [Interruption.] Order. If Members are uncertain and want my advice from the Chair—I do not think that the Leader of the House is in need of my advice on the matter—I say that it is probably better for them to err on the side of caution, and to reveal more rather than less is a very safe course of action. I think that treats of the gravamen of the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry). I have sought to help the House, but I think that I can best help it now by enabling the Leader of the House to continue with his oration.
Having known you for more than 20 years, I would not wish to find myself in the position of having to rise to my feet to apologise to you and to the House, so let me say that my entry in the register shows that I work nine hours a month for a construction and civil engineering company that I worked for prior to coming to this House. For the avoidance of doubt, that company does something that Opposition Front Benchers are doing now: digging holes.
The hon. Gentleman has no need to apologise to me. [Interruption.] Come on—let us try to preserve some decency of spirit in these matters. I say genuinely to the hon. Gentleman that he sought advice on this matter and he has tried to do the right thing. What he has just said is the right thing and I thank him for it.
If I do not get on with this speech, no one will be declaring any interests because time will run out for the debate. When the points of order started, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) was being very kind about the books that I wrote.
That takes me to the point that I was going to make, which I have let the hon. Gentleman’s office know I would make: the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), the shadow Education Secretary, according to the register, earns substantial sums from articles, lecturing and book fees, and those are very good books, on which I congratulate him. Does the Labour party propose to apply this cap to earnings from books? Let me explain the import of that. The only way to ensure that sales from such a book remained under Labour’s cap would be to write an unsuccessful book, of which there are also examples on the Opposition Benches.
By what logic, according to Labour, is it acceptable for a Member to write an unsuccessful book but not a successful one? By what logic is it okay to write an unsuccessful book but not to engage in some other activity no more threatening to the public interest than an unsuccessful book?
That was a good joke, but may I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the motion, which, whatever debate there may be about what may or may not be the policy of the next Labour Government, is what we ought to be looking at. It is narrowly about paid directorships or consultancies. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the motion were passed, we would not have the enormous embarrassment of what has happened in the past few days? Surely, on the most minimal change to the status quo, this is a first step. Why are those on the Government Benches against it?
I am discussing the motion and what it means or does not mean. It is difficult to speculate about what would happen or not happen in the future if we pass a motion, the meaning of which is not clear. In any case, the burden of the motion is one with which we disagree. It was not a joke about books. I was making, through a bit of humour, admittedly, a serious point: the Opposition do not know how they would apply a cap to somebody who writes a book, including a member of the shadow Cabinet, or to a farm.
One of my hon. Friends mentioned a farm. A distinguished Labour Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, owned a farm. How is someone with a farm meant to restrict their income to a fixed percentage of their salary? Would Lord Callaghan have had to resign from the House every time there was a good harvest and then try to return to it when the crops failed?
I will give way again in a moment, but in the interests of the whole House I must make some progress.
The issue was considered in full by an independent and expert body, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which said that it considered it
“desirable for the House of Commons to contain Members with a wide variety of continuing outside interests. If that were not so, Parliament would be less well-informed and effective than it is now, and might well be more dependent on lobbyists.”
I agree. I am leaving this House in five weeks’ time, as hon. Members know—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”]—and I fear for the future of the House of Commons if rules are adopted that risk it consisting entirely of people who are rich or who are professional politicians throughout their lives. That is the danger of the course that the Opposition suggest.
Everybody has been amused by the points that the right hon. Gentleman has been making, quite rightly, but I do not think the public will be particularly amused. The public’s real concern is not about people with a continuing interest; it is about people who become Members of Parliament and then obtain directorships and consultancies and who are perceived as being in something like a system of outdoor relief for grasping MPs.
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to make a distinction between different circumstances, as another Member did earlier, but that distinction is not made in the Opposition motion, and the debate is on the motion. That suggests that if he disagrees to some extent with the Opposition’s policy—
Does my right hon. Friend agree that he is exposing the fact that this is not a genuine, sincere motion addressing the governance of the House, but a cheap, opportunistic way of expressing the prejudice of Labour Members? They are anti-business, anti-enterprise and anti-aspiration, and they would trash the economy if they ever got their hands on it again.
There are very clear rules about all that—rules not only on the declarations of Members of Parliament but on ministerial interests. Those rules are very rigorously observed and enforced, in my experience in government, and I hope that they have been under Governments of all parties. Transparency about ministerial interests and the interests of people who have left office as Ministers has been greatly strengthened in recent years. This is not a static situation; constant improvements have been made.
If the Leader of the House were to have a change of heart, I am sure that he would be warmly welcomed by the Conservative association in Kensington. Does he agree that if we are concerned to establish, and to give the public confidence in, the independence of MPs in serving the public, then it is not just their earnings that are of relevance but the source of all financial support they have, including that which goes towards their re-election?
I will try to fit in the hon. Gentleman before I finish.
There are two other revealing aspects of this motion. First, the Opposition make the proposal now, when the issue is in the news, but have done nothing to enforce it in their own party in the meantime. Labour Members—I make no criticism of them for this—are directors of building supply companies and investment companies, and non-executive directors of mining companies and breweries. They are paid as everything from expert advisers to executive mentors, no less. It must be nice to be an executive mentor. Does an executive mentor fall within the definition of “director”?
To make it clear again, the parliamentary Labour party will change its rules and its standing orders so that from the start of the next Parliament no Labour MP will have remunerated directorships or consultancies. All our candidates and all our existing Members of Parliament will have to change their arrangements in order to comply with this change of rules. Will the right hon. Gentleman now commit to his party doing the same?
No, as is very clear from my speech. I have made the point that the Committee on Standards in Public Life made. The hon. Lady has said what the Labour party will do in the next Parliament, but I hope she will admit that she has to deal with the points I have been making about how to define these responsibilities, because they are not dealt with at the moment. There is no clear answer from the Opposition even about what their policy is.
The Leader of the House has been very generous in giving way. He made a point that he thought was funny—frankly, the electorate would not think it was funny—about the former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) made it clear that Ministers, which would of course include the former Prime Minister, have to put directorships into trust while serving as Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman’s point was not funny, and it was not correct, was it?
Yes, it was correct. It is not for me to say whether it was funny; others will be the judge. I was making a point about the Opposition motion. If such a motion is so easy to make fun of, it may not have much chance of being a serious policy. The public would not find it funny if we adopted rules that could not be enforced, were confusing or damaged the future of Parliament, which is the central point.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My interests all relate to writing columns for newspapers and suing one of them.
Is it my right hon. Friend’s view that the definition of consultancies would include drawing a six-figure salary for being a BBC guest presenter? It would, first, relate to public money; and secondly, hardly draw in outside experience from beyond the Westminster bubble.
Whether that would come under the definition of consultancy is another interesting question for the Opposition to consider. They have to define such things if they are to present their policy more clearly. I hope that they will be able to do so the next time they present it.
The final revealing point about the Opposition motion is that it talks about some forms of outside income, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) has just said, it does not address the direct influence on Members of trade union sponsorship and support at elections and between elections. If the Labour party gains more seats at the coming election, it will have to address that issue at the beginning of the next Parliament. For the 106 target seats it has named, it has selected 105 candidates, of whom 83 are union linked, including 49 who are linked to Unite. It is by far the greatest single outside influence on Members of Parliament —securing their selection as candidates, supporting their election as MPs, paying for their election, dictating the policies of their party—yet they are breathtakingly silent on that issue. We would not enhance the reputation of Parliament by adopting a motion put forward in a hurry to grab a headline, but which does not address that fundamentally important issue about our Parliament and democracy.
I did not say, nobody said and “Erskine May” does not state that a Member has to read out a list. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, not least to himself, but I did not say that; I said that an interest needs to be made clear to the House.
We need a time limit because I want to try to accommodate colleagues, the first of whom to contribute is Sir Alan Duncan.
As we approach the general election in May, all of us sit in a House that is browbeaten, diminished and increasingly dysfunctional. This place is supposed to be the pinnacle of our democracy, both in providing the Government and in scrutinising them, but, if I may say so, it is not helped by such undignified squabbling.
The sort of Parliament we end up having in a few years’ time will determine whether politicians can meet the challenges of big government and a dangerous world, and serve the long-term interests of the people who elect us, or whether, with the diminution of our political wisdom and conduct, all we do is oversee the country’s perpetual decline. The composition of Parliament and its rules are crucial to that fate. All rules should be fair and even-handed and should not favour one side over another.
Instead of sinking ever more deeply into petty recrimination, today we should ask what Parliament should be. Politics is about interest, about competing opinions and differing views, and about civilised discourse and making laws with the consent of the people. If we try to sanitise all politics by removing all identifiable interests, all we will do is destroy real politics and reduce Members of Parliament to vacuous functionaries. This House needs people of quality and variety who bring genuine experience that is of greater value than the theoretical study of politics and careers founded only in the student union, the special adviser’s office and the party machine.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register; I have an income from a rental property in Edinburgh.
Will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the remarks of the Father of the House today at Prime Minister’s questions, when he asked what kind of person would come to this place if they could not have a second job? There is and always should be a place in this House for people who have never dreamt of earning £67,000 a year.
There needs to be a variety of people, including those who think that money matters, and those who feel that they have forgone so much to be here that there is no disgrace in topping up the salary. We should accept that difference, otherwise we are ruling out of this House a body of people who wish to serve in it, but who might not if they were forced to accept only the salary.
Let me chuck away my notes and, in the short time that I have, say what I think. If we sanitise this House, as people are suggesting, we will end up nationalising the entire process of politics. This House of Commons should be where people come together from all corners of the country, and from whatever background, to do whatever they believe is in the interests of the country.
I will come back to the hon. Lady. The original purpose of paying people was to ensure that nobody could not afford to come here. That concept has been inverted, so that the salary is the cap on what people can earn. That will stop people wanting to come here who could and should earn more because of what they know and what they might achieve.
This is an ultra-partisan motion. It is designed—let us be absolutely clear—to drive out of this House of Commons as many people on the Government side as possible, because people on the Opposition side think that we earn more and could be directors, and because fewer people on their side do such things. That is the fundamental purpose of the motion. It is partisan and designed to catch a headline for campaigning purposes.
I will give way one more time, and then say what should happen.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having finally given way. Sixty-seven thousand quid is roughly what a deputy head or a head teacher earns. Is he honestly saying that if they wanted to add to their great experience by holding directorships and did not turn up to teach the children very often, that would be okay?
We are entitled to say that politics should not exclude people who could earn more and who wish to look after their family in a certain way or do whatever they do. There should not be a capped, nationalised process.
Let me turn this debate towards more constructive points. The quality of the argument about what an MP should be and what an interest is has been completely destroyed by ill-informed comment and the inevitable pressure to get press headlines. There is a difference between having a conflict of interest, which our rules are designed to avoid, and having an interest, which can be a useful contribution to the politics of the nation. We are in danger of becoming a low-achieving, sparring, shallow Chamber in which there is insufficient experience to address the big issues of the day. Some of the questions and exchanges that we hear in the House are of a lower standard than those in a school debating society.
I urge everyone in the House to go back to the Nolan principles of 1995, in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which explain clearly what an interest is, what the House of Commons should be, why outside interests are a good thing, and how there are differing careers and patterns of life in the House. Some people come here and just want to be a Minister. Sadly, more and more of them push off as soon as they have been a Minister, because they cannot bear to stay here any longer, so they are lost to our deliberations. Some people—it would be better if we had more of them—come here with really good experience and can add to our debates, and they do not want to be a Minister. Why on earth, if they are a good Back Bencher who helps make good law, which, by the way, has become a useless exercise in this House, cannot they earn some extra money and say, “I am serving my country in this way”?
The concept of the full-time career politician does not serve the interests of this country. We should accept that a political career can change over time; someone can be in government, out of government, in opposition, on the Front Bench, and then on the Back Benches. That is what we want. We risk creating a Parliament that people will wish they never had. We are halfway to that already, and if we do not arrest the decline of this House, it is the people who will suffer. If they clamour for what the Opposition are asking for, they and all of the country will regret it.
The Tories just do not get it. After the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal, when our reputation in this country was ruined, sometimes unjustly, we have to try to win it back. I have suggested in books, including one in 1997, that the best way to win the respect of the country is to accept that £67,000 is a full-time wage for which we have to do a full-time job. I have just looked up one Member who spoke earlier and found that he is earning £200,000. He has not said so. The last speaker did not say how much he is earning. We want transparency in this debate.
I was referring to the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry). If Members do not have an interest, so be it, but the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) had an interest in the past—I remember that he had an interest in his neighbour’s council house a long time ago, of which he has no reason to be proud.
In 1994 we had a disgraceful episode in which Members were caught asking for money for questions, and we have it again now. Can we not accept the shame of what has happened in the past week, when greatly respected, experienced Members have shamed themselves in public and shamed all of us? It shames decent politics, and the only people who will be helped by it are those who are into anti-politics and suggest extremist answers. That will come home to roost in a few weeks’ time, when the respectable parties in the House—the parties based on idealism, as all our main parties are—will be damaged in the poll. We deserve to be damaged, unless we have reforms.
Where will the reforms come from? The Leader of the House said that there had been reforms with regard to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the revolving door, but we have had nothing of the sort. It is still possible for any Minister to prostitute their insider knowledge and sell their contacts and experience to the highest bidder. What is to stop them? Not ACOBA—that has not been reformed and is not the Rottweiler it should be. It will say that Members cannot take jobs in areas where they were once Ministers, and cannot do deals while they are Ministers. However, when a contract is up, the Minister will get an indication that if he gives it to firm B, rather than firms C or D, firm B will ensure that he gets a sinecure—a lovely job in retirement. He will get his hacienda in Spain. That is still going on.
The Government have just appointed a new chair of ACOBA who thinks it is reasonable for her to receive £800 a day for a part-time job. People on that committee—the great and the good—are taking those jobs on the basis of what they have gained in public work and in this job. This job should be the pinnacle of their career, but it is not any more; it is a staging post to getting riches later. We have done nothing about double jobs at all. Because of their insiderdom—because they view this issue from the inside—Members have failed to see what the public see from outside: people on the make who come here and use their election and status to make large sums of money.
What would the hon. Gentleman say to firemen in my constituency who have second jobs, and to policemen in his constituency, many of whom have quite legitimate second jobs that they manage to do outside their public service, publicly funded, well-paid jobs?
That is not a serious intervention.
Let us hear the promise of the Prime Minister from 8 February 2010. He said:
“We can’t go on like this. I believe it’s time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country and forced our politics to come clean about who is buying power and influence.”
They are still buying power and influence. The pathetic lobbying Bill affected just 1% of corporate lobbyists. It was a bit of a nuisance for charities, but we have not had control of lobbyists.
What about honours? We have done more to degrade honours than King Charles I and Lloyd George. The Prime Minister set up a special committee to give honours —21 every year—to MPs. That has never been done before. Most of them are failed MPs, or MPs who are disappointed because they have been sacked. We have further degraded the honours system. We have not made any of the great reforms that we should have made and that we promised in order to win back the trust and confidence of the country, which was lost with the terrible scandal of 2009.
Finally, we make a point when we start our business every day, although it is not published. Let us think what the words mean when we say our prayers:
that is, us—
“never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals”—
there are plenty of those around—
“but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.
We have seen a Parliament in which many people have prostituted their high office and the great privilege of being here for their own private greed. It has got to stop.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in what, according to the House of Commons Library, will be my 650th contribution to proceedings in this Parliament. That puts me well in the top per cent. of all Members of Parliament, including Ministers, for contributions. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which is to be found on page 11. I am a practising barrister, the director of two public companies and three private companies, and a partner in a film partnership.
The resolution tabled by the Leader of the Opposition and others does not seek to ban Members of Parliament from pursuing outside interests as such: the motion is simply to ban certain types of outside interest. May I suggest that there is no logic, either practical or in terms of public policy, in what the Opposition suggest? The motion seeks solely to ban Members of Parliament from being paid company directors or consultants. I am at somewhat of a loss to understand why the Opposition think it appropriate to ban a Member of Parliament from being a director of a limited company, but if that is what they want, why would they consider it appropriate for a Member of Parliament to be a partner in a limited liability partnership? Why should I be banned from being a company director, but allowed to continue to be a partner?
Under the terms of the motion, it would be acceptable for a Member of Parliament to have an outside interest as a farmer, providing that interest was expressed by way of being a partner in a farm partnership, but the same Member of Parliament would be unable to pursue effectively the same activity if, instead of being a partner in a farm partnership, he were a director in a limited liability company undertaking exactly the same commercial activity.
Under the terms of this motion, it would be possible for Members of Parliament to have any second interests if they were self-employed interests. It would be possible for Members of Parliament to continue to be authors, journalists, television commentators, and stockbrokers, providing the stockbroking was done by way of a partnership. The provision in the motion simply to seek to ban Members of Parliament from being company directors is, I suggest, somewhat capricious, and owes little, if anything, to logic. I am afraid it simply reflects the desire of the Leader of the Opposition to jump on any passing bandwagon.
There is a wholly credible, intellectual case for saying that Members of Parliament can hold no outside interests whatever, and there is a wholly credible, intellectual case for saying that Members of Parliament can hold outside interests, subject to rules on transparency and accountability, but what holds no intellectual credibility is to seek to have a policy which bans certain types of outside interests for Members of Parliament and allows others. Moreover, with respect, it is no good people, including many editors and journalists, complaining that the House of Commons is, from their perspective, increasingly occupied by career politicians who have done nothing else and then, almost in the next breath, advocating the removal from the House of Commons those of us who do bring other experience to this House. As the House will recall, the last time that the Committee on Standards in Public Life considered this matter, it concluded that it was beneficial to Parliament for Members of Parliament to be able to have outside interests.
As the register shows, I am a practising barrister, arbitrator and mediator, and I am also a director of a number of companies, public and private. Under the provisions of this motion, if I were standing at the next general election, it would be permissible for me to continue to practise at the Bar, and to practise as a mediator and arbitrator. If the Opposition consider it acceptable for me as a Member of Parliament to continue to be able to practise as a barrister, mediator or arbitrator, their argument cannot possibly be against having outside interests as such. Why would they consider it acceptable for me to continue to practise as a barrister, but not for me to be a director of public companies? It cannot be a regulatory issue. As a barrister, I am of course, in addition to the general law of the land, subject to regulation by the Bar Council and by the Bar Standards Board, but as a company director I am also bound by the law of the land and subject to supervision by several regulatory bodies—the stock exchange, the UK Listing Authority, the Takeover Panel, and numerous others. This motion is simply grandstanding.
I have looked at the number of contributions made by those who tabled the motion. The deputy leader of the Labour party is down somewhere in the hundreds, as is the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), who will wind up the debate, whereas I have contributed 650 times. If we are to start talking about the effectiveness of Members of Parliament, perhaps Opposition Members should start looking at the beam in their own eye before they look at the mote in their brother’s.
It is for electors to judge the effectiveness of Members. I have always declared my outside interests fully. Indeed, in the last general election, I stated very clearly in my election address that I would continue to pursue my outside interests. I am very proud to have been returned as the Member of Parliament for north Oxfordshire on seven occasions. On the last occasion, my majority was 18,000. The people of north Oxfordshire reposed their trust in me knowing fully, from the day I was first selected, that I was a practising barrister and company director. I have been proud to pursue those professions and occupations while a Member of this House.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which relates to royalties received from works recorded prior to becoming a Member of this House, and on which I work zero hours. There is one recording not in the register: the record by MP4, the cross-party parliamentary group, which has made almost £1 million for charity in the past 10 years. I know you have a certain affection for the recordings of MP4, Mr Speaker, and we greatly appreciate that.
Here we go again. Just when we think that the Westminster establishment could not be held in lower esteem by the public, something comes along to disabuse us of that notion. It is all so familiar: a sting operation by the media using a fake company involving some of our senior Members of Parliament and the lure of access. Underpinning it all is the possibility of cash in the hands of those Members.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) made that very same observation about an almost identical sting prior to the last election, when it was then Labour Cabinet members who were caught up in a rotten affair.
The public observe this House with something approaching bemused bewilderment, concluding that the Westminster Parliament exists as little more than a self-serving institution for its overpaid Members. This Parliament has never been held in such contempt. Never has there been such a profound alienation between those who are governed and those who occupy the corridors of power. There is a massive disconnect between this House and the people of Britain. All that has happened in the past week makes that disconnect even wider. People will observe the comments from Conservative Members with something approaching disbelief. We see that reflected in how the public respond to this House—of course we do. The two major establishment parties can barely get above 60% in the polls. The public are not prepared to accept this anymore.
I know one, and yes he will.
This House is able to secure only 60% of popular support. That suggests to me that the people of these islands are looking for something different. They are sick and tired of the antics of this particular House. That is reflected in how they are responding to the way the Westminster establishment parties do their business. They are sick and tired of the self-justification: the special pleading; the bleating; the idea that somehow this House is enriched because Conservative Members can make some extra money; that this House is enriched because they bring outside experience to it; and that we cannot live on £67,000 a year. Tell that to our constituents! That is treble the national average wage. Our constituents are currently suffering austerity and a diminution of their annual income. They are experiencing real poverty and real difficulty, yet this House tells them that right hon. and hon. Members cannot get by on £67,000 a year.
I believe that being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job. In fact, we have got two jobs: we have our responsibilities in this House, and then we have our obligations to our constituents. Becoming a constituency Member of Parliament has changed dramatically in the 14 years that I have been here. It has become much more technical and much more complicated, with a greater amount of different tasks and skills needing to be acquired to serve members of the public efficiently and effectively. The suggestion that this can be combined with a second job with outside earnings is something I believe our constituents would find very difficult to accept.
I cannot; I have no more time left.
No SNP Member has a second job, a directorship or a place on a company. Our responsibilities here are our sole concern and our only responsibility. SNP Members serve our constituents and ensure that the agenda for the nation is progressed. That is what we do when we come here.
It is only this House among the Parliaments and legislatures of this nation that seems to have this difficulty. It is only at Westminster where there is an issue about paid directorships and second jobs. We certainly do not have such issues in the Scottish Parliament, and I do not believe they have them in the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Welsh Assembly.
I believe that there is something peculiar and particular about this House. It has something to do with the history and the culture, something to do with the sense of entitlement that almost seems to come out of the pores of this place—the idea that people came to this Chamber because it was something for them to do after their main job.
I have no time to give way.
That is what we see with this particular House. It is built into the culture and the history. We need a 21st-century institution that is equipped to deal with the Britain we currently serve. It is no good relying on these old ways of doing things; we need to look carefully and clearly at how we conduct our business. What the public are seeing is cash for access and cash for honours. The public are looking at that absurd, ridiculous place down the corridor, with 850 ermine-clad unelected Lords. That is what they are seeing in this rotten democracy.
We have a task to do if we are to ensure that we clean up this House. I will support the Labour motion, but I observe that a number of Labour Members are among the top earners when it comes to outside interests. I would say to the Labour party, “If you are sincere, do it from next week.” I really hope it goes through with this and can maintain it as a policy. We owe it to our constituents to try to ensure that we do better.
We are not part-time Members of Parliament. Looking after our constituents is a full-time job. A second job means a second master, and that second master expects something back in return. Let us make sure that we do this job exclusively on behalf of our constituents. There should be no second jobs, no paid directorships, no outside interests with a financial return. Let us work for our constituents and make them our only priority.
I declare that I have one source of earnings as the MP for Wells; otherwise, I have nothing to declare. I think the public will be shocked when they find out that MPs declared earnings of £7.4 million for outside work and second jobs last year. Of the 650 Members, 281 declared outside earnings in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Thirty Members earned the equivalent of an MP’s salary, and a dozen earned more than the Prime Minister’s £142,000. A total of 26,600 hours were spent on non-parliamentary duties. I think this is appalling.
I can think of no other job in which someone could rock up, once they had got it, and say, “Thanks very much for the job, but I am only going to do it for three days a week because I have something else on.” This is about money, time and priorities. We absolutely have to move this place on from the 19th century to now. Public expectations are completely different, and a number of Members across the House have explained that workloads have changed. It reflects the fact that so many people have no voice.
Many of us have considerable experience of work and life. I spent 31 years at work before I came here, and I have done loads of voluntary work, as well as raise my family. All that was gained before the election, but I did not forget it all when I came here. People will not forget everything when they arrive. Surely being an MP is a vocation and a public service. It is a full-time job, too.
In my first term as an MP—I have been here nearly five years—I have held more than 650 surgeries, and 23,700 of my constituents have requested help and advice. As I said, those are people without a voice, and they often face the systemic failure of government, whether it be local or national, and they need somebody to speak out for them.
People must make the choice between earning money and public service. I accept that there are some exceptions: for drivers who need to undertake a minimum number of hours, for instance, or doctors who need to engage in continuing professional development. Politics is a brutal business, and I understand that politicians can come to a brutal end at election time, but what is important is that the people do that to a minimum, and do not become bound up in trying to earn vast slugs of money.
As one who has spent a fair amount of time in a voluntary—or more or less voluntary—capacity as a special constable, may I ask my hon. Friend whether it is the amount of time that people spend out of the job of being an MP that causes her concern, or the money? She cannot have it both ways.
Oh, I think I can! I do this job for the money that is paid to me, and I think that that is fine. I know that loads of my constituents would think that it is a perfectly decent salary: indeed, they dream of earning such an amount. This is a vocation. If you want to go and earn money, get out and go and do it.
May I ask my hon. Friend the same question that I asked the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), and hope for a slightly better answer? Would she ban the firefighters and policemen in her constituency from having second jobs? Surely what is good for MPs is good for anyone who works in the public sector.
No. I disagree. I will talk about what I know, and I know about being an MP, and that is exactly what I can talk about. I am not qualified to talk about the other things. There are clearly restrictions in various other cases, but what we have brought to the House today is a discussion about whether people should hold paid directorships or consultancies. I have to say that I do not think the motion goes far enough, but that is because that there are many other forms of employment. People are employees, they are on contracts, they are agency workers, they are partners, they are office holders, they are barristers and advocates and police officers and members of the clergy. I accept that there are all sorts of exceptions. We should consider these matters carefully.
I am entirely prepared to listen to what might be thought to be a way forward, but I have made a pledge, and I think that it is a privilege and an honour to do my job. There is no job description, and it may be time for us to discuss what one should expect, but the fact remains that I pledge my time to those who elect me and those who do not, and this will be my one and only job.
That is an utterly ludicrous suggestion. As my hon. Friend probably knows, for three years I was the Business Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. That was a promotion. It was something within my job. It was something that I did between Monday, when I arrived at the House, and Thursday, when I went back to my constituency.
My staff have calculated that in most weeks I probably work for more than 100 hours, but this is a vocation, so I do not complain about it. That is the way it is, and that is the way I choose it to be. It is absolutely fine to gain promotion in the Government, but we do not need to have a job outside this place to enhance our expertise inside it. I think it completely unreasonable that people should have such vast earnings and such a vast amount of time.
I recognise that I may have a slightly extreme view on this issue, but I do not care, because it is what I believe.
I speak as a new Member of Parliament and a proud trade unionist. I also went to a school that did not have a debating society, so I have no idea what the standard of debate is compared with the standard of the debating society at whatever school the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) went to.
One thing that has surprised me since I became an MP is the number of people back home who have asked me “Are you still working in the NHS?” I used to work as a health care scientist in the national health service before I was elected. There is a real perception out there that being an MP is not a full-time job, which is why people are asking me that question. The practice among some MPs of taking paid directorships and consultant roles exacerbates the belief that being an MP is something that someone can do in their spare time when they are not flitting around doing their other well-paid part-time jobs. I no longer work in the national health service. There is absolutely no way that I could hold down a responsible job, with people’s lives and health depending on what I did, and fulfil the responsibilities of my new role as an MP. To be perfectly honest, I do not understand how anyone finds the time to do anything outside their role as an MP, although I am prepared to accept that that may reflect the fact that I am new and have a lot to learn, and that a general election is looming.
People in my constituency are baffled by recent assertions that £67,000 a year is not enough for an MP to live on. Figures were recently published showing my constituency was the second-worst constituency in the north-west for the payment of the living wage. The worst area is Blackpool North and Cleveleys, where 42.1% of workers are paid less than the living wage. In my constituency, 39.8% of local workers are paid less than the living wage, with women faring particularly badly. Over half of them—53.9%—are paid less than the living wage, which is £7.85 an hour, which amounts to £314 a week for a 40-hour week, or £16,328 a year before tax. I am sure that the 39.8% of people in Heywood and Middleton who receive less than that—and, indeed, all those people existing on the average wage in the UK—will be absolutely baffled as to why MPs on £67,000 a year need to have a second paid job.
We owe it to our constituents, and to the people who elected us, to do our job as an MP properly and effectively, to make it our only employment, and to concentrate fully on it—not to be distracted by paid roles as consultants and directors, which feeds the impression that being an MP is a part-time job—[Interruption.]
Actually, Mr Wishart, I told them off at that point as well, and made them stop, so you could conclude your speech. I was just about to say that that goes for both sides. There are strongly held views: express them strongly when you have the floor, but please do not shout at one another. Liz McInnes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to end by quoting one of my constituents, Father Paul Daly, who said to me:
“When I vote in May, I will want a full-time MP who does not feel so hard-done by on a mere 67 grand a year plus expenses that they have to go looking for part-time work at a few extra thousand quid a day.
I don’t mind MPs getting rewarded for writing the odd article, but when MPs are earning more outside their parliamentary duties than within them then something is very wrong.”
I think that Father Daly speaks for the majority of people in their perceptions of MPs. That criticism from a member of the clergy brings home to us what people really think of us. This is a moral issue, and it is right that the Church should express its views in that way. We owe it to all our constituents, believers and non-believers alike, to conduct ourselves in an honourable fashion and to concentrate on the role to which we have been elected and which we should be proud to perform.
I draw attention to my declaration of interests, and let me spell them out, as has been requested. I am a director of a garden centre company and I will even name the other three directors. One is my wife, one is my father and the other is my mother. I am a partner in a farming business, as well. There are three other partners. They are my wife, my father and my mother. I understand the issues that Opposition Members, and Government Members, are trying to address, but the reputation of Members of Parliament is not being enhanced by the situation we find ourselves in.
Front-Bench Members must ask themselves whether the debate is making the situation better or worse. They are assisting the problem, not trying to solve it. In trying to develop rules to trap people or to make—[Hon. Members: “Trap?”] You are trapping me. Let me explain. As a farmer, if I cannot be a paid director, that is quite simple because I can extract myself and make myself an unremunerated director. That would mean that my wife would have to draw twice the salary to maintain the same level of support for the family. That does not affect my interest or whether or not I am influenced. In fact, it could be argued that that is even worse as my family is benefiting from that cash, which gives me that same interest.
On a related point, as the hon. Gentleman talks about farming interests, does he share my concern that Members in receipt of common agricultural payments do not have to declare that in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, even when they are Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers receiving quite substantial amounts?
That is a very good point. I am a partner of an agricultural company that receives subsidies from the EU. I am an unremunerated partner in that company, but how does one extract oneself when one’s immediate family are benefiting? I live in a house at the centre of that farm. There is only one electricity meter for that property, so the farming business pays the electricity bill, in effect paying the electricity bill for the house that I live in. I cannot extract myself from that unless I move house. I have never lived anywhere else. I was born in that house and have lived there for ever, but the rules that the Opposition are trying to create will stop people becoming Members of Parliament. It would be impossible for me to be a Member of Parliament under the rules they are trying to set up. I do not think that that is what they are trying to achieve; I think they are trying to stop influence. Everybody in the House wants to ensure that Opposition Members are not being influenced, and I am sure that that is what they are trying to achieve. The rules they are proposing, however, do not do what they want to achieve. That is a great shame. It brings shame on this House and brings the role of being a Member of Parliament into disrepute.
On the subject of influencing MPs, does my hon. Friend share my concern about Members of Parliament who are members of trade unions and do not declare that interest, such as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who had to apologise to this House for tabling amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill written for her by the GMB union, of which she was a member?
That is a legitimate point and it brings me to my final point about the best way to solve this. Members of Parliament should be allowed to do whatever they want to do, in whatever role they want to do it in and with whatever money they want to earn elsewhere, but that should be wholly in the public domain. The constituents of that Member of Parliament would be able to make a judgment about whether they thought that that was the right or the wrong thing to do. That is the only clear way to solve this issue without trying to draw up rules. There will always be loopholes when we draw up rules that mean that people with unscrupulous motives will be able to get around them, but innocent people who try to do a good job as a Member of Parliament would be trapped by them. That would be a great shame, not only for the House but for those Members who genuinely became a Member of Parliament to try to improve their own communities and assist the area in which they live. It would also be a great shame for people like myself, because I had no ambition to become a Member of Parliament until very late in life. I had had another career and I sort of stumbled into this by working in a community and being pushed forward through the things that I was doing to benefit that community. I think the House benefits a great deal from people who have worked and gained experience elsewhere before coming to this place to assist in making good, logical decisions based on that experience.
I should like to refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am an unremunerated director of a supporters co-operative, and as part of the responsibilities of being the chair of that co-operative, I am an unremunerated director of Heart of Midlothian football club. I am also a director of my own business, which I put into hibernation when I was elected to the House. The total amount of money I receive from all those positions is precisely zero.
I hope that I do not get struck by lightning when I say this, but I actually agree with something that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said. We are not many days away from the end of this Parliament and we have finally agreed on something. I congratulate him on rightly saying that we must restore people’s faith in politics and in this place. The public are demanding that we do just that, and that is why we are having this debate today; it is not because we are jumping on a passing bandwagon.
Before I was elected to the House, I ran my own businesses, but as soon as I left the stage in 2010 after the returning officer had announced that I was the new Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South, I sold one of the businesses and put the other into hibernation. Why? Because it is a tremendous privilege to be in this place, and every Member should give this full-time job 110% of their time. I was still a councillor at the time, and until the by-election took place and I stopped being a councillor, I donated every single penny of that additional salary to local charities in my constituency.
That is a completely ridiculous misnomer from Conservative Members. It is a smokescreen to cover up some of the practices that they anticipate doing in this place. Being a Minister or the Chair of a Select Committee is part of the job of being in this place. It is part of the remit of being a Member of Parliament.
I will not give way, but I will say more on that point later, because it is being used as a ridiculous smokescreen in this debate, and it is one that the Prime Minister shamefully trumpeted from the Dispatch Box earlier as well.
There are not enough hours in the day to do the job of a Member of Parliament, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you do not need to take my word for it. You can take it from my partner, my friends, my neighbours and my family—from everyone who does not see me from one weekend to the next because I am doing my job in this place. For Lord Heseltine to say that being an MP is “not a full-time job” simply emphasises how out of touch he is now, just as he was when he was in this place, and just how out of touch the Conservatives are on this issue. Any Member who thinks that the job of an MP is not full time is not doing their job properly, and any candidate standing for election on 7 May who thinks that it will not be a full-time job would be better off standing aside and allowing someone else to do it.
Why do I say that? Because since 2010, I have directly helped more than 12,000 of my constituents, held 800 advice sessions and visited or offered to visit 36,500 households. I get up to 700 e-mails a day. We are ingrained in our local communities because that is what Members of Parliament and elected members at all levels—councillors, Members of the Scottish Parliament, MPs and Members of the European Parliament—should be. We should represent our constituents; that is what we are paid for. The overwhelming majority of MPs work their socks off for their constituents, representing them here, doing the work of Parliament and pushing forward the issues that their constituents care about.
Let us look at the Prime Minister’s response to these questions at Prime Minister’s questions today. He could not have been more exposed on this issue if he had turned up in his infamous holiday Speedos. He was asked by the Leader of the Opposition, not once, not twice, not three times, but six times, how many jobs he thinks a Member of Parliament could have when they are in this place, but he refused to answer. What is he frightened of? Why will he not back us to stop this? To say, as some of the—
I am not giving way. Some Government Members say that these jobs bring additional flavour and experience to this place, but I do not need to have a £250,000 non-executive directorship of a major business to tell me what my constituents want me to bring to the Floor of this House. I know what my constituents want me to bring to the Floor of this House because I ask them—I knock on their doors, I do surgeries, and I put out questionnaires and surveys. That is how we in this House know what the public are thinking, and to think otherwise is just bonkers.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely strong speech. Does he not find it strange, as I do, that when we look through the Register of Members’ Financial Interests we find that a lot of those directorships and consultancies involve giving advice and time out of this place and are not about bringing expertise into it, although that was the argument being made by so many Government Members?
Absolutely, and that is the key point; we need to get money and lobbying out of politics. When we had the opportunity to put through a strong lobbying Bill, the raison d’être of the Government was to hit the charities which want to tell us to change public policy and not the very lobbyists they have at the heart of Downing street and of No. 10.
Let me just deal with this issue about shadow Ministers and Ministers. Those roles are an integral part of being a Member of Parliament. If Government Members are suggesting that Members of Parliament should not take those roles, they are completely missing the point of what the public are asking us to do. The Prime Minister said exactly the same from—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, if the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) got £5 every time he chuntered in this place, he would not need any outside interests from this place. A better view of the world outside would be to listen to what the public are saying to us. We do not need to have highly paid second or third jobs to tell us that, and that is what the public are telling us to do.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, but I have no time to give way
Let me tell the House who needs second jobs, third jobs and fourth jobs. It is the people who have been failed by this Government: the millions of people on zero-hours contracts, who need more than one job; the millions of people in part-time work who need full-time work—they need more than one job; and the millions of people on short-hours contracts in this country, who have been failed by this Government’s failed austerity programme and the so-called “economic recovery”. Those are the people who need to go out to earn additional money, because they cannot make ends meet from the zero-hours contracts, the short-hours contracts and the part-time work they are currently on, and we should be representing those views in this House.
The motion is not perfect, but the Leader of the Opposition said clearly from the Dispatch Box this afternoon, “Let us agree the principle that this is wrong and let us deal with the issues that are in front of us.” If we do not do that, the public perception of this place will drop even further and it will be to the shame of democracy in this United Kingdom.
I will try to raise the bar of this debate, as at times it has been remarkably undignified in here this afternoon. I am the only independently practising doctor in the House—I thank the Prime Minister for pointing that out earlier at the Dispatch Box—so I guess that, as somebody who has a publicly declared role outside this Chamber, my contribution should have some value.
The House should know that I was selected as a candidate in Bracknell at an open meeting that anybody on the electoral register could attend. At that meeting I declared that I would continue working as a doctor, so when I was subsequently elected the whole electorate knew that and I do not feel that I am doing anything that my electorate have not supported me in doing. During that election campaign I made a bit of a mistake; I am on the record as saying that I thought Members of Parliament should get paid significantly more. I said it in good faith, because I thought this Chamber, this mother of all Parliaments—the Parliament that should lead in this world, not copy other Parliaments—should have the very best people. It is a statement of fact that the best people tend to get paid a bit more, in terms of what they have done in life and whether or not they have been successful; at least part of it is to do with how much they are paid. But I made a mistake, and after four and a half years I am prepared to accept that in my time here, working on Select Committees, contributing in this Chamber some of the very best contributions, on both sides of the House, have been made by people who continue to do things outside this House. Some of the best contributions in the most difficult debates come from people who are working in the field. Many other contributions are pretty substandard because, invariably, they are scripted by other people, such as those in the Whips Office or in outside lobbying groups. The best contributions are from Members who truly know what they are talking about.
Although I understand the Opposition’s desire to improve the reputation of this Chamber, this is not the right way of doing it. The fundamental challenge that we all face in here is the complete breakdown in trust. The rise of the UK Independence party is to do with that anti-establishment and anti-politics feeling. There is a sense that the bigger parties are not listening any more and are populated by people who are in it for themselves.
How do we address this matter of trust? I reflect back to last week when I worked about 40 hours—it will be declared accordingly—both as a doctor and in my constituency. When my patients came in, they recognised who I was. It was interesting to look in their faces, because when they saw I was a politician, they did not want to trust me. Then they realised that I was their doctor, so they were a bit conflicted. I proceeded to treat them and then they left. I then reflected on what had happened. I was the same human being. I have the same values and principles when I am a doctor as I do when I am a politician, and yet I am not trusted. I think it is because the medical profession is about valued knowledge, professional behaviour, honour and integrity— just read what the General Medical Council says—and our patients trust us. They know that, most of the time, we are trying to do the best for them. How come the same is not true for politicians and how do we address that?
I am not so sure about that. I am certainly qualified with regard to the regional health care settlement, of which I have had a lot to say in the Thames Valley. The fact that I have up-to-date understanding of what is happening in the local health care economy makes me a more effective representative for my constituents.
Just as an aside, no one has talked about hours. As a junior doctor, I have done weeks of 100 hours or more—it is pretty harsh when that happens—so I know all about working hard. For most people, 40 hours a week is what they call their full-time job. I suspect that most people in this House do more than that on politics. I know that my family and friends think that I have aged quite markedly in the past four and a half years while doing this role. At no time has the fact that I have done additional work in medical practice impacted on my ability to be a politician. In fact, I think it has improved it.
The reason why trust matters—it matters for all parties—is that it is only with trust that we get to govern effectively. When I look at the challenges we face, I see ageing; I see Britain’s role in the world diminishing because we do not know what it should be. I think to myself that this country needs good government, of whatever political persuasion—
To return to my original point about salary, the reason I have changed my mind is that I think business, the law and trade union experience, for example, are all valuable in this Chamber. If people are working in those areas, I think that they should be paid for it.
The central thrust of my argument is that we face massive challenges as a country, and we do not talk about them here very often. There are not many debates about access to energy and food, ageing, extremism and the like. When we come to deal with those problems properly, we will need to be trusted as individuals, because otherwise the public will not follow us. I do not think that the motion addresses that problem at all. Each of us has a responsibility to behave honourably and with integrity in all that we do. I always have done so in this House, and I will continue to do so irrespective of regulations that are passed either now or in future.
Order. There appears to be something wrong with the clock, and I hasten to add that it was not the Government Deputy Chief Whip who turned it off. I hope that it will stick to five minutes this time, but if not I will help Members by saying how much longer they have. The next speaker is John Hemming, and we are still on a five-minute time limit.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It contains an entry for JHC, which stands for John Hemming & Co., a company I founded in 1983. It currently employs about 260 staff and has a turnover of £20 million. I have declared in the register an income of around £180,000 from that company. I attend a meeting once a month and chair the board meeting. I am a full-time Member of Parliament. I spend five full days during the week and two half days at the weekend on political business. Oddly enough, the motion is so badly drafted that it would not affect me, because the £180,000 I receive is from a partnership, and the motion does not refer to partnerships. Obviously, there is a lot of confusion about equity interest and payment per hour. I spend under four hours a month on the work set out in my declaration of interests.
What do I do? Well, today I met the Latvian Justice Minister, who is concerned about what is happening in the family courts in England as it affects Latvian citizens. I have attended two Select Committee meetings today. I actually sit on five Select Committees, and I probably attend more Delegated Legislation Committees than any other Member of Parliament. Therefore, when it comes to parliamentary activity, I can claim to be as busy in Parliament as one can be. Indeed, one of my colleagues said that he did not think that I had a second job because he always sees me here, and I am here a lot.
The problem with that question is that the hon. Lady has made an assumption that I do not make other donations to charity. I do make other donations, but they are not set out in my entry in the register. I am sorry, but that claim is basically wrong.
I do a vast amount of casework. I have my advice bureau on Saturdays, and the maximum number I have dealt with is 38 groups of people. Admittedly, that took a little longer than normal, but I see everybody who turns up at my office on a Saturday without an appointment—many colleagues who claim to be full-time Members of Parliament require appointments, but I do not. I have been a full-time politician since 2004, when I was deputy leader of Birmingham city council, which is also a full-time job. From a casework point of view, having dealt with about 30,000 cases of varying complexity since then, I am a full-time MP. I run campaigns about secret imprisonment, term-time absence, parents being prosecuted because their children are ill and dealing with people who leave this country because they are persecuted by the state. That is part of my job as a full-time MP.
I am also a pianist, as is well known. I play the piano at the party conference and later in March I have a gig in my constituency in Birmingham for Macmillan Cancer Support, which is sold out. Admittedly, that will all go to charity. As the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) knows, I play jazz music in various places for charitable purposes. This year we are not raising money jointly for Macmillan at the Palace of Varieties show, but these things still go on.
I have additional business costs because I am an MP, but where is the conflict of interest? There is a conflict of interest for Ministers, because if they vote against the Government they are fined by losing their ministerial salary. That is why Ministers are called the payroll—they are paid extra money by the Government in order to back the Government and vote with the Government, whether they agree with them or not. So it is very clear, with our system of failed separation of powers, that a conflict of interest arises from the second job of being a Minister.
How do my constituents benefit from me? I have a little bit more money, that is true, so I pay beyond parliamentary expenses for a benefits adviser who comes to my office to give specialist benefits advice. I was able to take legal action against the city council to try to get it to clean up the streets, which was good in that it got the council to clean up the streets, but bad in that I was ordered to pay costs against the council. That is being appealed through the courts.
Since 2009 I have claimed no second home expenses and I am the most cost-effective Member of Parliament in Birmingham. I use saver return tickets to get to the House of Commons. That keeps my travel costs low so, although I go between London and Birmingham every week because I live in Birmingham, I am by a long way the cheapest MP in Birmingham in terms of personal expenses.
I deliver for my constituents. I deliver more widely on campaign issues. What is the problem with me spending four hours a month continuing to have an interest in the business that I founded more than 30 years ago, which pays a large amount of tax and provides jobs for 260-plus people?
Order. I am taking the time limit down to three minutes as interventions have slowed us down. Dr Lee, you got nine minutes. I do not know how that happened, with the clocks going wrong. It was not your fault. The time limit is three minutes from now.
I shall speak as quickly as I can. I shall not go through a litany of my attributes, how many times I have spoken or how many contributions I have made, but it must be a considerable number.
I take the opportunity to correct the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who said his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests was on page 11. It is actually on pages 11, 12 and 13. Mine is on page 205 and it consists of three letters. Guess what they are. [Hon. Members: “Nil.”] Correct—nil.
We are here because once again Parliament has been brought into disrepute by the actions of, in this case, two former Foreign Secretaries. It is disgraceful. I am disappointed by contributions from Government Members who say how disappointed they are that the Opposition are raising these concerns and that that demeans Parliament. Surely to goodness our electorate want us to tidy up Parliament and stop the conflict of interest.
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley), who is no longer in his place, was going on about the trade unions funding the Labour party. This might be an incredible revelation, but it is the labour and trade union movement, and many of us are proud that millions of workers pay money to a political party, not for personal financial gain, but to support their collective endeavour. Surely there is a world of difference between the narrow financial interests of somebody who represents an energy, private health or outsourcing company, from which they can clearly derive a narrow sectional interest, and someone who represents the collective interests of millions of workers, be they in the health service, the coal mines or the shipyards.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that when he talks about the contributions paid by trade union members through a democratic process, that is done under rules and legislation that were drawn up mainly by the Conservatives, so the rules are their rules, which trade union members abide by to pay money to the party that they choose to support?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Every attempt is being made to try to cut the link between organised labour and the Labour party, and that is shameful. I find the attacks that are made on trade unions under the guise of whatever flag is waved on the Government Benches appalling and disgraceful.
I do speak to some Government Members privately, and I think there is a lot of concern about MPs with second jobs. May I appeal to their self-interest? I think I am reasonably hard-working, although people might doubt the quality and content of what I am saying on occasion. Does it not strike Members as odd or problematic when their colleagues are away being barristers or consultants? I have looked at the register, and some of them are getting £1,000 an hour. That means that a greater work load falls on the Back-Bench Members who are staying behind here, covering for absent colleagues who are also getting £67,000 a year for being MPs. I think that is a disgrace, personally, and it should be stopped.
There is an opportunity for Members to support this motion and make a statement. The Leader of the House said that there are faults with the motion, but there is a difference between a general rule and a general principle. We can support the general principle here today, and I urge all Members to do so.
I have no relevant interest to declare, which makes me feel like a bit of a poor relation in this debate. I find being a Member of Parliament a full-time job, and with a salary that is some three times the national average, I hardly think we are poverty-stricken in this place.
It is a shame that at the beginning of the debate things instantly degenerated into party political point scoring, points of order, procedural manoeuvring and personal accusations. Our constituents really expect better. Later contributions, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) and the hon. Members for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), were much more measured, and that is to be welcomed.
The Government amendment is good as far as it goes, but for me it implies too much acceptance of the status quo, and I do not think the status quo is acceptable. I cannot, though, support the Labour motion, which is far too simplistic. Reference has already been made to the fact that it excludes partnerships, farmers, broadcasters, journalists, and writers like the Leader of the House. I am very impressed that he managed to find time to write an acclaimed biography of Pitt. I have not had time to read it, so how on earth he found time to write it, I do not know.
My background was in business and in the charity sector. My new Conservative opponent is a barrister in London chambers. If the people of Cheltenham were so rash as to elect him in May, he would be completely unaffected by what is proposed in this motion. He would be able to continue earning very large fees as a barrister, whereas I would be ruled out of becoming a director in a business. I do not understand what is so special about paid directorships. The motion would prevent, for instance, the retention of a directorship in a small local family business, even if it took hardly any time from the Member’s parliamentary business, but allow unpaid directorships that might carry with them significant equity shareholdings that could result in a significant increase in wealth, if not technically in income. I am afraid that this looks like a well-intentioned motion that was written in a hurry and, I venture to say, by a party with a beginner’s knowledge of business.
The key issues that need to be addressed are conflicts of interest and the time that we devote to parliamentary business. They must be addressed in a way that is not the subject of silly party political point scoring—so it will have to take place after the election—and without our being seen once again to mark our own homework. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) suggested the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for the role. An alternative would be the Standards Committee, but with increased representation from lay members who could look at this with a strong external voice. That would command the confidence of the public and the electorate, and we certainly need that confidence.
The English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said:
“In politics, what begins in fear…ends in folly.”
My fear is that in this debate—not just the debate in the House today, but more generally—that is where we will end up.
The motion is obviously flawed. Why exclude just business consultancies and directorships? Why exclude that one area of experience from outside this place? It is very important to have business experience in the House of Commons, whether in considering issues of business red tape, business taxation, jobs growth or even the minimum wage, which is very close to the hearts of Opposition Members. There is the whole issue of whether increasing the minimum wage would result in more unemployment. They take that very seriously, but it is a subject on which we want to hear from employers and people with experience of running or taking part in businesses. We need this place to have experience from a whole range of outside professions and sectors. Why should business be excluded?
If this debate was really about the amount MPs earn outside that role, we could have a cap at the amount earned for a Government job. A Government job is of course a second job, and it is ludicrous to keep up the farcical pretence that it is anything else. If the debate was about hours, they are already declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. If it was really about lobbying, we could have a sensible debate. For example, it would be reasonable to place a bar on an MP lobbying the Government for a business from which they draw an income. That would deal with the point about the conflict of interests. However, we have no such focused, sensible debate; the motion seems to be about political point scoring.
I want to talk about some of the stepping-stones to rebuilding trust in politics and in Parliament. There is no silver bullet, but I would like more open primaries—I was selected by open primary, which had a huge impact on me—which make it easier for people with experience from outside politics to come into Parliament.
My hon. Friend and I share the experience of open primaries. It struck me that the majority of the people in the room at my open primary—half of them were not Conservative members—just wanted a really good Member of Parliament, who had integrity, a sense of honour and a sense of duty, and wanted to serve the constituency. They were very happy that I had an outside job, because they wanted someone with experience of the real world. Did he have the same experience?
I had exactly the same experience. Of course, in an open primary, the community can ask someone specifically how they would do the job.
We should attract the brightest, the best and the most talented people to this place. It is no good referring to the median wage, or to what people earn on average. I understand why that is attractive and alluring in a superficial political way, but this place should be a cradle of democracy that attracts people with huge expertise and experience.
I would like MPs to be paid at a similar level to a secondary head teacher, an assistant chief constable or a partner in a GPs’ surgery. I would not increase our salary, or accept an increase, at a time when we are imposing a freeze or a 1% cap on the rest of the public sector, but MPs’ pay does need to be readdressed or reset to make sure that this place has the expertise and experience to do its job. We should cut the number of MPs; that would be another important stepping stone. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) about the right of recall, which would be not a panacea, but a stepping-stone.
Above all, Parliament needs to be a bulwark against the Executive. It needs to ventilate debate and give voice to the convictions of MPs as the representatives of their constituents. I would like members of Public Bill Committees to be elected in the same way as those of Select Committees, and I would like Parliament to control its own business. Those sensible things would help to restore public trust in politics.
It is possible to restore public trust in politics. Ipsos MORI has shown that mistrust of politicians sank to its lowest level in 2009, but crept back up 5 percentage points since, before dipping again. That shows that the public respond to what we do, how we hold ourselves and the job we do. If we want to restore public trust, it must be done in a sensible way, not by scoring cheap political points, as in the motion.
This is a tricky debate for MPs, because each individual MP will be put in the media spotlight, but there is something more pernicious behind the motion than just its opportunistic nature. One or two fallacies have been peddled. One is that being an MP is a job with a salary; it actually means holding an office that has duties and responsibilities, but is otherwise not that clearly defined. I make that point because the primary function of a Member of Parliament is to hold the Executive—or, in the past, the monarch—to account. The idea that Back-Bench MPs are not getting a second job or performing a different function when they become Ministers or Opposition Front Benchers is completely false. Most MPs will, during their career here, have two jobs at a minimum. We must also remember that there are Select Committee Chairs.
We keep talking about £67,000 as if it is extraordinary. We must bear it in mind that when Lloyd George introduced the Members’ allowance in 1911, it was set at £400, which was six to eight times the national average income. I am not proposing that we go back to that level, but I want to paraphrase what he said at the time. He said that it was not a payment for services rendered, it was not a payment for a job, it was not remuneration, it was not to be considered a salary, but it was merely an allowance that recognised that there were costs associated with being here and with being a Member of Parliament. It was fantastic for the Labour party at the time, because the Osborne judgment had meant that less well-off people were unable to make it here.
The point that I want to make in my last 60 seconds is that the motion would lead to a Parliament in which the party leaders had ever more power, because by being able to hand out, through patronage, larger salaries for Front-Bench positions, they would control the way the Back Benchers worked. We are here to hold the Government and Front Benchers to account. The motion would lead to a Parliament stuffed full of professional politicians and the independently wealthy with unearned income, inherited homes, wealthy families and trust funds. If we want a citizens’ Parliament in which Back Benchers hold the Government to account without fear or favour, we must reject the motion entirely. Be in no doubt: the motion would extend the power of political party leaders and the Government, and deliver a Parliament full of Back-Bench MPs who were either independently wealthy or partisan political drones.
This has been an interesting debate, although it has not always been of the highest quality. A number of contributions stay in my mind, but I will not have a chance to deal with them all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) pointed out that £67,000 is a full-time salary and that this is a full-time job. That was a recurring theme. I remind those who say it is not that much that we are in the top decile. Nine out of 10 people earn less than us. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) reminded the House that almost four out of 10 people in her constituency earn less than the living wage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), who I am sure is on his way back to the Chamber, reminded the House that there are Members of Parliament who are earning £1,000 an hour in addition to their salary. These are staggering amounts of money. The hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) used extravagant but accurate language to describe the horror that many people will feel when they discover how much money is earned by some Members of Parliament.
There were a number of interesting speeches by Government Members, which all boiled down to three arguments. I will deal with those quickly before getting to the point of our motion. There were the loud-and-prouders or topper-uppers, who were in favour of earning more because they felt that, as a result of what they did, they were entitled to a larger salary. They felt that £67,000 was not enough. I will come to that argument in a moment or two.
The Leader of the House said that our proposal was just too complicated and difficult to achieve. I reminded him that it has been done in Washington. In fact, Washington has gone much further than this relatively modest proposal. I am not saying that we should model everything we do on Washington, but it is interesting that the home of free enterprise and buccaneer capitalism has been able to regulate its elected members when the Government suggest that we cannot.
The third argument was that it helps the House to have the experience of people who do things outside. Of course it does. We all do things outside. The issue is remuneration. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) reminded us that he previously had two businesses, and he did the right thing—he closed one down and put the other into hibernation, so that there could be no conflict of interest. The central question is one of remuneration.