I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House:
(1) endorses the 2018 recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that Members should be banned from any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant;
(2) instructs the Committee on Standards to draw up proposals to implement this and to report by 31 January 2022; and
(3) orders that on the expiry of fifteen sitting days from the date on which the Committee makes its report to the House, if no debate has been held on a substantive motion relating to recommendations in that report, the Speaker shall give precedence to a substantive motion on the recommendations in that report tabled thereafter by any Member.
At the risk of repeating myself—unfortunately, it seems I must—standards in public life are fundamental to our democracy. I have reminded the Leader of the House several times over the past few weeks what those standards are, and I will do so again, just to make sure that he and his colleagues have taken them in. They are, of course, the Nolan principles of public life, and there are seven of them: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. We should all aspire to them and cherish them, as I said yesterday.
I urge all hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider those principles when they make their decision on which Division Lobby to walk through later this afternoon, because those values must underpin all that we do in this House and on behalf of our constituents outside this House. It is our constituents and the country that we serve, not private interests. We are not paid MPs for hire.
Over the past two weeks, I am afraid to say—it gives me no pleasure—that we have seen some of the very worst of some on the Government Benches. That has included refusing to deal with one of their own MPs found guilty of sexual harassment and then trying to change the rules on standards to protect one of their mates who had broken the rules. That leaves the reputation of Parliament and our precious democracy in danger of disrepute. The Prime Minister had to publicly decree last week that the UK is not a “corrupt country”.
On that point about the UK’s being a corrupt country and standards in public life, in 2006 we knew that peerages for £1 million were finding Labour party people going to the House of Lords. The coincidence is that now Tories with £3 million get into the House of Lords. Lord Oakeshott of the Liberals said in 2014 that he bemoaned the fact that he had not ended the practice when he left. Does the hon. Lady think that all party leaders of those parties that are putting people into the House of Lords should cap the donation level at £50,000, as suggested in the amendment I tabled, so that there can be no more sniff or smell of corruption in the UK with cash for peerages continuing?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I must say the difference between this party and the Government party is that we are trying to do something about this. We have the proposals to do something about it. When we were in Government, as I will come on to in my remarks, we did a great deal to try to reform the House of Lords, and we made a lot of progress. On corruption and sleaze, we in the Opposition are the ones trying to change the system for the better.
While we are talking about corruption and sleaze, and Ministers and standards, does my hon. Friend, like me, find it rather strange that the Prime Minister is in charge of the ministerial code and gets to decide whether somebody has broken it?
Yes; I am glad that my hon. Friend brought that up, because the Opposition have a problem with that. We have a problem with the fact that it is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether or not the ministerial code is investigated. That is a problem. As I said yesterday, the Government rejected the report put forward by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards—a report that followed a very thorough investigation, undertaken entirely properly, with due consideration for the circumstances of the former Member for North Shropshire. That was wrong.
The Government then tried to overthrow the entire standards system, ripping up a 30-year consensus on how we enforce standards in this place, just to prevent sanctions on an “egregious case”—not my words, but those of the entire Committee on Standards—of paid lobbying. That was wrong. Cabinet Ministers then suggested that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should resign. That was wrong. They tried to set up a sham committee with a named chair, notably on the Government side, and a majority of members from the Government side, to rig the standards procedure. That was wrong.
Okay, the Government are now belatedly trying to right those wrongs. The commissioner finally got an apology from the Business Secretary on Monday for his shameful comments.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this latest inconsistency, along with the eastern leg of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, no rise in national insurance, no border down the Irish sea, oven-ready deals and the 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, shows that the Government must be wearing out their clutch and gearstick with the amount of U-turns they make—making us all dizzy?
Order. Let us make it straight from the beginning. This is quite a wide motion, but it is on a particular subject. This is not a free-for-all for general criticism on any matter. An awful lot of Members want to speak today, and I will insist that everybody speaks to the motion, that we do not have long interventions and that interventions must be to the point.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for her intervention, because one thing we have learned over the past few weeks is the danger of making Members march up to the top of the hill and then leaving them there. When the Government make a screeching U-turn the next day, they leave their own troops feeling a little undefended.
The hon. Lady speaks of changing position. She stood on a manifesto to ban second jobs altogether. Does she still stand by that? If so, how does she account for the Leader of the Opposition earning £100,000 from a second job in recent years?
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman seems to have read the 2019 Labour manifesto. If he read it carefully, he would know that is not exactly what it said. It had a clear set of principles, and what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition announced yesterday is that there should be an underlying principle of second jobs not being allowed but that there could be some exceptions. I do not think anyone in this place thinks it is wrong that doctors should serve to keep up their licence and help the NHS. Does anyone think it is wrong that Army reservists should continue to be Army reservists? No, of course they do not.
Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition proposed strong changes so that MPs do not have a second job without very good reason. At the moment, I do not see the Government coming up with anything strong. All they have done is try to gut our motion, which would put in train the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, made three years ago—the Government could have enacted it any time—that no MP should take money for being a political strategist, an assistant or some sort of corporate adviser. That should not happen. If Conservative Members want to make sure those jobs go, they should vote with us to get rid of them. It is our motion that does that.
Is the hon. Lady aware of the origins of the word “Tory”? It comes from the old Irish word “tóraí”, meaning outlaw or robber. Does she agree that the parcel of rogues now occupying high office in this place are really living up to their name?
We learn something new every day. I was not aware of that, but I am on record as having been steadfast in my consistent criticism of what the Government have done over the past two weeks and in previous weeks and months. It is unfortunate that the Government, who should be lawmakers or at least law observers, are led by someone who has already been found by the courts of this land to have broken the law when he illegally prorogued Parliament. That is a bad example for a lawmaker to set, and it is problematic. It rather illustrates what my hon. Friend mentioned.
I did not vote for the motion two weeks ago, and I quite agree that lawmakers should not be law breakers. Seven Labour Members of Parliament have had jail sentences in the past 10 years, and one of them is appealing her sentence. Labour Members are not the best people to speak on this.
The hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to draw a contrast. When Labour Members do bad things, we make sure they go. None of them is here. That happens even when, as in the case of a recent by-election, we lose the seat as a result. The contrast is that when Labour Members are found guilty of doing bad things, we make sure they are got rid of. The Conservative party not so much.
The mess of an amended motion that was so disgracefully backed by the Government two weeks ago was finally removed yesterday after a great deal of Chamber farce, goodness me. It feels to me as though the Government’s actions are too little, too late.
The Leader of the House has said that the reason the Government tried to tear up the rulebook was that their and his judgment was clouded by the situation of a friend. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason we have standards in public life is so that our judgment is not clouded by sympathy and that, more importantly, our judgment should always be influenced by the situation of our constituents, not the situation of our mates?
The point about those standards is that they were set not by me or by the Leader of the House but by Lord Nolan three or four decades ago in response to a previous Tory sleaze scandal. The reason we have those standards is to make sure that we can be held to them. The reason we have a standards process is to make sure we are properly held to account. And the reason we were asked to vote on the standards motion two weeks ago was to sanction a Member who had been properly investigated and found to have committed egregious acts of paid lobbying. If Conservative Members had just voted for the standards motion, rather than trying to mangle it, we probably would not be here today.
The hon. Lady will be aware that, earlier this month, a conference held by the Communication Workers Union passed a resolution stating that funding from the union would
“go to specific Labour candidates and campaigns that support CWU industrial and political aims and to support the selection and election of such candidates.”
They may not be direct payments, but it would be naive —[Interruption.]
Order. Shouting at the hon. Gentleman is simply impolite. And laughing at me for saying so is worse. We will have better behaviour, on both sides of the House, please. I call Thangam Debbonaire.
Oh, I am sorry, I thought the hon. Gentleman had finished. He ought to finish very quickly, because I said we need short interventions.
There may not be direct payment here, but this is obvious, and it would be naive to assume that these would not be wholesale purchases of candidates speaking up for the trade union. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is a form of—[Interruption.] That should not be allowed.
For goodness’ sake. The hon. Gentleman said it himself: there is no direct payment to Members there. I am absolutely sure that the Conservative party accepts donations to its campaign costs. The trade union movement is the founding father of the Labour party and it does not buy influence. What it does is support our campaigning, and this is properly investigated and reported.
The hon. Gentleman is going to make another speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will give way.
The hon. Gentleman is not going to make another speech. He is going to make a very short intervention.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point I was making is very simple: these people owe their seats in Parliament to the funding of the trade unions and therefore they would be lobbying for the union in every way. This is irrespective of whether they are paid directly or indirectly, with an indirect payment to their associations.
I do hope that there are no Conservative Members who have taken donations from anybody at any time, because these are donations to political parties—to political campaigns. They do not go to individuals, as the hon. Gentleman very well knows. He did rather promise that he was not going to make a speech, but it was good of him to explain to me, in case my little lady brain had not got it the first time.
On donations to political parties, does she agree that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party’s utilising Scottish limited partnerships fundamentally exposes those on the Government Benches for what they are utilising to undermine democracy itself.
The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely helpful point and I hope he will be expanding on it further later.
With the reputation of Parliament at risk of being ripped apart thanks to the actions of this Government, particularly in the past two weeks, they must start to restore trust in our democracy. There is a way they can do that: they can back this Opposition motion.
I have a simple question: why will the Labour party not categorically state that it will not be sending high-value donors to the House of Lords, for a five-year period or whatever?
What we are doing today is starting the process of making Parliament accountable and making sure that there are good rules. We are making sure that when Members of Parliament are for sale they are not allowed to be for sale. I invite all Members, in all parts of the House, be they Scottish National party Members or Tories, to vote for this motion. I invite them all to vote for a very clear motion, which does what the Prime Minister said yesterday that he wanted to do. If Conservative Members want to vote for what the Prime Minister said he wanted to do, they need to vote for our motion today, as does every other Member.
My right hon. and learned Friend the leader of the Labour party also said yesterday that we need to strengthen our system radically. He proposed various things, which are not in scope of today’s debate, so I will not go into them, but I think that what the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Sorry, I should have said “Leader of the Opposition”; it is an easy mistake to make, because I would like him to be Prime Minister. What the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday was indicate clearly and strongly to everyone, from all parties, that we need stronger standards, not weaker ones. Today we have the first step and the first step only. I expect that the Prime Minister will be joining us in the Lobby today—the Aye Lobby—on our motion, because it seems to be coterminous with what he said. But the Prime Minister’s letter to Mr Speaker, which he tweeted out yesterday, was a bit of a surprise, given that the Committee on Standards in Public Life report came out three years ago. That is where these recommendations came from. In three years, we have had no response from the Government, until yesterday, when it looked as though the Prime Minister was in a bit of difficulty and needed something to get out of it with. Two weeks ago, all we had was the Government seeming to urge the standards commissioner to resign and ripping up the entire system.
I said yesterday that I do not expect that the Leader of the House listens to my every word, but perhaps I was wrong and those on the Government Benches have been paying close attention to what I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and future Prime Minister have been saying. Perhaps they have been convinced by my argument—our argument—that our standards system is crucial and needs to be protected, enhanced, strengthened and never weakened. Just yesterday, five former Cabinet Secretaries—all the living former Cabinet Secretaries—wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to strengthen standards. He could show that he has listened to them by backing our motion; if I look at the amendment he has tabled, that does not seem to me to be the case. His amendment certainly would not strengthen the system and already seems to be a rowing back on what he said just about 24 hours ago. One minute it seems that the Prime Minister has been backed into a corner and is ready to accept our motion; the next minute he comes forward with a toothless amendment.
If Government Members vote down our motion in favour of the Prime Minister’s wrecking amendment, let us be clear what they will be voting for. I want them all to pay attention, because I think some of them wish they had paid more attention two weeks ago. Our motion, and only our motion, will guarantee that this House and these Members will get to vote on the Standards Committee’s recommendations to strengthen our code of conduct. It is our motion, and only our motion, that will fulfil the recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Prime Minister’s amendment does nothing but water down our motion. It is yet another example of the Government trying to sweep sleaze under the rug without dealing with it.
We all know that to be elected to this House as a Member of Parliament is a privilege, and one that the vast majority of Members treat with the seriousness and respect it deserves. The passing of our motion will dispel an unfortunate perception that MPs can be hired out, which is of course not the case with almost every MP in this House, apart from the ones the Government are trying to protect—their private business interests come before the interests of their constituents. That is not what we want the public to think because it should never, ever be true. Our motion will ensure that the public know that no MP’s power, influence or position is for sale—
Unless it’s for a union.
There are all these interventions from a sedentary position about the trade union movement; I have yet to see the Electoral Commission tell us that we should not be taking, and declaring quite properly, donations from the trade union movement that do not come anywhere near our individual accounts. Such donations are to fund political campaigns and are properly declared.
Trade unions use their political funds, which are regulated under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, voted on by millions of working people up and down this country and properly registered when they are donated to a political party. If the Conservative party is anti-worker, let it say that clearly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it much better than I could have. Trade unions are not-for-profit organisations to help to support workers’ rights. There is a world of difference there and they are quite properly declared. As far as I can see, there is no suggestion in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that that should be changed. We are talking about the difference between private companies trying to buy access to the Government and trade unions that stand up for and campaign on workers’ rights making properly declared donations quite rightly within the electoral rules.
The Leader of the Opposition has earned more than £110,000 since he became an MP; does the hon. Lady condone that—yes or no?
Oh goodness me! My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in contrast with the Prime Minister, is actually trying to strengthen the rules, not weaken them. In strengthening them, he is showing no fear, no favour and no concern for whether that has an impact on MPs on the Opposition Benches or on the Government Benches. He is trying to propose something that strengthens the rules across the board. I think that is important and really matters. The Leader of the Opposition has also quite properly declared everything. We should note that in all parties there are lawyers, doctors and members of the armed forces who serve as reservists, whose professional qualifications we may wish them to keep up. Since he became the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend has not taken on any private practice, and I believe he has relinquished his licence. That shows admirable dedication, in contrast with the Prime Minister: all he has done is try to rip up the rulebook.
I apologise for interrupting the flow of my hon. Friend’s excellent speech. Does she share my dismay over where we have got to today? We are still debating this issue and, rather than raising and elevating this House, the interventions from Government Members appear to wish to drag us all into the gutter.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. It is a very sad day, because, rather than taking this on the chin, admitting they made a mistake, which they seemed to be doing last week, and moving on constructively, the Government just want to give the very false impression that all MPs are for sale. That is simply not true and they know it.
Paid advocacy has been against the rules since 1695, so it is not a new rule, but, throughout the centuries, especially in the past three decades, the standards system has been strengthened—until the last fortnight. That consensus has been systematically shredded by this Government—whether it is the Prime Minister not enforcing the ministerial code on his Cabinet or the Leader of the House seeking to undermine the standards procedure—and this has to stop. It is not good enough. The public—our constituents—rightly expect and deserve better than this.
The previous Labour Government legislated to clean up politics after the Tory sleaze of the 1990s. I give as examples: the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000; the ministerial code; freedom of information; public registers of donations and national election spending; and the Electoral Commission, which this Government also seem to want to undermine. Those all came about because of the Labour Government, whereas in 2018, when the independent and external Committee on Standards in Public Life, set up to deal with the previous Tory scandal, recommended that the MPs’ code of conduct should be updated, the Tory Government ignored it. The report said:
“MPs should not accept any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on parliamentary affairs or on how to influence Parliament and its members. MPs should never accept any payment or offers of employment to act as political or parliamentary consultants or advisers.”
It could not be clearer, and that is what our motion today sets out to achieve. I hope that the Government will be supporting this, because, as I have said and I will say it again, no MP should be for hire. This is not about outside interests per se, because the vast majority of Members work tirelessly to represent their constituents and are not seeking to privately profit from that work. Outside interests are often a way for MPs to connect with the world outside of this place—a point that has been made by many MPs and others.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point. It should not take a report of the Committee on Standards to state the blindingly obvious to Members of this House. If they are a full-time Member of Parliament, they do not have the time outside of their constituency affairs, outside of their parliamentary duties in this House, to do other paid work. Is not that just clearly obvious to all except a few Members who are on the take?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that up, because, of course, that is one thing that my right hon. and learned Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, stated clearly in his speech yesterday. He said that the default setting should be that there are no second jobs. He did say that, in certain professional circumstances, there may need to be exceptions, but that should be up to the independent body to determine, not us. The way that the Government have behaved over the events of the past few weeks, including the case of Owen Paterson, former MP for North Shropshire, have shown us that the rules are obviously not strong enough. It seems to be too easy for the Government to try to rip them up when they fancy. They have sought to weaken and undermine the rules around standards, whereas our intention with our motion is simple: we want to strengthen standards and we want to restore the public’s trust in Parliament and this is the necessary next step.
The hon. Lady made interesting points about MPs, but does she agree that those same standards should be applied to all parliamentarians, including those in the House of Lords? Three shadow Ministers in the Lords actually work for lobbying companies.
For goodness’ sake—I am surprised that the hon. Member does not know more about the House of Lords. Unlike in this House, Lords receive not a salary, but a daily allowance, which is not the same. They work on an entirely different basis and they do not have constituents. I do not see any proposals from the Government on reforming the House of Lords in this way, so it seems hollow for the hon. Member to say that he wants such changes.
The Government created this mess. If they do not support our motion today, it will be yet more warm words but no action; they are very good at that. They created this mess by trying to undermine the standards process in the first place. We would not be here if they had not done so two weeks ago. They must back our motion today and not the Prime Minister’s amendment, because that is nothing but warm platitudes with no concrete action to strengthen our standards system. It has been open to the Government to strengthen the system for the past three years, since the publication of the report on MPs’ outside interests. It was down to the Government to respond to that report, but they have not—until they have been absolutely pushed, kicking and screaming, to back one or two little bits because it suits them to get out of a hole.
The choice has never been clearer and the solution is here: our motion. If the Government do not back our motion this afternoon and choose to support the Prime Minister’s watered-down amendment, they are sending the message that they are content with the perception that their Cabinet Ministers and MPs put self-interest and private business interests above the interests of their constituents. They are sending that message not because I have said so, but because the Committee on Standards in Public Life said so, three years ago.
The message that the Government will be sending if they do not vote for our motion is that nothing needs to change, that they are happy with the headlines of the last few weeks of sleaze and corruption, and that this sort of behaviour is acceptable. They really will be sending the message that it is one rule for them and another for everyone else, and that if Government Members get caught out, the rules need not apply—they will just be changed to protect them—and the consequences do not matter. None of us should be prepared to accept that.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I know that she will agree that one of the messages that the Government are sending is to the victims of sexual misconduct found to have been undertaken by any Member of Parliament. The Leader of the House claimed at the time that he agreed with that rule being changed, but that it could not be changed retrospectively. It is therefore a failure of him and of the Government that they will change the rules when a Member has been accused of corruption, but not retrospectively when a Member has been found guilty of sexual misconduct.
It pains me to have to remind the Leader of the House that Government Members seem to think that it is all right to try to change the rules to get someone off the hook, but not to change the rules to ensure that someone is properly sanctioned; I still call on the Government to deal with that situation.
We do not need to accept this situation. We can take the first step to changing it, and our motion today would do so. The public deserve more than where we are at the moment. They deserve a Government who will act in their best interests and in the national interest. I believe that that is a Labour Government. The public have shown that they want reform and reform is what the Labour party will do. We must never be complacent. We must protect and strengthen standards. We must have a democracy that the British public are proud of, and that people trust and believe in.
If a Labour Government would be so keen on reforming the system, why did the last Labour Government do nothing to reform lobbying during their 13 years in power, and why did Labour vote against the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014?
I can go back to the list of things that Labour did: the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000; the ministerial code; freedom of information; public registers of donations and national election spending; the Electoral Commission. The clear difference here is that a Labour Government did not rip up the rulebook when one of their own was found wanting. This Government did. They did it two weeks ago and they tried to keep going. Only now that they are finding that the public do not like it are they being dragged here, kicking and screaming. But, unfortunately, from the reaction of Government Members, it looks to me like they have no intention of voting for our motion tonight. If they have no intention of doing so, let them come clean in their speeches as to why.
Will the hon. Member give way?
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and I am coming to the end of my speech.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members are lacking humility, given the fact that their Government tried to rip up the rulebook to save their mates when it was convenient for them?
I do agree. It would also be an awful lot more seemly if the Government were prepared to follow through on their actions.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he wanted to ban these paid consultancy roles. So vote for our motion: it is there on the Order Paper; it does exactly what the Prime Minister said. Do Conservative Members actually want to do what their Prime Minister says he wants? Perhaps they do not; perhaps that is what is going on. Perhaps they do not back their Prime Minister—but if they do, they could follow through on what he said only yesterday, 24 hours ago, and vote for the Labour motion.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s speech and this is an important point that needs to be addressed. Could she explain, though, why she does not agree with the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister and how her proposals are better? What is the difference?
I wonder whether the hon. Member has actually read the proposal by the Prime Minister. The proposal in the amendment—the only thing that is on offer to vote for today from the Prime Minister—weakens, waters down, takes away the deadline and takes away the vote, and the Leader of the House knows this.
Conservative Members need to accept that the time has now come. Today is the day. They need to stand up and be counted. If they want to follow through on what their Prime Minister said yesterday, they need to vote for the Labour motion today. Will they? We will see.
Before I call the Leader of the House to move the amendment, colleagues will be aware that there are a number of people who wish to contribute to the debate, so it is likely that we will start with a time limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add: “acknowledges recent concern over the outside interests of Members of Parliament; believes the rules which apply to MPs must be up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous; recalls the 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life into this matter; believes that recommendations 1 and 10 in that report form the basis of a viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public; believes that these recommendations should be taken forward; and supports cross-party work, including that being done by the House’s Committee on Standards, to bring forward recommendations to update the Code of Conduct for MPs by 31 January 2022.”
It is an honour to speak in this Opposition day debate today, and an honour indeed to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who has been giving us an object lesson as to why people in glasshouses are best advised not to throw stones. It is always a privilege for any hon. or right hon. Member to speak in this House, at any time, on any day. We come here fully aware of the fundamental principle that lies at the heart of our parliamentary democracy: first and foremost, we work on behalf of our constituents. As Edmund Burke said in his address to the electors of Bristol in 1774, familiar territory to the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] No, I was not actually there, unfortunately: it would have a great pleasure to listen to Edmund Burke, such a distinguished figure in our history. He said that
“parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”
Our primary duty is to the electorate. It is their interests we are here to represent, and to them, also, that we must answer at the ballot box. But if being a champion of our constituents is critical to an MP’s role, it is also our innate duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole.
In Parliament we scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account, both in debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall, and through our work on a range of Committees. Speaking of Committees, I give way to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), a distinguished Committee Chairman.
I am sorry myself that I missed that quote in Bristol in 1770-whatever it was. This is a good and well-intentioned debate on strengthening standards in public life, but Labour studiously avoids dealing with cash for honours. We should remember that the Prime Minister was interviewed under police caution on this matter back in 2006. I have tried with Labour and I will now try with the Conservatives: will the Tories rule out the practice of cash for honours—a very corrupt practice where high-value cash donors find themselves up in the House of Lords, buying their place in a Parliament in what is meant to be a western democracy, for goodness’ sake?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this, because he knows a great deal about Maundy Gregory and the scandal that came about with Lloyd George, and indeed corresponded with my late father on this subject when cash for honours came up. Cash for honours is illegal and has been for the best part of 100 years. It is rightly illegal and is wholly improper. The hon. Gentleman has been right in his campaigns to ensure that that never tarnishes our way of life.
Let me carry on at this stage.
The Government hold their position solely by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons, and it is primarily from the elected Chamber that Ministers are appointed. Given the spectrum of responsibilities, the Government believe it an historic strength of our system that MPs should have a wider focus than the Westminster bubble and that we should maintain connections to the world beyond, so that we may draw on the insights and expertise that this experience offers so that, rather than a Chamber replete with professional politicians with no previous career or future career other than to remain on the public payroll, we have a Parliament that benefits from MPs with a broader range of talents and professional backgrounds.
I agree with the Leader of the House about Members having a wide range of backgrounds. I also agree with Burke that our first duty should be to serve our constituents, but hon. Members are picking up from their second job tens, scores or hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, and one cannot serve two paymasters. Has the time not come to, at the very least, agree to this modest motion today and ban at least certain categories of jobs to avoid the allegation that people are serving two paymasters?
I think it important that there should be some humble crofters in this House who can bring their experience and their wisdom, and not only humble crofters, but people who have experience of the City of London—sometimes, they happen to be one and the same person. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that that brings distinction to the House, particularly on Wednesday afternoons.
This sort of experience, gained both prior to a Member’s election and once they have taken up their parliamentary seat, is beneficial. The profusion of perspectives, be they corporate, trade union or charitable, brings a welcome variety to this place, and enhances the quality of challenge we hear in debate and throughout the business of the House.
The Leader of the House talks about the good and the humble. Would he agree with the sentiment that bad people will always find a way around rules? The point of rules is to draw them as tightly as possible so that that does not happen. Five living Cabinet Secretaries said so in The Times yesterday. If he does agree, what were the Government thinking of the other week? Does he realise how it looks?
I do not hold the Labour party responsible for the fact that six people, and one currently appealing, have been sentenced to jail terms or suspended jail terms as socialist Members. I do not hold that against the socialists because I understand that even well-intentioned parties with a high moral standard and an enormous amount of self-righteousness will occasionally have rotten apples within them.
We have seen in recent weeks growing and sincerely held concerns across the House about the outside interests of Members of Parliament, particularly where potential conflicts of interests may arise. Here, the Government are clear that the reputation of Parliament must come first—more than that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says, it is imperative that on a cross-party consensus we put beyond doubt the reputation of the House of Commons by having rules for MPs that are up-to-date, effective and appropriately rigorous so as to continue to command the confidence of the public, whom we are here to serve. That is why the Prime Minister has written to Mr Speaker to set out the Government’s advocacy of reforms to update the code of conduct that sets out the standards of behaviour for MPs as we carry out our work.
The Leader of the House is absolutely right, this debate and this motion are about the integrity of not just this House and this place, but our political system as a whole. So should the Prime Minister have corrected the record in January when he incorrectly said that PPE contracts had been published when the High Court ruled that they had not?
The Government’s behaviour with PPE was the subject of the previous debate and was essential to ensure that, in very short order, a very large quantity was provided. What was done to provide the vaccine and sufficient quantities of PPE was absolutely right.
The Leader of the House mentioned cross-party working. On the theme of the previous intervention, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, introduced a Bill when he was in this place 14 years ago that would have made the wilful misleading of this House by a politician an offence. Should we bring that Bill forward again?
The right hon. Lady raises an interesting constitutional question, because misleading this House would arguably be a breach of the privileges of this House, and to take that to a court would be a breach of article 9 of the Bill of Rights. Although I think that misleading this House is a serious offence, it is an offence punishable within and by this House through our privileges processes, and it would be wrong to take the proceedings of this House to a court, which would take away one of our most fundamental constitutional protections of freedom of speech in this House. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will forgive me that constitutional dilation in response to the right hon. Lady’s important point.
In a moment or two I will come to the details of the Prime Minister’s letter and how they relate to the motion before us, but I want first to address the substance of the issues that I know, from my recent conversations with hon. and right hon. Members, have been of particular concern. I have already emphasised the supremacy of an MP’s parliamentary and constituency work, but we also recognise that there are certain external roles that seem particularly at odds with the job of an MP—namely, those that would capitalise on an insider’s knowledge of Parliament and Government. I can confirm to the House that we believe the experience and expertise we accrue as part of our work as MPs should not be for sale. We are elected to Parliament on a promise to work for the greater good not of ourselves, but of our constituents and our country.
Turning to the specifics of the motion, we can see from the Prime Minister’s letter to the Speaker that the Government are proposing to go beyond the terms set out for today’s debate. The Prime Minister made clear the Government’s view that the MPs’ code of conduct should be updated as a matter of urgency to reflect two key recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its 2018 report on MPs’ outside interests. We wish to endorse, first, the key recommendation of the Committee in relation to MPs’ outside interests. It is self-evident that being an MP is the greatest responsibility and, indeed, honour. Therefore, any undertaking of paid employment must remain within reasonable limits, and it should not prevent MPs from fully performing their range of duties whether in their constituency or in this place.
Of course, everybody agrees with that, but how does one determine realistically what is taking too much of one’s time on an outside interest? It should be common sense and it should be left to the judgment of the electorate. What worries me is that, if it is left to the commissioner for standards, however distinguished, that will give that official a degree of power never enjoyed by any official ever before over Members of Parliament. We are accountable not to officials, but to our electorate.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are responsible and accountable to our voters. This is why the Chairman of the Standards Committee will be leading his distinguished Committee in looking into this and I hope will make recommendations to the House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way, and this is very naughty of me because I have only just walked in from the Liaison Committee; I am breaking all the standards of the House. The only point I want to make is that I think it would be very difficult for the commissioner to start investigating whether an MP was devoting enough of their time to their constituents. Of course, all our constituents want us to throw ourselves heart and soul into our work, and I think we all do. Many of us work many more hours than a normal working week—60, 70, 80 hours. But I am just very hesitant about going down this route of timesheets or something. She already gets thousands of requests every year saying that an MP has not replied to an email, he or she has voted the wrong way, or whatever. I just urge him, and I will urge my Committee very strongly, to think very carefully about this.
May I thank the hon. Gentleman, the parliamentary leader of Plaid Cymru, the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), and the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar for their good temper and sense in this debate and for trying to bring a genuinely cross-party approach?
As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has pointed out, these issues are complex. They are not open to easy solutions; they need deliberation. How people lead their lives depends very much on them as individuals, and trying to work out how an MP fulfils his or her duties is not something that can easily be put down in a time and motion study. That is why we are hoping that his Committee will be able to consider it and then bring forward recommendations that, with support on a cross-party basis, may prove acceptable to the House as a whole.
If I may continue, we endorse the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s recommendation that MPs should be banned from accepting any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant. It is, of course, the case that amending the code of conduct for MPs is a matter for Parliament, rather than for the Government—indeed, strictly speaking it is a matter for this House, the Commons, because of our exclusive cognisance of our own affairs. However, Her Majesty’s Government believe that those two recommendations form the basis of a viable approach that could command the confidence of both parliamentarians and the public, and would therefore like to see them adopted.
Coming to the final part of my remarks—this is the point at which normally, somebody says, “Hear, hear”—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] Thank you. I know that some hon. Members like nothing more in debate than to start delving down the procedural rabbit holes of the merits or otherwise of Standing Orders and the like. I am not immune to that temptation myself, but I do not think it would be useful in this instance. It is an established convention—this is one problem with the Opposition motion—that the Government are able to transact their business in the House of Commons, and the House itself has long recognised that principle in Standing Order No. 14, which provides that Government business takes precedence.
To give this motion from the Standards Committee immediate precedence would be both impractical and unnecessary. Her Majesty’s Government support the amendment to
“bring forward recommendations to update the code of conduct for MPs by 31 January 2022”,
which sets a clear timeframe for progress on the issues discussed today. The Government therefore support a more practical amendment that acknowledges the concerns we have all been hearing in recent days, and positively proposes that the proportionate measures devised by the Committee on Standards in Public Life should be taken forward on a cross-party basis. That would include the work being done by this House’s Committee on Standards, in accordance with the timeframe suggested by Opposition Members. We have listened, and we have very much taken into account what they have proposed. It is important to note that on this matter, as on the other issues before us today relating to the code of conduct, the Government recognise that any changes are a matter for the House, and are looking ahead to the next steps being taken in a way that seeks consensus and respects the views of all sides of the House.
It is great to follow the Leader of the House. I do not often get the opportunity to follow him in a debate in the House, so it is good to see him in his place and in such fine fettle and a reasonably good mood, after the difficult and torrid time he had at the Dispatch Box yesterday. It is good to see him back here today, taking up his responsibilities as Leader of the House, and coming here and fronting the important debate we are holding today.
Today is an auspicious day. Today we mark the two-week anniversary of this new age of Tory sleaze, and the not-so-glorious era of Tory chaos on standards and behaviour—a period in our political history that will now never be forgotten. Like all great historical epochs, it has its heroes and villains in the people who have defined it. Most notably among them is, of course, the Leader of the House himself. Then we have the Government Chief Whip, and it was all masterminded, organised and administered by the chief of staff of this organisation, the Prime Minister himself. This is the troika of standards misery; the holy trinity of standing up for your pal when the going gets tough.
Then there are the winners. We know who the winners are, as there are quite a lot of them. They have made an absolute fortune out of those second jobs. Good on them—they are the winners. Then there are the losers and the victims, and I am trying to think generally about who those people might be. The victims, I think, are those who believe in propriety, and those who want our politics to be beyond reproach. Surprisingly, among the victims in all this I look to the Tory Back Benchers, who have been dragged up that hill by the dysfunctional Grand Old Duke of York, only to be marched all the way down again. Then, when they thought they had got to the bottom, they were dragged further into the ground by their Prime Minister. They have every right to be upset with their hard Brexiteer colleagues who are running this Government, and I am sure they never signed up to be part of a House that is so singularly loathed by the people they represent. Day after day, the headlines keep coming. Yesterday’s were quite amusing. They all involved the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who seems to have been levelling up on his obligations to his good friend and leadership donor, David Meller, who he put in the VIP lane for £160 million of PPE contracts.
Today our attention and focus has turned to the concept of second jobs, and in their traditional, good-natured way the Government seem to want to make an absolute and utter hash of it. I think we have a good idea of what the public want when it comes to MPs’ second jobs. They want to be absolutely satisfied that no Member of Parliament is profiteering from their position as an MP. They want to know that their MP is dedicated exclusively to them, working full time in their interests and that they are their only concern. They most definitely do not want to see Members of Parliament earning the eye-watering, obscene figures that some have earned doing second jobs. They actually believe that we are handsomely paid. Most members of the public probably think that we are paid far too much for what we do. I am sure that if we were to ask them, they would be all in favour of reducing our salaries. They certainly do not believe that we need a second job to supplement the more than generous salaries that we receive for doing our important work.
The hon. Member is making a powerful point about second salaries. It was announced today that we have record inflation, at a time when we already have a cost of living crisis and rising energy bills, so does he agree that the fact that we are arguing over the fine print of whether or not MPs can earn more money does us no credit whatsoever, and that cross-party consensus would be best served by backing the Opposition motion?
The hon. Lady will not be surprised to hear me say that I wholeheartedly agree with her. We have a cost of living crisis and it was announced today that inflation is going through the roof, yet we are here debating our income and going over whether we think it is right and appropriate for MPs to earn even more than the very generous salaries that we already get for looking after constituents.
People will know that, as a breast cancer surgeon, I have practised in the past while trying to maintain my licence. I remember being pilloried on the front of the Daily Mail for helping out over Christmas when my colleague had a heart attack. I have no issue with second jobs being regulated, whether by time, money or whatever way the House chooses, but is this not being used as a smokescreen? The issue that was raised at the beginning of this month was not about a second job. It was about corruption, selling influence, selling contracts and selling peerages—and second jobs is being used as a cover for that.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who gets right to the heart of the matter. This is nothing but a smokescreen from the Government, who have thrown this out here to try to excuse their appalling behaviour over the past couple of weeks. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. She is right. She is a distinguished breast cancer surgeon and the way in which she was traduced, with the assistance of the Conservative party, for doing her job, helping out and doing that work for nothing was absolutely and utterly appalling. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they did.
On the topic of corruption, the Leader of the House mentioned Edmund Burke earlier. We might want to reflect on another quote by Edmund Burke:
“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
I will leave that with my hon. Friend: it is a fantastic quote and I am glad that he has presented it to the House.
Today we are debating a Labour motion and a Government amendment. We have no problem with supporting the Labour motion. We will vote in favour of it, if we get the opportunity to do so. We are happy to leave it to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We applaud it for the work that it has already put in, and the House looks forward to receiving the decision as soon as possible and to backing it in its important work.
Then we come to the Government amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) is absolutely right: this is nothing but a fig leaf, a cover up, to try to divert attention and get away from the real issues, including the Prime Minister’s private flat, his villa in wherever it is in Spain and the propriety of so many Members of Parliament. I did not even understand most of what the Leader of the House was trying to explain. If he left it just as: they would do as the Committee on Standards in Public Life suggests, that would be absolutely fine, but it seems like they want to direct the Committee on Standards in Public Life. They want to lead it into certain directions and they want to suggest to it what it should do as part of its work. I think the Chair of the Committee on Standards was absolutely right. It should be left to the Committee to determine and decide. They do not need the Government’s prompting to get these issues resolved. Let us leave it with them. It is a cross-party Committee. It is a Committee that is well chaired by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is very studious and diligent about his work.
Today—this, I think, gets to the heart of it—the hapless International Trade Secretary, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), was sent out. Somebody gets the short straw every morning and today it was the International Trade Secretary. She could not even make up her mind how many hours we should all get to work on our second jobs. I think it was initially 10 to 15 hours. Then she suggested, I think it was in the Radio 4 interview, that it was up to 20 hours. They cannot even decide among themselves for how many hours they should get to do their second jobs.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Oh, yes. I usually eat Tory Back Benchers for breakfast, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am very grateful. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a member of the Standards Committee and I just want to clarify something he mentioned earlier. He was talking about the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is a different committee to the Committee on Standards in this House. I think he was confusing the two. I just think it is important. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is an independent committee not associated with this House.
I am fully aware of what the two different and distinct committees are. What we want to do is ensure that we get the opportunity to back the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. That is what we are looking forward to doing.
Just briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker, to remind ourselves of the scale of this problem and issue when it comes to second jobs, The Sunday Times showed us that 138 MPs have had second jobs in the past year and that 12 earn at least an extra £100,000 a year from outside interests. Almost one in four Tory MPs spends at least 100 hours a year on second jobs and 25 MPs spend more than 416 hours a year.
We in the Scottish National party believe that our job as a Member of Parliament must be an exclusive commitment to our constituents. We also want to see all of Parliament included. That includes that rotten corrupt circus down that corridor there. The House of Lords has to be included in this. I welcome the valiant efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) to try to get the issue looked at again—his amendment was not selected—and all my other colleagues who have been trying to press this issue. It cannot and can never be right that someone can be rewarded with a place in the House of Lords for giving £3 million to the coffers of the Tory party. It is a measure that would make a tin-pot dictator in a banana republic blush, with the size and amount of sleaze and scandal.
Does my hon. Friend agree that with the Government backpedalling on the previous notion of a new committee, we need to ensure that cross-party support for the present Committee also goes to the upper Chamber, where we stop appointing Members from the Opposition to an unelected, unaccountable House of Lords?
Absolutely. We have a duty, an obligation and a responsibility to make sure we have the best possible standards in the unelected Chamber. It is the Prime Minister who appoints Members to the House of Lords. It is lists drawn up by party leaders that give those appointments an opportunity to be placed there. That has to stop. I know this House likes the place up there for some reason, watching people dressed up like Santa Claus prance around the place, but they are put there because they are donors, cronies or placemen. It is an appalling abuse, a corrupt House, and we should be looking at abolishing it, not putting more people in because they happen to give the Tory party £3 million.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on a stunning speech, as ever, on this issue. Does he agree that it is long past time since we banned the practice of Members who have been rejected at the ballot box paying their way into an upper Chamber? Does he agree that in an independent Scotland there will be no unelected upper Chamber and that all members of our legislature will be democratically elected?
I agree absolutely and utterly. There is no place in any democratic system for people who are put there by a Prime Minister just because they happened to give his party £3 million. We would never accept that in an independent Scotland.
That brings me to my next point—I am grateful to my hon. Friend—because the people of Scotland are observing this and they do not like what they are seeing. It is just making them more determined that we get away from this sleazy, corrupt, rotten cesspit of a place and start to be self-governing in our nation of Scotland. They are embarrassed by this place and, unfortunately, Scotland has not been left unscathed by the behaviour of Members of Parliament.
If the hon. Gentleman really believes that this place is a cesspit, he should just leave. Leave with your Members—[Interruption.] No, seriously, leave—give up your jobs and go. To call this place that does so much good—Members on both sides of the House, including on the SNP Benches—a cesspit is an appalling thing to do.
I am really pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because he could assist us in doing that. I know that we are an irritant to him and that he cannot stand us—we in the Scottish National party who speak up for our nation—but there is an easy, elegant, neat solution: you govern yourselves and we will govern ourselves.
I am sorry—not you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that you govern yourself very effectively, but they can govern themselves in all their corrupt, sleazy beauty while we could get on with running a proper, democratic, accountable Scottish Parliament in an independent Scotland. That is the answer to what the hon. Gentleman said.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not—I have given way to the hon. Lady and I have to get on.
We have a real issue with the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), because he has the very definition of a second job, being both a Member of this House and a Member of the Scottish Parliament. He also has the added complication that he is a part-time assistant referee. His difficulties have only been compounded, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, because he did not properly declare the considerable sum—
Order. I do hope that the hon. Gentleman has given notice that he intends to talk about another Member in his speech.
I most definitely did, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure you that I would never mention an hon. Member without giving them notice in advance that I intended to raise the issue.
The hon. Member for Moray has the very definition of a second job. It is simply impossible for him to give his full attention to his constituents as their MP—as the Prime Minister now demands from Conservative MPs—when he needs to be in the Scottish Parliament as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
Let me give an example: the good people of Moray were not represented in the Finance Bill vote last night. The hon. Gentleman simply was not here. He had to be some place else, quite legitimately, in another job. He has to decide—on the strictures of the Prime Minister, who said this—whether he can be a full-time Member of Parliament and represent his constituents full time in this House or be the leader of the Scottish Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament. He cannot do both. He is not here now—I know he is probably in the Scottish Parliament; he might not be, but he has First Minister’s questions tomorrow when he will have to be there—but I say him to him very candidly that he should decide which Parliament he wants to be part of, because it is quite clear that he cannot do both, and I think his Prime Minister recognises that.
This is in the public domain, Madam Deputy Speaker: if we look at the Leader of the House’s entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, we see that, in 2016, he has an entry for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September. How much he earned does not matter, but he claims that he worked 35 hours in each of those months. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) believe that it is possible to be a full-time MP and find an extra week’s worth of work time every month for a second job?
The short answer is that I do not believe that that is possible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) has been a colleague of mine for 15 years in this House, and I know the hours that he puts in to make sure that the good people of Dundee are represented in this place. He would never be able to find those hours, so I do not know how the Leader of the House was able to.
We also have to turn, ever so briefly, to something else that is going on in Scottish politics and deeply concerns me: dark money and the use of unincorporated associations to give money directly into the coffers of the Scottish Conservatives. We do not know much about those unincorporated associations; sometimes we are given an email address, a telephone number or even the name of a building, but we have absolutely no idea where their income comes from or how they are able to funnel it into the coffers of the Scottish Conservatives. It is a disgrace that they can continue doing so. We must get on with fixing that.
In my 20 years in this place, I think I have spoken in every debate on second jobs and standards in this House. As you will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, we looked at the matter most recently in February 2015 when there was a scandal about a sting operation involving Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind. We all got together like this, we all spoke ever so highly and in detail about what we should do to address the problem, and we declared that we would do something about it. Is it not sad that we are back here seven years later saying the same things, determined to try to clean this place up?
We should not have to be here again. We should have had this dealt with. We are going through a terrible, terrible period in our politics just now. It is down to Conservative Members: the resolution lies with them. Back the Labour motion and throw out this stupid amendment.
Order. We will start with a time limit of six minutes, which may well have to come down. Of course, there is no obligation to take the whole six minutes.
I wish I could say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, but I do not think that it will be a pleasure for any colleague. It has been a very bruising two weeks, but I am reflecting on the few things that I have learned in my 17 years in this place. With the House’s indulgence, I will put them on the record in a non-partisan way.
In my capacity as a Select Committee Chair for 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working with hon. Members from all Benches. Before we get carried away with calling ourselves all sorts of names, it is important that we remember where this can end up. The first lesson that I have learned in this place is that we are never happier than when burning each other to a crisp. We love to skewer each other, place ourselves on the barbecue, roast ourselves pink and then serve ourselves up with a large side order of hubris. We are all guilty of it, on both sides of the House, and we need to remember that. No one in this place is perfect.
I am also amazed to have heard people say over the past couple of weeks that we are entitled to a fair hearing. The one thing that I have learned is that we are not entitled to a fair hearing in this place. We are guilty until proven guilty: it is one of Newton’s laws. If you are a Member of Parliament, you do not get a fair hearing—sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; you are a Member of Parliament and I am sure that you would get a fair hearing, but collectively we are not entitled to one and it is naive of us to expect that we are. That plays directly into standards in public life, because we are all in public life.
Before we start talking about outside interests, let me say that I serve on the Members’ Fund, which looks after former MPs in financial trouble. I say to all colleagues: please try not to lose your seat, because it is a very cold world out there. There is not a raging bull market for ex-Members of Parliament who have come to this place, served for two, three, five or 10 years and lost their seat. Many Members who lose their seat struggle to find another job; I have dealt with some heartbreaking stories from both sides of the House.
As we talk about standards, let me say that poor judgment and flawed decision making are just that: poor judgment and flawed decision making. They are rarely the mark of corruption and sleaze. Of course poor judgment and poor decision making should be punished and we should be accountable, but to say that this place is a cesspit and full of sleaze is just not right. Those who write about this and report these cases know full well that this Parliament is not full of corruption and sleaze.
Since we are talking about pay, I must also say that whatever we were paid, many people would think it too much. Whether we were paid £10,000, £82,000, £90,000 or £50,000, there would always be a constituency of people who thought we were paid too much and would want to tell us we were paid too much. We can never, ever appease them.
Again, these are the sort of people who populate our constituencies. The world is full of some unpleasant people. We all know that, on both sides of the House—we deal with it daily. In the old days, they were armed with pens; now they are armed with keyboards, which makes it much easier for them to bring such unpleasantness and misery into our lives. The people who do this are best ignored. They do it to all Members in this place, and it is very sad.
I am slightly confused by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he insinuating that Members of Parliament should not be open to scrutiny, that we should not be answerable to the public, and that the press do not have a right to question our motives when there may be a potential conflict of interests?
As I have said, I have been a Select Committee Chair for 10 years. This speech is a cry of pain. I know full well that there are many good people who can question what we do, but many others use debates of this kind—when we refer to this place as a cesspit, full of crooks and rogues—to legitimise some of their unpleasantness. We have all suffered from that, and will continue to do so. I do not get too many unpleasant emails, but I get enough to know what an unpleasant email looks like.
Let me finally say this. Today will be worse than yesterday, but it will not be as bad as tomorrow. Politics in this country is a really, really nasty business, and it is just going to get nastier. A few weeks ago, once again, people said, “We have to change: we will do things differently.” Within a matter of days, we were back where we started from. So whatever happens today, I have news for all colleagues in all parts of the House: it will not make a jot of difference. It will not improve our standing. In fact, if anything our standing will even worse—although not as bad as it will be tomorrow or in a week’s time, because that is just the way it is, I am afraid, and occasionally I think we quite like it that way.
I am not voting for any motion. A plague is deserved on all our houses.
It is a pleasure to be called in what I think is an extremely important debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker).
Let me begin by thanking my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I think Members on both sides of the House would say, if they were being honest, that without his leadership on this issue nothing would be happening, and I think members of the public can see that as well. I also want to thank the Leader of the Opposition personally, because I have inundated him in the last few weeks and days. I have barracked him constantly with my opinion of the issue and what I think needs to happen for us to see change. I have contacted him so much that at one point I feared he might seek injunctive relief to try and stop me, but thank goodness, he did not. He welcomed members of the parliamentary Labour party engaging with him in these discussions, because he takes this very seriously.
I am happy to say that I am a fan of banning second jobs across the board. I signed early-day motion 627, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon). I accept that there are complexities. I do not think that my constituents in east Hull—or anyone in the country, in fact—would begrudge a Member of Parliament’s being a doctor, a surgeon, a nurse or a paramedic; those are people undertaking incredibly important public service, doing jobs for the public good. However, I think there must be limits on times, or perhaps on earnings.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very sensible speech, and he is exactly right. I am a reservist; I do a few days every so often for the reserve. Does he recognise, however, that a director of a family company is also doing a deserving job, because he or she is employing people and creating the wealth that the public services need?
I accept that point. I think that there are complexities involving Members who run family businesses. Perhaps they ought to think about winding them down. I know that some Conservative Members have done just that: they have been elected and come here, and then run their businesses down or passed them to other family members. There are also complexities around those hon. Members who want to write books, for example. It is incredibly important for people to be able to express themselves. When we get into the arguments about freedom of expression and so forth, we get into real legal complexities and difficulties.
I am bound to say that it is complex for lawyers who come into the House. When I was elected in 2010, I was a junior in the law—I was towards the latter end of a second six pupillage—but it was right that I had clients where I was instructed in their cases and there was potentially pay for those cases that happened a little after being elected. Lawyers who are elected but who have instructions have professional responsibilities to their client. If they were elected to Parliament, but they were acting for a client, either a lay client or the professional client who instructed them, they would be expected to wind that down and eventually pass it on. There are complexities around that.
The nub of the issue for me is that, speaking for my constituents, they think it incredible that Members of Parliament are earning, I think, £81,932 a year, three times the average wage and nearly four times the average wage of the constituency I represent. They think it unbelievable—contemptible even—that a Member of Parliament needs to earn from a second job. Some of those second jobs, the consultancies and directorships, pay eye-watering amounts of money. The idea that a Member of this House can spend time being an MP while earning almost a million quid a year on the side is utterly contemptible, in my humble opinion.
To those who use the defence that we need experience from outside this House and a rich tapestry of people to represent the interests of the country, I say that it strikes me that we do not see Members going off and doing a 10-hour shift at Maccy D’s in their constituencies. We do not see them going off and doing the other jobs that are done by real people in the real world. Cranswick Country Foods plc, for example, is desperate for workers right now, but I am not going to queue up, frankly speaking, to pluck chickens or turkeys ready for Christmas. That is the point that the electorate worry about: these MPs’ jobs are paying staggering amounts of money, but they are not the jobs that people recognise as second jobs for them—second jobs working to try to earn an extra few quid because they are desperate to feed their families.
I admit that I am a fan of banning second jobs, but I accept that there are complexities. We have to work together to find the solution to this issue, but for the Government to try to hide behind the pretence they have been running recently that it is necessary to bring experience to this place is just a defence people simply cannot believe or trust.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). I think I agree with most of what he said.
I rise to speak in this debate because I recognise that we need to change. I have thought for a long while that we need to change, and in some ways it is welcome that the events of the past fortnight have brought the need upon us. I broadly support the recommendations in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life from three years ago. It is probably a cause for regret that we are dealing with them now, rather than at that time.
However, I urge the House to be careful that we get this right. The public expect us to change these rules with due consideration, to ensure that rules are put in place that are fair, consistent and enforceable and do not just leave crazy loopholes. I am slightly nervous about the wording in the Labour motion about banning
“any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
Does that mean that somebody could change their job to being a political strategist, adviser or consultant, or a local government strategist, adviser or consultant, and somehow get around that? I think we all know what we are trying to ban, which is Members earning money by selling access to this place or selling the access that this place provides, but we should be careful to make sure we get the wording right.
The House of Lords already has a similar provision in its code of conduct. One thing the Committee on Standards might suggest—I do not want to prejudge, as I see the other members of the Committee staring at me in a grim-faced way—is that Members must have a contract specifying certain things that they can and cannot do, which would be fairly simple. Owen Paterson never had a contract.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If Members are taking jobs, they should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities that can be cleared or scrutinised.
We should be careful when we draw up the new rules that they are clear, consistent and enforceable so that we do not end up with Members sneaking around them because we were in a rush and a panic to try to calm a political storm or to keep it going. We should not rush into new rules that we come to regret when they do not work.
Where I agree with the Opposition motion is that we need to keep up the momentum. Although I absolutely trust the Leader of the House and the Government that we will not have further delays and backsliding, I am not convinced after the past two weeks that I can convince my constituents that I cannot vote for the motion because it forces a timetable. I will vote for the Opposition motion tonight.
I agree that we need to restrict second jobs, but I would be nervous about trying to work out a good list and a bad list of second jobs, as that becomes very hard. For example, my wife works as a pharmacist. That sounds like a health professional, but she works for a large supermarket chain. Do we allow pharmacists to work in the NHS but not in large supermarket chains because one is public sector and the other is private sector?
It becomes difficult to know what is a professional job which we would all accept a new MP coming here for a short career should keep up in practice and qualifications so that they have a chance of a job afterwards. We would not want to put off people with such qualifications from coming here at all for fear they would be locked out of their old career.
We could end up with a rather long list of good jobs that Members are allowed to do. It would be hard for such a list to be consistent, and it would be hard to apply. Such a list would inevitably have gaps that some Members fall through, so we would have to change the list all the time.
I would not go down the line of an absolute ban, and the Government’s amendment is right that we should have some sort of restriction or indication about what constitutes a Member not prioritising their role as an MP. I would be cautious about having no guidance or rules and leaving it to a commissioner to decide retrospectively whether what a Member did is within the rules.
We need a process in which we agree on the guidance, such as on whether there should be a maximum amount that Members can earn. I have some sympathy with the comment that a man cannot have two paymasters. If a Member has a lifestyle that depends on an outside income far greater than their MP’s income, there will always be a perception, or a risk, that they have to please that paymaster and that at some point there will be a vote, a debate or an issue where they are conflicted between doing what they think is right and keeping the income they desperately need. I would think carefully about an income cap at some proportion of an MP’s salary.
That does not solve my constituents’ anger that Members are spending too much time on non-parliamentary work. It is the loss of time in Parliament and in the constituency that is the problem, not just how much a Member earns. Perhaps there should be a cap on hours.
As the Committee on Standards in Public Life report said, those two things are quite hard to define. They are controversial and we might end up creating different problems, but if the House truly wants to make it clear that MPs are MPs first and foremost, and that what we do outside may have some benefits, may be fair to our future careers and may bring out some information, but it should clearly be secondary to our parliamentary role, we should ask the Committee on Standards, or whatever body we think best, to come up with a definition of how much Members can earn and how long they can spend earning it. That would be the right way forward.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). I agreed with a lot of the points he was making in his very good speech. Let me begin by highlighting my despair that in the UK in the 21st century, when were are living in a post-Brexit and post-covid Britain, with thousands upon thousands of families reliant on food banks, increasing numbers of children living in poverty and a completely insecure social welfare system, instead of debating to find the solutions to those pressing matters, this sleaze scandal of the past fortnight engulfing this Government has forced us to waste more parliamentary time, once again, to highlight the undemocratic shams of this institution.
This Tory Government are far more interested in rule-rigging in here for their own financial gain than they are in supporting any struggling families out there. We saw that when the Prime Minister flew into Glasgow on the opening weekend of COP26; his priorities clearly lay elsewhere, as he flew back out shortly after. He then returned in an attempt to avoid the tidal wave of sleaze engulfing his Government and the Tory party—the tsunami of corruption was far too much. It was so embarrassing—and that is probably a parliamentary understatement. It was completely cringeworthy watching our so-called Prime Minister on the world stage at COP26 having to stand up and say that the UK is not a corrupt country and neither does he believe that its institutions are corrupt. I do not know about the Tory shires of Englandshire, but in Lanarkshire when somebody stands up to make the announcement, “We are not corrupt”, certain perceptions spring to mind. I know what the people of Coatbridge think and what the people of Chryston and Bellshill think. They take one look and think, “Aye, ye are”—yes, you are.
We are here in the middle this scandal due to the Prime Minister’s attempt to save one of his own from a 30-day suspension from this House. What their inexcusable and despicable actions have actually done is shine a light on this broken, sleazy system of cronyism and corruption right here at Westminster—right here in this place and in that other place over there. And it goes right to the very top. It undoubtedly starts at the top of this Government—Mr Paterson is a former Minister of the Government, no less.
Let us look at those with two jobs, or three, as in the case of the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)— I have given him prior notice, Madam Deputy Speaker. He is also the Scottish Parliament Member for Moray and a part-time assistant referee. When we think about higher standards, we must ask ourselves: how does someone actually forget to declare £28,000-worth of earnings for games of football they have recently officiated in? Did he forget he was there? Did he not catch himself on “Sportscene” highlights on a Saturday night and think, “I had better stick that in my register come Monday morning”? Perhaps he was just too busy or perhaps he does not see the value of £28,000. When the average annual wage in Scotland is £25,000, I think that says quite a lot. It is beyond tragic that someone in his position—his two elected positions, and being Leader of the Opposition in Scotland—has got himself into such a scenario, but it serves to inform us all about just how blasé the Tory party is when it comes to rules, regulations and the potential for financial gain. I am not saying that the MSP, or MP, for Moray is corrupt, because that would be unparliamentary, but when we consider the circles he moves in, we perhaps have pause for thought. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not sure how au fait you are with the goings on in Scottish football over the years, but if there was ever a second job that was apt and tailor-made for a politician with fewer scruples, it would indeed be as a match official with the Scottish Football Association. I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let us compare and contrast that with my constituents’ experiences—those living in the real world. Lucy was working two jobs during the pandemic, one in a vulnerable children’s home and one delivering care to the elderly in their own home. She was working two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. One of her employers—and well done to them —paid all staff a bonus for their hard work and commitment during the pandemic of £300. As she was a single parent in receipt of universal credit, this Tory Government, and their poorly devised policies, stole Lucy’s bonus right out of her back pocket and left her £75 worse off that month overall. But we are all in this together, remember! With politics it is often about optics and how things look, but with the Tories it now seems it disnae matter how bad it looks, it is about what they can get away with.
This job as an elected representative is an immense honour for me, as I am sure it is for many of us. When I was elected to North Lanarkshire Council in 2015, I resigned from my job in the private sector. I was only coming from a shopfloor into an elected chamber, but none the less I resigned, because morally that was the correct thing to do. After I was elected to this place in December 2019, I resigned my seat on North Lanarkshire Council early the following February, to ensure my full dedication to the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. It is all about the optics but it is also about the morality of the situation.
It is about time that we as MPs—all of us—and, indeed, all elected officials throughout the UK take a long, hard look at ourselves and question whether we are truly committed to our constituents or there are ulterior motives at play. If it is the former—and I do think that in the vast majority of cases it is—it is now time for us to show it by voting for the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar)—although I reached a very different conclusion—about the Prime Minister’s having been forced to respond to a question about whether this is a corrupt country by saying that of course it is not. He was quite right to say that but it is very concerning that he was forced to.
I want to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), who said that his speech was “a cry of pain” and that it is likely to be worse tomorrow than it was yesterday. I think everybody felt rather downbeat when he sat down after his speech, but I want to reassure him that there are more things that we can do and that I hope we will do. I have a list of possible further steps that I hope the Government will take, in addition to the proposals they have made today, to make sure that in future my hon. Friend does not have to give another speech that is a cry of pain.
The crucial thing is that strengthening standards in public life is, yes, about second jobs—of course, they are core to this issue—but it is also about a great deal more than just whether or not parliamentarians have second jobs and what kinds of jobs they may or may not have. We have to fix that, but that will not be nearly enough on its own, so I come with a modest shopping list of proposals that I hope people throughout the House would be willing to pick up and look at on a cross-party basis. I do, though, of course speak in favour of the Government’s amendment to the motion.
The first additional measure is directly in line with parliamentary standards and backs up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), who serves on the Standards Committee. Last week, he made a powerful speech arguing that the process of delivering parliamentary standards needs to be cleaned up, further tightened and improved. He drew particular parallels with the process in place to deal with the problem of and cases of bullying in this place, which I am sure everybody present would agree is unacceptable in the extreme. He argues that we should take some of what is already established in that process and bring it across to apply more broadly in respect of other aspects of parliamentary standards. My hon. Friend has made that point repeatedly to the Chairman of the Standards Committee, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—who is no longer in his place—to the extent that I think the Chairman winces when he sees my hon. Friend coming because he knows what he is going to say. I see other Committee members present and hope that in future the Committee will take that up on a cross-party basis as a potentially important tightening of the rules.
That is not the only thing that we can and perhaps should do. There are rules about disclosure in respect of ministerial meetings and lobbying. The problem with the existing rules is not that they are not beneficial, sensible or absolutely necessary, but that they do not disclose nearly enough, nearly fast enough. We should make sure that ministerial meetings with anybody, but particularly with somebody who might be lobbying for a commercial interest or for an entirely non-commercial interest—there are plenty of non-commercial interests out there that may be beneficial or may indeed be harmful and seek to slant the playing field—are disclosed. It is vital not only that we know who was met—who came to talk to a Minister—but that we understand in some detail what the topic was and whose interest was ultimately being represented. It should not just apply to Ministers, either; it should apply to senior members of the civil service, not just permanent secretaries, and special political advisers in government. All are people who have a say and important roles in the process, so they should be harnessed in our disclosure rules. Otherwise, we are missing an important piece of the jigsaw.
Further, we need to strengthen the role of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments—or ACOBA as it is called. There are some good proposals in both the Boardman report and in the recent Standards Matter 2 report from Lord Evans’s Committee, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which say that we should make sure that Ministers’ commitments are made enforceable in law through a legal deed. I would certainly support such a measure. I would also go further and argue that ACOBA should have a further look at whether some of the individual departmental rules of compliance with parts of the civil service code are being applied strongly and rigorously enough, because it is clear that, in some Departments, it is applied much more strongly than in others.
Finally, two pieces of legislation go right to the core of standards in our public life. The first one is about Government contracts. There is a procurement Bill currently on the stocks, which I devoutly hope will be introduced very, very soon. It replaces the old and clunky Official Journal of the European Union on how to do procurement with, in principle, a much faster, more digital, and much more open and transparent process. That is necessary and I hope that it will come forward very promptly, because it will mean that, if we have another national emergency like the one that we have just faced in the covid pandemic, our systems will be better able to cope with the pressure than the old and clunky system that we inherited from the EU.
The final piece of legislation that I devoutly hope will come forward very soon with a date attached is an economic crime Bill. I am looking directly at the Leader of the House as I say this, because he will be in charge of the timetabling. The Bill would make sure that we know not only who is behind each and every company—whether they are Scottish limited partnerships or any others—but who is getting the benefit, which means that those involved will not be able to hide. It is absolutely essential that that transparency is introduced as fast as it possibly can be.
One thing on which we can all agree today is what a sorry state of affairs it is that we are having to debate how to strengthen standards in public life. We need to be clear on how we got here, because this was coming a lot earlier than the vote on Owen Paterson and the Government’s decision to reject the Standards Committee’s report and findings into his activities.
In our system of parliamentary government, it has, quite rightly, been the convention that Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the actions of their Departments, but the current Conservative Government seem to take a somewhat different view. They have been content to close ranks to protect political allies from accountability and see no problem in hanging departmental officials out to dry for policy failures, deflecting blame and avoiding ministerial responsibility.
It was telling that when the Business Secretary was asked to name a single thing that the Prime Minister had done to deliver integrity and probity in public life, he was unable to do so. The best he could come up with was to say that the Conservative manifesto pledge to leave the EU had been delivered. What a low bar this Government have set when they find delivery of one of their election pledges somehow remarkable—good grief. The truth is that, while the Prime Minister says he believes in high standards in public life, his actions too often demonstrate the opposite.
When the Home Secretary was accused of bullying civil servants, the Prime Minister rejected the findings of his independent adviser, effectively forcing his resignation. When the Government ignored repeated warnings over last year’s GCSE and A-level results, it was senior officials at Ofqual and the Department for Education, not the Education Secretary, who took the rap for that inevitable fiasco. By saying that he considered the matter closed as soon as the former Health and Social Care Secretary was found to have breached covid rules, the Prime Minister seriously undermined the ministerial code.
On the issue of Ministers breaking the code, last weekend The Sunday Times wrote about a Transport Minister who allegedly misused taxpayers’ money?
Has the hon. Lady notified the Member concerned that she will be referring to them?
Sorry, he is a Secretary of State.
But has she notified the Member that she will be referring to them?
I should have done that. I will double check.
Okay. The hon. Lady needs to be quite careful about how she approaches it then.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last Sunday, The Sunday Times reported that the Transport Secretary misused taxpayers’ money by blocking the redevelopment of airfields. This would affect my local airfield in Coventry, which is meant to be redeveloped as a gigafactory that would bring thousands of jobs to my city of Coventry. Does my hon. Friend agree that senior Conservative Ministers should spend less time abusing their position and more—
Order. I think that we have got the point.
I think that we could all raise example upon example of this Government’s saying, “Do as I say but not as I do”, and not following through on their promises.
It is difficult to imagine 10 or 20 years ago a Government unlawfully proroguing Parliament without even the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House resigning, or at least having the decency to admit that they were wrong. It is unclear what the Prime Minister thinks that he, his Ministers and sometimes his MPs should be held accountable for, if anything at all. For our system of accountability to work, we need the Government to be open and willing to learn from their mistakes. The deterioration in standards that is happening under this Government is not only morally wrong; it is the opposite of good governance. Covering for incompetence or corruption—and sometimes both simultaneously—can only lead to poor leadership and bad policy, which harms the people we are elected to represent. The scapegoating of unelected officials when things go wrong must stop.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the Chair of the Standards Committee, put it well last week when he reminded the House that parliamentary democracy in its present form has not been around for long at all. It is fragile and precious, and must be protected from Governments who seek to undermine it for their own short-term gain. The Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans, clearly anticipated this danger when he said:
“The risk is that we think it couldn’t possibly happen in this country. The fact is it could, and that is why we need to make sure we don’t take decisions which would lead us in the wrong direction”.
I will finish by quoting President Lyndon Johnson, who famously said, “It takes a carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can knock it down”. I know that I am not alone in my deep concerns about the long-term impact on our democracy of a Government who all too frequently act with no sense of decency, dignity or shame.
My remarks will probably follow in the vein of those of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). I have no outside interests or earnings, so in one sense, no matter how strict the rules are, this is not going to affect me directly.
I have never been persuaded by the argument that some Members used to earn a lot more elsewhere and therefore need to be able to earn more here; I think we all know what the salary is when we become MPs. There is a better argument about outside interests bringing skills and expertise to the House, particularly—although not just—from a field in which the Member operated before, as doing so probably helps to improve our legislation. However, we can tighten the rules. It should go without saying that our constituencies should come first and foremost, and I do think that that is what the vast majority of us spend the vast majority of our time on.
I have said many times, away from this place, that when I went from being a charity chief exec to being an MP in 2019, I went from saint to sinner in the minds of the public. Someone who works for a charity is seen as one of the good guys: honest; principled; in it for the right reasons. Politicians are seen as the opposite: dishonest; unprincipled; in it for themselves. Both caricatures are wrong.
I accept that some Members of this House have questions to answer about their outside interests. I personally think that a lot of what they are being accused of is breaking the existing rules. I am perfectly happy to accept that we need to change some of the rules. We will never banish bad behaviour. Every workplace has rules, because it knows that people will behave inappropriately from time to time. That is true of absolutely anywhere.
However, I have a number of concerns about the way this debate—not in this House, apart from a bit at the start of this debate, but the debate more generally in the past couple of weeks—has been going. First, there is the divide between private sector and public sector. We have had the commentary from some Opposition Members that somehow if it is a public sector job, that is good; if it is a private sector job, that is bad. About one in six people in the country work in the public sector. They are not all on wards and in classrooms—they are often in offices, like the vast majority of people who are also providing a good service to the country, just not publicly funded. I cannot see why someone could be a paid director of an NHS trust—because they always are paid positions—but could not be a paid director of a company that was providing medicines or equipment to that NHS trust. I cannot see why someone could be involved in a law firm if it was defending public clients but not if it was defending anybody else. We are sending a bad message to the vast majority of people who do not work in the public sector about the sorts of jobs and the sorts of organisations they work in.
Secondly, right now there are Opposition activists saying that this is all about the Conservatives and Conservatives saying, “You’ve got a problem too.” But what are the public saying? They are saying, “You’re all at it—you’re all the same.” I accept that politics means that Labour thinks it has a winning issue here, but I do not think any of us are truly winning in what has been going on in recent weeks.
Thirdly, the charities I ran were all about improving social mobility, so I spent a lot of time thinking about who gets into politics—the proportion who are from private school, who are graduates, who are wealthy, who have done nothing but politics, or who had to do unpaid internships, which were rife in this place, in order to get their foot on the ladder. I am concerned that we should have more people from ordinary backgrounds and more people with disabilities. We should make this place more family-friendly. That is a challenge right now for people with children; it is putting off those who have them who are thinking about going into politics. If we are going to make changes to this place, there is a whole range of changes that are probably more pressing, and I would like to bind them up together, because there is a lot that we could reform.
Finally, we have a responsibility to think about the politicians who come after us. We are not all the same. We are not all at it. The vast majority of us obey all the rules. It is very tough to persuade talented people to consider politics because of the hours, the abuse, and the increasing personal risk that we seem to be at. The association with the expenses scandal persists, although the majority of us were not even in the House at that time and the system has completely changed. When we push the line that MPs are all trying to get as much money as they can and the only way that we can stop them and get them to focus on their constituents is to have new rules that make them do so, we do ourselves and our politics a disservice. I am perfectly open-minded about the rule changes that we need to make. My most important test is, “Are we obeying all the rules that are there?” I really care about how politics and politicians are viewed, and what we are doing at the moment in saying, “My party’s a bit better than your party”, is making the public’s view of all of us worse.
As the Leader of the House mentioned in his opening remarks: country, constituency, party, in that order, no more, no less—those are whom a Member of Parliament has a duty towards. It is a formulation so simple that anyone ought to be able to understand it. It was certainly the basis on which I stood for election to this place, and nothing I have seen in the intervening six years has led me to believe that I was wrong to think that. Indeed, I am proud to represent my country, my constituency and my party. But my pride turns to shame when I see headline after headline about hon. and right hon. Members not treating the position they hold or the people they represent with the respect they deserve because they turn themselves into political cabs for hire. When Members put themselves up for sale, they may enrich themselves but they cheapen us all.
Being a Member of Parliament is a great privilege, but it is also a great responsibility. We need to be conscious of the fact that having the letters “MP” after our names gives us a certain authority, and that is because we are the democratically elected representatives—we make the laws; what we say matters. I would have liked to have said that those letters command respect and gravitas, but the sad reality is that when an MP speaks, people often ask, “Just who are you speaking for?” It is the greatest privilege of my life to be able to stand up in here and speak freely without fear or favour on matters that are important to my constituents. That we can no longer assume that is the case for everyone demeans us all.
Some people will argue that taking away the ability of Members to earn a bit of extra cash as a consultant or lobbyist will reduce the pool of talent of those seeking to enter Parliament, but they should take a look in the mirror. Those who take the shilling from those that are willing to pay for a voice in this place should not kid themselves that it is their wisdom or charisma that attracts the cash in the first place; it is their access that matters. This place should not be available to the highest bidder; this place should be a force for good and for change for the benefit of all. If it is a choice between someone who might be a slightly better orator but whose main motivation is money, and someone who is here because they want to make a difference, I know who I would want to be my MP and I know who will be a more effective parliamentarian in the long run. If people are put off because of the limitations this role might put on their earning potential, perhaps they might want to consider whether this job is really for them.
This is not all about individual avarice; it is about the tone set from the top and leadership. When we have a Government who, as they did last week, try to overturn established and agreed procedures to let one of their own off the hook, we are faced with a Government who have become intoxicated on their own power, become arrogant because of the size of their majority and grown contemptuous of the need for probity. None of those things is good for the Government, but they are damaging to us all, as many Members have said. These things erode what little trust the public have in our parliamentary democracy.
There is no shortage of people out there who are only too willing to call us all out for being motivated solely by personal gain. We do not need to give them dozens of examples of Members appearing to do just that. We need to govern in the public interest and show that standards in public life matter and that when it comes to our duties to our constituents, we must lead, not follow.
The Government’s defence for the shameful shambles we have seen over the past week is that they were concerned about the supposed lack of an appeals process and that they made a mistake in trying to conflate those issues with the concerns in the case of Owen Paterson. But what he did was so obviously wrong that I have to question just how the Government are operating. The Register of Members’ Financial Interests is there. It is plain to see what he was getting paid and by whom, but did it not occur to anyone in Government that when he was doing all this lobbying he was actually breaking the rules? Did nobody think to challenge him, feed it back to the Whips or just say, “Sorry this conversation is not going to happen”? Or is it the case, as I suspect it is, that this kind of thing is just par for the course and nobody questioned him about it because it is seen as how MPs and Government operate? If there is a grain of truth in that, we need to do an awful lot more about this than just what we are discussing today.
All I would say in respect of the claim that there was no appeal is that there was an appeal process, but he was so obviously guilty of the charges that a dozen appeals would not have changed the outcome. If Government Members are now so concerned about the operation of natural justice and appeals, they might want to start looking at how some Departments operate. Many of my constituents would question where their opportunity is to appeal in areas such as benefits over- payments, child maintenance and the loan charge. They would say it is one rule for Tory MPs and one rule for everyone else, and they would be right.
In conclusion, we are the rule makers; how we conduct ourselves matters. Parliament should be an exemplar of good practice and positive behaviours, of probity and of standards for others to look up to and emulate. If we cannot get our own house in order, how can we effectively challenge other countries, companies or individuals? I hope that Members will vote for our motion today. I am afraid that there is so much wriggle room within the Government amendment that it resembles a pit of snakes, which I am afraid is what some people see us all as. We know that the majority of Members are not like that, but kicking the can down the road, as the Government would have us do, simply leaves too much room for doubt that we are not serious about stamping out the egregious use of this office that we hold so dear and that the principle of transparency does not matter at all.
The rules should be followed by everyone. If we in this place avoid the rules when they become inconvenient, how can we expect the public to follow them, too? Sadly, there have been too many examples over the past year of Members thinking that the rules do not apply to them. How difficult is it to put a face covering on? The very fact that the merits of that simple act are beyond some Members gives us an indication that some people just do not think the rules apply to them.
I am speaking today not because I take any pleasure in taking part in this debate, but because I truly believe that strengthening standards in public life is one of the most important issues facing us. I actually welcome the fact that the Labour party has secured this important debate.
I should start with a declaration of interest in that I used to be a Lobby journalist. I was chief political correspondent of The Times, and one of the “feral beasts”, as Tony Blair used to call us. I used to write stories about standards in this place when rows erupted. Standards rows are very good for political journalists—they give us good work and get us on the front pages—but they are very bad for trust in democracy. I think it is very important that we do everything we can to raise standards to make sure that Lobby correspondents and political journalists have nothing to write about in this place.
There is something else I learned when I was Europe editor of The Times and was responsible for covering European politics, and this comes back to the points my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) was making. A former Labour Cabinet Minister—let us call Peter Mandelson, because that was his name—who had resigned not just once, but twice, from the Cabinet over financial-related scandals, got appointed by Tony Blair as a European Commissioner. He came to give evidence to the European Parliament, and all the journalists from other countries came up to me really excited to know why this man had had to resign from Cabinet not just once, but twice. I told them why—we do not need to rehearse that here—and those from lots of different countries said to me, “What, you mean he got no personal gain from public funds? Then it is not corruption, so why did he have to resign?” Even the German journalists, and we think of German politics as having very high standards, said that there was no way somebody doing what he had done would have to resign in Germany. So we do have very high standards in public life here already. We are very good at talking ourselves down as a country, and I think there is a risk that we unfairly undermine trust in politics.
It is important that we have high standards, and it is important that we have even higher standards. One of the things I welcome about this debate is that there is actually cross-party consensus that we need to raise standards in public life. The motion brought forward by the Labour party and the amendment brought forward by the Prime Minister are, in substance, very similar, although there are differences that I will come to.
I truly support recommendation 10 in the 2018 Committee on Standards in Public Life report, “MPs’ Outside Interests”, on banning payment and jobs for political and parliamentary consultancy. That is because we cannot be a gamekeeper and a poacher at the same time. When we are in this House—deciding what to say in debates, deciding what meetings to have, going to meetings with Ministers and so on—we are serving only one paymaster, and that is our constituents. There should be no conflict in our role.
We cannot have a situation in which MPs have discussions with a Minister—I have had a couple of meetings with Ministers already today—where they talk to us about different policy areas and things they are doing, and MPs then go and sell that information to some outside interest. When we are here acting as MPs, we should serve only our constituents. Actually, I am sympathetic to having outside roles, for the arguments that others have rehearsed, but I absolutely agree that we should stop political and parliamentary consultancy.
I also support recommendation 1, which the Prime Minister has called for, which is that MPs should not have outside work that is not within reasonable limits. That is common sense. The question mark with both recommendation 10 and recommendation 1 is actually how we define it, and various hon. Members have talked about that. I think it is absolutely right that this goes to the parliamentary Committee on Standards—its Chair, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), spoke earlier—to define the real details and get cross-party consensus on how we do that in a way that is completely enforceable and reasonable.
I have mentioned that I have some reservations about the Labour motion. One is that it does not mention recommendation 1, while the Government amendment includes recommendation 1 and recommendation 10. In fact, the Labour party motion covers only recommendation 10, and actually talks only about parliamentary consultancy, not political consultancy. Although people may think they are the same; they are actually different, and we do not want to clamp down just on parliamentary consultancy and not political consultancy. That is why I fully support the Prime Minister’s amendment, which I think is a lot more robust and more wide-ranging. It has two different recommendations, not just one, and also covers political consultancy, and that is why I will support it.
It is good to follow the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). What gets me about this entire debate is that there are probably Members in here who would, as they say in some parts, go “total tonto” about me not wearing a tie, but who would not blink an eye at an unregistered £6 million in personal loans, or £28,000 of extracurricular activity in other Parliaments. It is not just about the Government Benches, I have to say. There are those on the Opposition Benches, for example, who are exposed for taking payment for non-parliamentary work while they were actually in their parliamentary offices. So it is about the entire House, not just the dodgy dealings of the Government.
There has been much mention about the former Member for North Shropshire, but perhaps we should have seen this coming, given that when they were sacked from the Government in 2014 they were, in a quote from Martin Williams of openDemocracy, “ringing round” for a second job. Luckily, the companies that they were ringing round saw it for what it was and said, “No thanks very much. We don’t have anything on the books at the moment.”
Then there are the other Members. I have informed them that I will name them, but an MP with a major financial interest in a company that sells insurance to pay for care services seeks via an amendment to the health and social care levy—to quote the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) themselves in public—to
“create incentives for investment into some kind of modern insurance scheme.”
No wonder the former Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life clearly stated that
“The rules of procedure would clearly require him—
the Member for Yeovil—
“to explain what his interest is in this matter.”
So yes, I think that would be a breach of the code, particularly where he is seeking with an amendment to influence Government policy. He is clearly duty bound, as you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, to declare any interest he has in the matter. Perhaps he has. Again, as I have said, I have informed the Member. Again, I am grateful to Caroline Molloy of openDemocracy for that exposé of the nefarious workings of this place.
If we look north to Scotland and the Scottish Parliament, we find another Conservative Member, a regional MSP, who states in the paper this week that being an MSP, or an MP actually should be a part-time job. Extraordinary! That MSP even goes on to say that they think the Lords is not in need of reform—I will come to that in a minute. I tend to agree with an acquaintance of mine who stated that that was like saying—and we must understand the electoral methods of a PR Parliament—“I never made the tiniest effort to win a seat without saying ‘I never made the tiniest effort in trying to win a seat’.” That is basically what that Member was saying. I am sure that even new Scottish Ministers in the upper Chamber do not fail to recognise that their not being elected by the electorate at the last Scottish Parliament and then being thrown into the House of Lords is an absolute affront to the democratic will of the people of Scotland. It is really political patronage.
I am disappointed that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who is in the Chamber, has not been selected because it gets to the nub of the privilege of being an unelected and unaccountable Member of the House of warmers—that is a parliamentary term, as I am sure Hansard will point out. I am also disappointed with the shadow Leader of the House for not agreeing that that would be a way forward to end cash for honours.
I notice we have had some consensus on this side about opposing the Government’s change or creation of a new Committee in the House. I wish we could come to some consensus and stop appointing members to an unelected, unaccountable Chamber. That way we might get quicker reform of it, especially the utilisation of Scottish limited partnerships to fund political parties, which actually fill it with their own grandees and appointees.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is easy to get rid of the stench of corruption, or perceived corruption even, of cash for honours: the three party leaders who appoint to the House of Lords could simply say that they will not put in the Lords those who have donated over a certain sum of money over a certain period of time—perhaps £50,000 over five years?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I would go further. I would get rid of it. Just abolish it. What is the point of an unelected, unaccountable Chamber? We could have an elected one, or an enhanced Chamber of the House of Commons, where we can tell Ministers that they have to come to a Committee meeting because the House demands they come to it and will drag them to it. That is more or less what the Scottish Parliament does. We have a unicameral Chamber that has profound powers and can drag people to a parliamentary Committee, under oath, I would think. That is surely what this House should be asking for if you are a democrat and believe in democracy. Get rid of that lot.
As a Scot representing a Scottish constituency I also find it an affront that members of the English episcopy have more to say over the affairs of my constituents than I do on many occasions. It is a real pity. Although I am going to support the Opposition motion, it is disappointing that we cannot come to some consensus about the nefarious ability of big donors to utilise the unelected Chamber to change policy and change issues that impact my constituents across Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven—people who need to work two, three or four jobs just to keep their heads above water.
What about members of staff working in this very House who travel miles from across the south of England to work in low-paid jobs to work with Members and to make sure they have a a decent day’s work, while they all have two jobs paying them millions of pounds? What does that say to people in this place who work two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water? It is a parcel of rogues in a nation and in a Parliament. Quite frankly, the time for this obfuscation and saying that we will just tooter aboot while the place crumbles about is done. Get done with it. Stop it. No more second jobs. Get rid of the House of Lords. And that way we can actually look our constituents in the eye.
I once again declare my interest as a member of the Standards Committee, which seems to be gaining more responsibilities and notoriety every day.
Lord Bew’s introductory letter to the 2018 report that we have been discussing asks:
“most importantly, how can MPs and Parliament build and promote greater public trust?”
In essence, that is the most relevant question for today’s debate.
Most Members of this House are aware that a significant percentage—perhaps even a majority—of the public distrust and dislike MPs. Irrespective of party, voting record or character, we are all tarred with the same broad strokes of being corrupt, liars, on the take, useless and lazy. The headlines of the past few weeks are not particularly shocking to the public; they simply reinforce what many people already feel. However much we know that most Members of this House are good people and hard-working MPs, that is not reflected in the outside world. We should keep that very much in mind.
I understand that, as it stands, the Opposition feel emboldened. They feel that they are on the moral high ground and playing smart politics with today’s debate and motion. I caution them, however, that they are not showing leadership or principle today; they are demonstrating opportunism. The tone of the opening remarks and some of the other speeches made today do this House no credit at all. If they seriously wanted to help improve trust in our politics, they would be working across this House and with the Standards Committee, rather than instructing it, to seek substantial improvements. They would dial down the rhetoric and stop the mud- slinging, because some of the things that I have heard both in this House and elsewhere in recent days are unsubstantiated and have not been investigated.
Have the last 18 people who have given £3 million to the Conservative party found their way into the House of Lords or not? Is that unsubstantiated?
I think that point about the Lords was answered by the Leader of the House earlier, and I think he made the position very clear.
I am personally very sympathetic to paragraph (1) of the Opposition motion, which is also covered in the Government’s amendment. I am afraid that my support does not extend to paragraphs (2) and (3). If the Committee on Standards is to be tasked with drawing up proposals for this House on such a serious matter, we should be free to take evidence, discuss the implications involved and ensure that there are no unintended consequences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), who is no longer in his place, set out earlier.
The broadest point in today’s debate is: should MPs be allowed to have second jobs? I am sure that, instinctively, most people would say absolutely not. But if we ask, “Should a nurse or doctor be allowed to practise?” the answer is yes. Should a Member be allowed to be a Minister, a Parliamentary Private Secretary, a trade envoy or a Whip? The answer, again, is yes. What about writing a book or a newspaper column, as many Members do and for which they receive payment? The initial binary choice is not so simple. It is a matter of judgment and a judgment call. The history of this House encouraged Members to have other professions. The House and its workings have obviously evolved over time, but it has often been considered a virtue to have people from different walks of life in this House, including from different professions. It is perfectly legitimate, under the current rules of this House, for people in professions to continue to practise as long as it is properly declared. Ultimately, it is a judgment call for us as MPs and our bosses, the electorate, as to whether we are doing the right or wrong thing.
Again, I am very sympathetic to the point about banning political consultancy and advisory roles, but we must be clear about the wider context in which this debate is happening and explain clearly the choices that need to be made. As the 2018 Committee on Standards in Public Life report, “MPs’ Outside Interests” states:
“Any strengthening of the regulation of MPs’ outside interests needs to consider the potential for unintended consequences on the diversity of careers and backgrounds of MPs.”
We need to be very careful about what we are doing. The same report goes on to recommend that
“Any outside activity undertaken by a MP, whether remunerated or unremunerated, should be within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from fully carrying out their range of duties”.
That is recommendation 1, which is mentioned in the Government’s amendment. I have to say that I find it slightly troublesome because I think that that part of the report is a bit of a cop-out. It is far from clear what “reasonable” means or what a reasonable principle means. As the Chair of the Standards Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said earlier, that would leave the Committee and the commissioner in the very unenviable position of defining reasonableness. I will be supporting the Government tonight, but I encourage them to tread carefully when it comes to reasonableness and the principles they are asking us to uphold.
It is important to put one other matter on record. It is the duty of the Standards Committee in every Session of Parliament to review the code of conduct. That has been somewhat overdue in the last few Sessions because we have had elections so quickly. Some of these issues may not have come up if we had not had so many elections in recent years.
I return to trust. There is much we can do to help to improve trust in this House and our democracy, but rushing to hasty judgments, airing unsubstantiated rumours and treating them as facts, and opportunistically trying to bring in rules without wider consultation and proper process will not help. I very much welcome the enthusiasm of both Front Benches to improve standards in this House, but encourage all of them to work together with the Standards Committee, rather than trying to play one-upmanship on who is setting the agenda. If we continue down that route, we will end up with rules that do not work, a standards system that simply cannot cope, and even more distrust from the public than we face already.
Order. Before we move on, I am trying to ensure that everybody gets six minutes. I need to point out that while I have no objection to people taking interventions, if they still stick to the six minutes it means that others will be able to get equal time. I also urge those who have already spoken to bear in mind that, if they make further interventions, they are reducing others’ time. Obviously, some Members have made a number of interventions. Just bear in mind that we are trying to make it fair for everybody.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. My gratitude also goes to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House, for bringing forward this motion, and to the Labour Front-Bench team for taking steps to clean up and improve standards in this House, when the Prime Minister is so clearly failing in this matter.
I fear that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), who I am following, may not like my speech, but I think that certain things need to be said and it is also a fact that the truth hurts. In 2018, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that Members should be banned from any paid work to provide services as a
“Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
That, frankly, is long overdue.
Sadly, we really should not be surprised. The sordid events of recent weeks have exposed just how endemic cronyism, corruption and nepotism is in the Conservative party. That has continued because there have been no consequences for certain MPs’ immoral actions and they know that even if formal, independent action is levelled against them, the Prime Minister will simply come to their rescue.
Calling the past few weeks a shambles would be a gross understatement. A Conservative Member who repeatedly failed to uphold standards and was a paid advocate for a private company had his punishment overturned by his own Conservative MPs on the Prime Minister’s say-so. There was then a U-turn less than 24 hours after the vote, followed by our Prime Minister having to proclaim on an international stage that we are not corrupt. This seems to set a grim precedent for our country and our Parliament. We simply cannot sit back and accept that elected representatives can be purchased—bought by the highest bidder—to do private companies’ and lobbyists’ bidding, influencing the highest echelons of Government. We deserve so much better. The British public deserve so much better.
Like many elected to this House, representing my constituency has been and continues to be the biggest honour of my life, but unfortunately, that simply does not seem to be the case for all MPs. How else would we explain the staggering £8 million earned by Conservative MPs in addition to their salary? Yes, £8 million—I know that that will come as a huge surprise not only to the wider British public, but to many of us sitting in this House. How could constituents possibly fit into the busy schedules of those MPs who are working as lawyers for weeks on end, sitting in the Caribbean, or as consultants, chairs of boards and lobbyists?
To set the record straight for the benefit of the good people of Slough, who elected me to represent them, my only paid job is as the MP for Slough. I do not have any second, third or fourth jobs, and I reassure the British public that not all of us are here to line our pockets. We are here to serve our country and our society, to do the right thing and to make a positive difference. Being an elected Member of this Parliament should be an opportunity to represent the diverse and varied constituencies of our nations and not to use our privileged position to line our pockets.
One of my gravest concerns is that the sleazy behaviour in recent weeks has eroded the public trust and belief in Parliament irreparably. We must do our utmost to rapidly restore trust. The events of recent weeks have also lifted the veil on the open secret that many who come to this Chamber are here doing their least lucrative job, hiding the hundreds of thousands that they earn in plain sight because it has always been that way.
Even as the Prime Minister’s last-minute plans emerge, it seems that they are characteristically weak and full of loopholes, allowing that practice largely to continue. It is said that a week is a long time in politics but it is incredible that, within 24 hours, after having forced his Tory MPs to vote to protect his paid lobbyist friend—using them as voting fodder—he did a screeching U-turn and marched them straight down the hill after the huge public outcry against the shameless covering up of Tory corruption. How betrayed and let down those Conservative MPs must feel by their Prime Minister—a mini Trump who has not only a severe revulsion for the truth and integrity, but a loathing for the rules, standards and values that make our democracy so special.
To restore public trust, we need transparency, and we must stop the relentless Tory sleaze and corruptive practices eroding our democracy. Let us focus on why we are really here: to serve our constituents, ensure that their voices are heard and make a real change to people’s lives.
I am sure that I will not take up all six minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher). Last week, my hon. Friend gave one of the best speeches that I have heard in this House in recent years; he said that
“two years here is more than enough to know the difference between right and wrong.”—[Official Report, 8 November 2021; Vol. 703, c. 67.]
I completely agree. I think that this House has a new beast of Bolsover, and he is a rather improved version of what came before.
I will make just three brief points, if I may. First, the Government have apologised. I am delighted that the Leader of the House is here and there has been a certain amount of eating humble pie. I did not support the Government motion two weeks ago; I do support banning MPs from being political consultants, because there is so much of a grey area. Even with the best will in the world, it is too easy to blur the line into paid advocacy and the ethical problems that come from it. The only political consultant I want to be is for the folks on the Isle of the Wight, and frankly the only lobbying I want to be doing is on their behalf. That is what I will do in this House, rather than taking on paid consultancies, which are ethically just so concerning.
I understand the political dimension, but when we have a main Opposition party spending £2 million a year on lawyers because of a disastrous and illegal anti-semitism scandal, and when, sadly, some Opposition Members have ended up with jail sentences, we cannot approach the issue from a partisan point of view. We get a sewer over all of us, and actually, at the end of the day, it does not really work. It is a much better reflection on Opposition Members if they try to come up with suggestions that do not imply that everyone here is corrupt and on the take, because really that does not quite work.
The critical point is about foreign lobbying. I am delighted that the Leader of the House is here, because I want to talk to the House about that important subject. We need a FOLO—a foreign lobbying Act—in this country. With our foreign lobbying laws, the reason there are not more scandals is that it is actually quite difficult to break the law. A consultant lobbyist has to register, but what about a company, an upmarket law firm, a reputation launderer or an upmarket PR firm?
There is an astonishing, vast amount of frankly very sleazy lobbying, not only of parliamentarians, but of civil servants, former civil servants, former special advisers, former policy advisers to both sides of the House—it was happening under new Labour, and it happens here as well—and universities. We have seen how much damage Cambridge University has experienced as a result not only of a vacuous approach to critical theory and critical gender and race theory, but of a morally vacuous approach to taking money from China.
None of this is being registered anywhere, because we simply do not have a foreign lobbying Act. The Americans have had a foreign lobbying Act since 1938; in those days, it was to guard against covert Nazi influence, and clearly it has evolved from there. The only reason—I am going to criticise my own side now—that we found out about the good Lord Barker’s work for the Putin oligarch Oleg Deripaska was that he had to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in the United States. Australia has gone down a similar route with its Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, because of the threat of covert Chinese money.
We should be setting an example here. As Members of Parliament, ultimately the buck stops with us. As well as the political drama that we have seen from Opposition Members, we need to think about corruption in an advanced society, in which officials and special advisers have a great deal of power and think-tanks can influence things and have a great deal of power. That all matters. I wrote a report on it with the Henry Jackson Society—I declare, just out of interest, that I did not take any payment from the society, in case folks are asking. The Government must not only look at the issues that they are confronting now and the points raised eloquently on both sides of the House, but look wider.
I was going to touch on other issues, but I do not have time. Privilege, the use of artificial reality and the problems that that may cause in a democracy in the coming years, politically motivated bankruptcy—there are lots of interesting issues in the field. Either as part of an espionage Bill or separately, we must get to grips with foreign lobbying and its power in this country. We must understand that it does not involve just Members of Parliament.
The hon. Member speaks about moral vacuity and lobbying loopholes. Many thousands of pounds have gone to the Conservative and Unionist party from unincorporated associations such as the Scottish Unionist Association Trust, but loopholes in electoral law disguise the identity of the original donors. Would the hon. Member support that loophole being closed off in the Elections Bill?
That is a great question. I support any closing of any loophole that increases transparency and puts pressure on questionable ethical behaviour—including that of Alex Salmond in working for Russia Today, of which I think we should all be very ashamed, given that RT is a mouthpiece—I thank Members for nodding—for Russian authoritarianism. Sadly, a former leader of the hon. Lady’s party is working for it. I typed “SNP scandal” while I was listening to the debate, and there is a very long list, but we will not go there.
I promised not to take up too much time, so I will just say this. I congratulate the Government on moving. Clearly it has not been a great fortnight for any of us, but I would very much like us to look at the important issue of foreign lobbying in this country and in this Parliament.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank the previous occupant of the Chair for guiding me in the conventions of the House. I did email the Member to whom I shall refer, but I can see that he—the Leader of the House—is in his place. I am not sure whether he read my email, but I am going to refer to him because last Sunday, on social media, I saw an article in the Mail. I am not an avid reader of the Mail—which may surprise Conservative Members!—but I opened and read the piece, and I was myself somewhat surprised by its contents. It is good that the Leader of the House is present, as he may wish to intervene and respond to some of my points.
According to the Mail, the Leader of the House
“borrowed up to £2.94 million a year in ‘director’s loans’ from his UK-based Saliston Ltd between 2018 and 2020.
Parliamentary rules require MPs to be ‘open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest’.
Although it does not explicitly cover director’s loans, the code of conduct requires directors to declare ‘taxable expenses, allowances and benefits’.
In the MPs’ Register of Interests, Mr Rees-Mogg disclosed himself as an ‘unremunerated director’ and shareholder of the firm, but did not say he had taken out the loans.
By using ‘director’s loans’—classed by the Government as a taxable benefit—he was able to borrow the large sum at very low interest.”
I will come to the details of that later.
The Leader of the House “insisted”—I assume directly to the Mail—that
“as the loans were not earnings, he was not required to declare them to Parliament and he had not broken any rules.”
He told the Mail that
“the 2018 loan was ‘primarily’ used to buy and refurbish his £5.6 million home in Westminster. He would not say what the rest of the money was for.
But a source in the Commons sleaze watchdog”—
that is the Mail’s language, not mine; I assume that it refers to the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards—
“said the loans should ‘absolutely’ have been declared in the Register of Interests, adding: ‘The whole point of registration is the public should be able to know what is governing your decision-making and the actions that you take.’”
The Leader of the House, says the Mail,
“bought his house, formerly Tory HQ”.
On Twitter, Baron Leigh of Hurley, a former Conservative party treasurer, challenged me, saying that it was absolute rubbish that the house was formerly the Tory headquarters. If the Leader of the House wants to tell us that it was not, I shall be happy to apologise, but that is what is says in the Mail. It says that the Leader of the House bought the house
“in February 2018 using a mortgage with Coutts bank, Land Registry documents show.
The £6 million he took in loans includes £2.94 million in 2018, £2.3 million the following year and £701,513 in 2019-2020, Companies House documents reveal.
In the first year he paid no interest, in the second he paid £46,915 and in the final year £2,030—£48,945 in interest over three years, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per cent.”
My constituents, when buying a house, would struggle to get an interest rate of 5%. It sounds like a benefit to me, although I might be wrong.
The Leader of the House, says the Mail,
“was a director of Saliston Ltd until he joined the Cabinet in July 2019, but retains a 100 per cent shareholding and is a ‘Person of Significant Control’…Saliston Ltd has previously been described as a ‘holding company’ by Mr Rees-Mogg.
“It has £8 million property assets”—
including a Mayfair house—
“and nearly £1 million in other investments.
I am particularly interested in this—
“it took out a £2.87 million bank loan…the same year it lent Mr Rees-Mogg £2.9 million.”
I do not know the interest rate at which it took out the bank loan, but we know the interest rate at which the Leader of the House repaid it. [Interruption.] I am happy to take an intervention from the Leader of the House at any point. Saliston Ltd has a controlling stake in Somerset Capital Management LLP, the parent firm of Somerset Capital Management (Cayman) Ltd in the Cayman islands—an offshore entity.
I do not have much time, so I will come to the point; I would be fascinated to hear from the Leader of the House on this. He is quoted as saying:
“The loans from 2018 were primarily taken out for the purchase and refurbishment of [my home] as temporary cash flow measures.
All loans have either been repaid with interest in accordance with HMRC rules or paid as dividends and taxed accordingly.”
I worked out that, on a ministerial salary, it would take approximately 100 years to repay the loan.
However, this might be an explanation for how it happened:
“Somerset Capital Management LLP’s accounts show its limited-liability members were remunerated with £3.8 million in 2021.”
I do not know whether those two things were connected at all. I might be wrong; I am not an expert in complex financial instruments—[Interruption.] Yes, I am not, so if the Leader of the House wants to intervene and correct me, I am happy to let him, because unfortunately I have never managed millions of pounds.
What I would like to know is whether the Leader of the House declared the loan and the details of it to the permanent secretary. Should he not fully disclose those dealings so that it can be judged whether he breached the rules of this House and the ministerial code? It is a matter of trust, not just in this Government, but in the handling of business in this House and where the responsibility, accountability and sanctions lie for the breach of the ministerial code.
The public are getting the impression that this Government are just marking their own homework, and obviously the Prime Minister makes adjudications on the ministerial code. Coming back to the recommendations from the 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, while the Leader of the House blames the House for not having implemented them more quickly, it is his own failure, because he controls our time. When is he going to bring forward the recommendations from that report?
I have enjoyed many of the speeches this afternoon—not the last one by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), which I am not quite sure falls within the definition of Members spending a reasonable amount of time on their constituents’ priorities, but there we are. I start by paying tribute to a speech made in last week’s debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell). He spoke about the value and advantage of friendship in this place, but also about the downside of friendships and relationships that are just too cosy.
I was not able to join the earlier debate about covid contracts, but I will quickly mention that we were in a deep national crisis at the time, caused by a model of global supply and distribution that is deeply insecure. To suggest that we could have afforded a leisurely open procurement process is absurd. The whole country, including Opposition Members, was clamouring for action, and businesses stepped forward. It is quite wrong to imply that the whole country or the Government and all the hundreds of civil servants involved in the awarding of those contracts are corrupt. It is quite wrong to suggest that.
All that said, we do need to clean up the relationship between business and politics. I will say another word about that in a moment, but I turn first to the motion and the question of standards in the wake of the Owen Paterson business. With reference to friendship, I should declare this interest: Owen is my friend. I also knew his wife Rose, and they hosted me at their house some years ago. Amid the deluge of obloquy that Mr Paterson has stood under in recent weeks, I will say that I think he did the state good service when he was in this place, both in Government and on the Back Benches.
But this is where I need to act as a friend should, and also as an MP should who puts the national interest ahead of friendship. Mr Paterson will not accept that he did anything wrong, because he knows himself to have acted with the national interest in mind, and to him that motivation and sense of personal honour is sufficient. The fact is that our motivation is not so clear cut as that. We are all human. We all have motivations that do us credit and motivations that do not, and the fact is that we cannot ourselves disentangle our honourable and dishonourable motivations, especially when money is involved. Money is utterly corrupting.
This issue is as old as Parliament itself. There was an entertaining Edmund Burke quote-off earlier; it was of course Edmund Burke who, after losing his seat because he had not done what his constituents wanted him to do, and while sitting for a pocket borough, introduced reforms to clean up politics and get the influence of the Crown out of this place, and William Pitt who implemented them—so it is Conservatives who have a good record on cleaning up politics. In our time, however, we need to look again at the role money plays in politics, and that is not just about MPs.
I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely). I am uncomfortable that my party takes money from certain businesses, particularly property developers, not because there is direct corruption but because it makes it harder for us to treat those companies as we should—as independent stakeholders which, in many cases, do not have the interest of our communities at heart. I find it uncomfortable that the Labour party takes so much money from trade unions, because it means Labour is not independent of organisations that want substantial changes to policy. That is why we need clear rules for Members.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s proposal, which seems similar to Labour’s proposal—both are based on the Committee on Standards in Public Life report from 2018—first to ensure that MPs devote their time to their constituents and, secondly, to stop political lobbying. The Prime Minister is also right to argue for a fairer system of investigating claims of wrongdoing by Members. It is not right that Mr Paterson had no opportunity to call witnesses for examination and no right of appeal against the decision of the Committee on Standards.
We need some reform to the rules, but we should approach it very carefully, particularly how we define reasonable time spent on other interests. We must take steps to restore trust in this place—the Labour party is right about that—but not through the highly political and partisan effort to twist the knife with this motion. We must be deliberate and careful in how we go about it.
The title of this debate is “Strengthening Standards in Public Life,” and therefore it is plain that standards exist. The problem is that they are not being respected, which is not a new thing. This has not suddenly fallen upon us. Westminster politics and sleaze have co-existed for my entire life. In the 1960s it was centred on Members arranging call girls for their pals and spying, and now it centres on arranging phone calls for their pals and being economical with the truth.
On Tuesday 1 December 2020, during a session of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, I asked the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life:
“Can principles and codes of conduct remain effective if those in office are determined to interpret them as liberally as possible?”
The response is worth noting:
“if people are determined to bend the rules or to try to play right up to the edge of the rules, it is very difficult to do anything about that. You have to draft the rules very carefully to try to ensure they are in the right places, but the Nolan principles are a matter of personal responsibility for anybody in public life. From that point of view, if you purely rely on a compliance system, I think that is second best to people recognising why these arrangements and principles are actually of value in themselves. The purpose of them is not to set up some set of arbitrary rules. They are there in order to ensure that the citizens of this country get the best from their public service, which they are paying for and which they are engaged with and which they rely on. What we want is the best possible delivery of good public services, fairly and honestly in a way in which people can have confidence.”
That is a comprehensive answer, because principles, standards and conventions mean nothing—I see Government and Opposition Front Benchers playing on their phones—if they are ignored by those who deem themselves to be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.
My assertion is supported by Lord Evans’s remarks that a culture of impunity was seeping into British governance. Time and again, as we have heard, the facts show that this UK Government have trampled all over the seven principles of public life. The outcome is that there is potential for all elected Members, senior civil servants and others serving in public life to be tarred with the same brush. The public’s default to any accusation can be that we are all guilty. We have to avoid that stereotype of politicians, because we can be painted as the same, as having our noses in the trough and working for our own aims, rather than following the first Nolan principle to act solely in the public interest.
When elected Members line their own pockets, seek favour for actions taken or put themselves before their constituents, they undermine all the good work that the majority of MPs are doing. I have to disagree with the Member who forecast a plague on us all, as that is not inevitable. This is a problem that this Government should have the courage to resolve. The problem is the mindset that allows corruption and undermines selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The mindset must change, and while this Government twist and turn to protect their own, public confidence will continue to diminish.
Finally, let me say that, thankfully, the people of Scotland have an alternative. Given the catalogue of corruption that weighs heavy on this place—
Given the myriad SNP scandals, does the hon. Gentleman have any sense of irony? There is a catalogue of financial and sexual harassment scandals—is this obligatory or just advisory for the SNP?
The hon. Gentleman should be very careful of what he is alleging there, even if he thinks he can get immunity from being in this place. If people look at the model of government and the model of election that we run in Holyrood, in Edinburgh, for the people of Scotland, they would be ashamed of some of the actions that go on in this place. But we can resolve this—[Interruption.] Oh, the Leader of the House is off his phone now—thanks very much for listening, finally.
Unfortunately, in Scotland we cannot stop the influence of organisations such as unincorporated associations, with the shadowy donors that lie behind them, such as the Scottish Unionist Association Trust. That occurs, of course, throughout the UK. Indeed, it occurs in places such as the Isle of Wight, where we have the Isle of Wight Conservative Patrons Club. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about these shadowy bodies and the fact that donors can hide their identity?
This is, of course, a system we are moving away from; when the people of Scotland take their opportunity to remove all of Scotland’s MPs—
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As a statement of fact, let me say that the Isle of Wight Patrons Club is completely unaffiliated to the Conservative party and the Isle of Wight Conservative Association.
That is not a point of order for the Chair.
For the record, nobody has actually said that the IWPC is.
This situation is leading to the acceleration of the removal of all of Scotland’s MPs from this place. The people of Scotland’s representatives will work in a Parliament that is modern, accessible, open, honest and accountable.
With a five-minute limit, I call Matt Western.
As we all sit here today, it is worth reminding ourselves who it is that we serve. For me, it is absolutely, 100%, the constituents of Warwick and Leamington, Whitnash and villages. It is to them I owe my position as a Member of this House. I am their advocate, paid as such, and I am proud to be so, but I will never take money from anyone to be their advocate or to represent them. We are all the servants of our constituents. By putting our names forward for election, we have all committed ourselves to the principle of public life. I appreciate that the concept of public life is often so abstract that its meaning can occasionally be lost in the heated discourse of politics. For that reason, the Nolan principles, established in 1995, serve as a fundamental, concrete basis for everything that we do. Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership were and should be our guiding principles. Put simply,
“we need all in positions of trust to set an example.”
Those are not my words, but the words of every living Cabinet Secretary, in a joint letter published in The Times on Monday.
It is therefore with a heavy heart that I consider the actions of some Members of this House in the past 14 days that run counter to the very foundations of public service, with the most egregious case being Owen Paterson and his blatant prioritisation of private, corporate interests over and above those of his constituents, for his own gain. Owen Paterson’s actions grate against every single one of the Nolan principles. His pay cheque from Randox and Lynn’s, at almost three times his MP’s salary, reeks of selfishness, dishonesty and private interest. It is not just the constituents of North Shropshire who are short-changed, but every Member of this House. While the vast majority of us work tirelessly to represent the interests of our constituents, a small but notable minority continue to damage the reputation of this place.
What makes the incident particularly sorrowful is that by seeking to pause the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ recommendation of suspension and undermining her independence, the Government complicitly advanced private interests over and above public interests. If the Leader of the House or the Prime Minister are in any way confused about the scale of outrage levelled against their Government in the past 14 days, I suggest to them that it is for that reason. If there is one thing the electorate wants, it is good, honest, reputable government—the antithesis of what we have seen in the past 14 days—and if the Government do not, they should move over.
If anyone was ever in doubt about the need for rigorous standards in public life, this affair has demonstrated why we need them more than ever. I have deep concerns that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past two weeks, a flurry of reports has emerged about numerous Members of this House engaging in a variety of forms of paid consultancy. One Conservative Member is reported to have called for weakened environmental laws while earning £30,000 a year as chairman of a packaging lobby group. Another has called for more military spending without declaring his £425-an-hour job with an aerospace company. Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) is reportedly paid £200 an hour by the betting industry while seeking to warn Ministers not to introduce tough new laws on gambling.
Order. Has the hon. Member written to the Members he is now mentioning?
Indeed I have, absolutely—to all of them.
I will take your word for that.
They say that a fish rots from the head down; is it any wonder, then, that so many Conservative MPs are happy to rake in thousands from private companies, given that as soon as the Prime Minister resigned as Foreign Secretary in 2018, he immediately retook his position at The Daily Telegraph at the staggering rate of £275,000 a year for one weekly column? That is as much per word as someone would receive on a minimum wage. The right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) earned £320,000 in one year working for J. P. Morgan and C3 AI. Let us reflect on that for a moment now that he is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: in that period he earned the equivalent of 13 years’ income for an average nurse.
I could not afford to take another job—I already work 70 to 80 hours a week, like many others, I am sure—and nor would I. Time and again this Government have tried to sweep their corruption under the carpet, but this time they have failed. The public are waking up to the fact that this Government’s interests lie with corporate companies and corrupt donors. That is why I speak in full support of the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, which would ban paid consultancy work
“to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
It is a step in the right direction—towards cleaning up the mess that has dogged this House’s reputation in the past two weeks.
The public’s confidence in Parliament and their elected representatives has been dealt a grievous blow in recent weeks, following a torrent of revelations about the scale of corruption among those on the Government Benches—from the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money handed out to Minister’s friends for personal protective equipment that did nothing to protect frontline workers, through the scandal of cash for peerages, to the grotesque spectacle of Government Members voting to rip up the rules that govern standards in public life in a pathetic attempt to save their friend, the former Member for North Shropshire.
In his most recent U-turn, the Prime Minister now claims to have had a change of heart, but the amendment he has tabled today is a desperate attempt to water down the robust measures that are needed to restore confidence in this House. It is clear for all to see that the Prime Minister regards this as yet another in a long line of scandals for him to sweep under the rug. In the face of a Government who are unwilling to clean up our politics, it has fallen to the Labour party to bring forward this motion, which will guarantee that elected Members serve the interests of their constituents and not those of giant corporations and lobbyist groups.
I will forever be humbled by the immense trust that the people of Birkenhead placed in me nearly two years ago. I owe it to them to dedicate all my energy to standing up for their rights and interests in this House. Being a Member of Parliament is an extraordinary privilege, not a hobby or an afterthought to be indulged in from the luxury of the British Virgin Islands. I have heard some Members say that they just could not get by without their second or third jobs; that the generous salary afforded to us as MPs is not enough. To those MPs I say this: come and explain to my constituents why it is acceptable for you to plunge them into deepest poverty with the cuts to universal credit and Tory tax hikes, and why you should be allowed to cynically exploit your position to make yourself even richer still.
Today, Conservative Members have a simple choice: they can begin the long journey towards restoring faith and competence in our elected institutions or they can continue to slip further down into the cesspit of corruption that is fast enveloping this Government.
I thank all my constituents who have written to me asking me to voice their concerns today.
Being an MP since 2019 has given me an insight into how those two letters after our names can open up doors. Last year, as the MP for Liverpool, West Derby—representing many of my constituents who are part of the 32% in Liverpool suffering from food insecurity, as outlined in the report, “Feeding Liverpool”—I, along with Baroness Shami Chakrabarti submitted a proposal for the right to food to be put into law in a meeting with Henry Dimbleby, the Government adviser leading on the national food strategy. I would not have been afforded that opportunity when I was a taxi driver in Liverpool. Having the letters “MP” after my name has enabled me to make a difference. I have sat in many meetings with many people with the aim of tackling the injustices that I see in my constituency and beyond. It would have been far more difficult to organise if I were still a taxi driver—of that I am 100% certain.
We can say with absolute certainty, therefore, that being an MP gives us opportunities and it opens doors for us, but for me it is about what doors we want opening and how we utilise that opportunity. Do we open them with the aim of aiding our constituents and for the common good, or do we open them with the aim of aiding personal gain and wealth? That is what we are debating here, and, shamefully, for many in this Chamber, it has been the latter.
The public’s opinion on MPs is normally low, but with the events of the past week. it is now at rock bottom. Let us imagine being on universal credit, seeing the pain of what the £20 cut has done to our family, and hearing the same Tory MPs who inflicted this inhumane policy line up to complain about their ability to exist on £82,000 a year—a salary that puts them in the top 5% of earners in this country. For God’s sake we have 15 million people in poverty, 4.5 million kids going hungry, and, horrifically, a national pandemic that, in the past seven days, took the lives of 1,035 people. That—nothing else—should be the priority of every MP in this House.
The second job scandal has uncovered rot at the heart of this place that must be resolved by this House. It is immoral, and it must end with the banning of second jobs. Being an MP should be a vocation, not an opportunity to gorge ourselves on the corporate shilling. We need to show the public that being a public servant is indeed a pledge to serve the very constituents who voted us in and to try to advance their lives—not our own, courtesy of a corporate paymaster. It is time to ban these second jobs, and I will be voting in support of that tonight.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. It is pleasure to follow the previous speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne).
I am grateful to those on the shadow Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition for calling this debate because it is so important to show that, although sleaze has happened, we are not all involved. What many on the Government Benches described as a “Westminster village issue” has resonated with many people in Newport West who have been in touch with me in recent days to express their strong feelings on the matter.
Hon. Members who fail to separate the interests of the people who elected us to this House from their private interests for money or other benefits damage the integrity of Parliament. They damage the relationship between all parliamentarians and our constituents and they further damage public trust in politics. That is why I cannot understand why the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip instructed their MPs to troop into the Lobby to tear up an independent and functioning process that investigated the behaviour and standards of Members of this House.
I worked in the national health service for more than 30 years, and I saw hard-working people who gave their all every day and adhered to the highest standards. We had to sign a declaration if we had a second job or even if we received a gift that cost more than 20 quid. Those were the rules and we followed them. Local councillors also have to make declarations that are accessible to their constituents about their occupations and interests, so why would Members of this House be above such rules and why should the former Member for North Shropshire think that the rules do not apply to him? I know that I speak for many colleagues—certainly on the Opposition Benches—who believe that it is vital for MPs to be held to the highest standards of behaviour. A strong, independent Standards Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), is an integral part of this important process.
The strength of feeling in Newport West is palpable. Local people are beyond angry at the high-minded, dismissive approach taken by Ministers in recent days. They believe that standards exist to hold us in this House to account. Over the last two weeks, this Government have brought the House into disrepute by giving the impression that these standards do not apply to parliamentarians. We must not allow there to be a lack of standards, or risk the perception of a lack of standards, here in the nation’s Parliament.
I wonder whether the Minister would address some specific points in the wind-ups. When will the Prime Minister come to the House and finally apologise for the damage that he has done to Parliament’s reputation? Why did the Government think that it was acceptable to interfere in a live standards case that had been endorsed by the Standards Committee? Colleagues across the House—but, most importantly, our constituents—want those questions answered.
We all have a responsibility to do better, and to work together to improve standards in public life and in this House, but the Government and Ministers have a responsibility to lead. They have been found wanting and this House, our constituents and the country deserve better. I reiterate: being a Member of this House is a real honour and privilege. Becoming a Member later in life made me appreciate that people out there in the real world look at us in this Westminster bubble and expect the highest standards possible from us; they deserve nothing less, and they are watching.
In one of my first speeches as an MP, I talked about something that I found surprising when I was elected. It was the gifts that we are sent by big business: a food hamper from Heathrow, with a letter asking me to back a third runway; a box from Google—not much, although the company’s letter told me about its supposed good work, but not the billions of pounds it has dodged in taxes. And that was not it. I was surprised to walk down a corridor in Parliament where big businesses host private dinners for MPs. Over a glass of fine wine and an expensive meal, they extend their influence. I learnt about the free trips abroad that are paid for by global corporations. As Dennis Skinner once joked, it is always
“Bahamas in the winter...they never go on a fact-finding mission to Greenland in the winter!”.
But in truth, it is no laughing matter.
From gifts, dinners and trips abroad to donations from the super-rich and second jobs from big businesses, this web of influence has one aim: to get this House to work for the wealthy few and not the people who we are elected to serve. Why else do a third of UK billionaires donate to the Conservative party? Why else do wealthy corporations hire MPs with ludicrous salaries for lucrative second jobs? It is no coincidence that big business and the super-rich have been handed tax cuts and dodgy deals worth billions by consecutive Conservative Governments.
MPs are already in the top 5% of earners, but for some Members this is still not enough. We have seen how Members cash in on connections, rather than dedicating themselves to their constituents. Since the start of the pandemic, while our constituents have been pushed into poverty due to the Government’s decisions, MPs have made more than £6 million from lucrative second jobs. In the past 14 years, the Prime Minister himself was paid more than £4 million for second jobs—jobs which, I note, would not be banned by his proposals.
But this racket has been exposed. The Prime Minister’s mate got caught. He was lobbying for companies that were paying him hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Committee found this to be an “egregious” breach of the rules, with no other case having such a clear pattern of behaviour. So what did the Prime Minister do? Well, he tried to rewrite the rules and get his mate off the hook, weakening even further the rules against MPs selling themselves to big business—and it was not integrity or a conscience that made him backtrack, but public outcry.
This scandal has exposed not only that all lucrative second jobs should be banned, but that this is a corrupt Government, led by a dodgy Prime Minister.
There is phrase that summarises the past couple of weeks quite well that was mentioned to me earlier by a colleague when we were having a conversation—these past two weeks have been a cure for optimism, because what we have seen is scandal after scandal and sleaze story after sleaze story. Frankly, I am livid. I am livid that all of us have been collectively dragged through the mud because of the corruption of individuals within this place. It is not just that, but the fact that the Leader of the House, a man who extols the virtues of Parliament, tried to cover it up—him, the Prime Minister, the Chief Whip, all complicit in trying to drag the reputation of each and every one of us through the mud. Shame on them.
I cannot explain how furious I am about this. We should all be furious about this. The notion that we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) that it is a plague on all our houses is not something that we should accept. We should highlight those individuals who have acted with impropriety and feathered their own nests, and ensure that they never sit in a democratically elected Chamber ever again, because they have no interest in trying to represent the people. They do not see this place, or any democratic institution, as important—what they see as important is their bank balance and the opportunity to influence.
This does not start or finish with the stories over the past couple of weeks: it goes much further than that. We heard earlier about the House of Lords, and rightly so—that if you donate £3 million to the Conservative party, you will get yourself a seat in our legislature. How is that possible? It amazes me. When I was growing up I did not have any trust in the Labour party. That is one of the main reasons I focused on becoming a member of the Scottish National party. I believed that Scotland could do things differently because of the trust that was broken by Tony Blair when he went into an illegal war in Iraq. We now have a situation where Labour Members, despite the scandals that are engulfing politics at the moment, will not stand up and say that they will not put Members into the House of Lords. So shame on the Government but shame on the official Opposition too.
This does not need to be in Scotland’s name. We can do things differently. We will do things differently. We will act in the interests of the people of Scotland. I see the Leader of the House is laughing. I challenge him to rise just now and defend his actions. I challenge him to resign for trying to slur the name of every single politician up and down the land. I challenge him on one more thing: to encourage his Prime Minister to show the bottle to go to the polls to let the people of Scotland decide their own future, because he knows what the outcome will be, just as I know what the outcome will be: the people of Scotland will choose to get rid of this corrupt institution.
I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate where so many Members have spoken with passion and conviction, although some on the Conservative Benches, I am afraid, have spoken with great delusion.
Being a Member of Parliament is a privilege. I could not be prouder to represent my community here in Parliament. My family have lived and worked in east Leeds for 100 years since coming as immigrants from Ireland looking for work, so it could not be a greater privilege for me. Why would I want a second job?
Quite rightly, my constituents would be appalled if I sought or secured a second job. When I first stood for Parliament in 2015, I promised that I would not take a second job. Some people in this place need to wake up and realise what the reality is. Being a Member of Parliament is a well-paid job—it is £82,000 a year. Some 95% of people in our country get paid less than MPs. It is a full-time job, too. I do not buy these pleas of poverty from Government Members who are trying to tell people whose universal credit has been cut that they are a poor Member of Parliament who just cannot get by on just £82,000 a year. What a load of rubbish. When MPs are chasing corporate cash, they are short-changing the public, but they are also short-changing and jeopardising our democracy.
We have heard all the fake Tory arguments about how these second and third jobs give real-world experience. I wrote to the Health Secretary and said that I would mention the fact that before becoming Health Secretary he was getting paid £1,500 an hour by a US investment bank. That is not real-world experience. Is it not funny how these MPs who justify this racket on the basis of real-world experience never choose to get a job in the real world? They are not asking to work in supermarkets, as taxi drivers, in factories, in care homes or, in many cases, in hospitals. The truth is that these extra jobs do not make Members of Parliament more in touch with the real world, but less. It is the wrong kind of experience.
I want to mention these fake financial struggles—these teary-eyed tales of poverty—from MPs who are very well off. One Conservative MP told the Financial Times:
“There is no way I could be an MP without my outside interests. My wife works full time, I’ve got kids and need the money for childcare.”
How on earth do these people think that 95% of our population cope on less than £82,000 a year? The truth is that Conservative Members of Parliament may think that they need more than £82,000 a year, but they do not. They might want more than £82,000 a year, but that is very different.
When we hear the Prime Minister describe in an interview on television that £250,000 for journalism is “chicken feed”, people are completely appalled. It is disrespectful to the people who use food banks in our country; it is disrespectful to the people on zero-hours contracts in our country; and it is disrespectful to the people in our country who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
A Conservative MP talked about universal credit. They said:
“I think there are people that quite like getting the extra £20 but maybe they don’t need it.”
The same Conservative Member of Parliament, when asked about this second jobs racket, said:
“We have to realise that we are dealing with human beings who have families and responsibilities”,
making a compelling moral case for MPs to carry on getting extra money through extra jobs, but not offering a modicum of compassion for those in our communities who are suffering.
We hear of some MPs briefing newspapers that they will stand down if they cannot have second jobs, because £82,000 a year is not enough. I say to those MPs: good riddance, go, our democracy does not need you. Some 95% of the public is a big pool from which we can draw in our democracy. We do not need half-measures. The Prime Minister has not gone far enough. We need a ban on second jobs, which is why I am bringing forward a private Member’s Bill on that very subject. Parliament has to show that we understand that the rot in our political system is deep and needs cutting out. It is time to ban second jobs for MPs and it is time for MPs to start living in the real world and representing the public.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a proud member of Unite the union, and I wish the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) was here to hear me declare that interest.
When MPs take up
“outside interests beyond what might be considered reasonable, it risks undermining trust in Parliament and Parliamentarians.”
That is what the Committee on Standards in Public Life report said in 2018. In the three years since that report was published under this Conservative Government, including two years during the Prime Minister’s tenure, no action has been taken on MPs’ paid outside interests, particularly for services and for exerting influence. The Government even went one step further away from strengthening standards in this place by moving to rip up the rulebook to save one of their own.
I want to reflect on what the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Lord Geidt, told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee earlier this year. He said that
“good behaviour is a very difficult thing to legislate for. I join those who suggest that it really needs leaders—of course, the Prime Minister, Parliament and civil servants—to set the necessary example.”
Sadly, it is the behaviour and actions of the Prime Minister and other members of the Government that have risked undermining public trust. Whether it be the circumstances surrounding the refurbishment of the flat at Downing Street, the Government’s covid contract VIP lane or the Tory ex-MP for North Shropshire being a paid lobbyist for a private commercial interest, the Prime Minister and the Government have shown no leadership in upholding and strengthening standards in public life.
While we are here, let us reflect again on the fact that the seven principles of public life
“apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally”.
The principles include selflessness:
“Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”
They also include leadership:
“Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour… They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.”
These standards exist to hold us all to account irrespective of party, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life recognises that the issue is undue influence over an MP’s decision making. Conflicts of interest arise when MPs do not separate the interests of the public from their private interests for money or other benefits, and that damages the integrity of Parliament. It is a privilege to be in this House as the Member for Luton South, but for all of us our responsibility is to represent our constituents, not undue outside private commercial interests. That is what the public expect.
The Opposition motion that we are debating is binding, and it would lead to immediate action to ban MPs from any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant. This will enable us to tackle the unscrupulous act of an MP advising a client on parliamentary matters while at the same time being free to speak, lobby and vote on those same matters to feather their own nests.
I look back at the original reasoning of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1995. Its first report identified this conflict of interest, stating:
“If a Member is engaged to advise a client on Parliamentary matters affecting the client, and is at the same time free to speak, lobby and vote on those same matters in the House, it is not merely possible but highly likely that the Member will use Parliamentary opportunities in a way consistent with that advice.”
Public office should not be used for personal gain. We have a duty to uphold the principles of public life, and I hope that Members across the House will support the Labour motion.
As many Members have said, it gives me no pleasure to be taking part in this debate. I would much rather be talking about jobs for the young people of Roehampton. On Friday, I will be holding a jobs fair in Roehampton, which I have previously invited Members of the House to attend— but not to get their own second jobs, I hasten to add. Instead, we have to be here stating the obvious: there should be high standards in public life.
So what is this all about? Is it that a U-turn a day keeps the electorate away for the Prime Minister? It is not even a U-turn. This amendment is a watered-down version of our own Labour amendment. It does not go far enough, it does not take the steps necessary and it will not content the people of Britain, who are watching this now. I urge Members to vote for the Labour motion in a show of cross-party support for upholding our standards.
We know that the public are watching, and asking, “Why didn’t the Government do this a long time ago?” Why have Conservative MPs got away with being able to take lucrative contracts from companies that, of course, have expectations of getting something back? Labour’s motion is clear. It
“endorses the 2018 recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public life that Members should be banned from any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant; instructs the Committee on Standards to draw up proposals to implement this and to report by 31 January 2022—”
—a clear date. It orders action on that by two weeks later, or for an explanation to be given as to why not.
On the other hand, the Government amendment is unclear. It deliberately fudges the issues and could lead to no changes whatsoever on second jobs, if that is chosen to be the end of the process. If any Members present want to tell their constituents that we are tackling the issue of second jobs, they should vote for the motion and not for this weak, wavering and watered down amendment.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister wrote to the Speaker to try to pretend that he wanted to accept our binding motion on dodgy second jobs for MPs, and that is what the press have been told. That was then watered down and kicked into the long grass. This is a Prime Minister who says one thing, only to do another. We do not trust a word he says because he has proved that he says one thing and does another. Let’s get real; it has taken too long to get here to duck out now. It is clear what people want. Now is the time for Conservative Members to support the motion, rather than having to make tortuous negotiations with their Whips, only to be told there will be another U-turn tomorrow. If Conservative MPs really want to clean up our politics, they should vote for the Labour amendment.
Let me go through a little of what the Government amendment says, and how poor it is. Perhaps I will give it a little more time than it had in its actual writing. The amendment
“believes the rules which apply to MPs must be up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous;”.
We would all agree with that, but it does not say anything extra. It
“recalls the 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life into this matter;”.
Well, we can all recall it, but again no action. It
“believes that recommendations 1 and 10 in that report form the basis of a viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public;”.
Yes, we all believe in those recommendations. We believe in them—fantastic—but again, no action. It
“believes that these recommendations should be taken forward; and supports cross-party work, including that being done by the House’s Committee on Standards, to bring forward recommendations to update the Code of Conduct for MPs by 31 January 2022.”
Of course a date had to be put in there, otherwise it would be entirely criticised, but I suggest that supporting “cross-party work” could start right now, by supporting the Labour party motion.
It has taken too long just to duck out now. The Leader of the House opened this debate by sort of arguing that MPs should have interests outside the Westminster bubble—no disagreement—and implying that second jobs are needed to provide that. I am suspicious that at the end of the process outlined in the amendment, we will get to somewhere, with a lot of lobbying by other MPs who have second jobs, that actually will not stop second jobs.
On the day after I was elected nearly two years ago, I went to the community centre where I had been employed and I resigned immediately. However, I brought all that experience with me to the House. I do not need to go back to the community centre and carry on working there to have that experience. I have brought it with me. I do not know of many jobs where we say to our new boss, “Sorry, I have to keep working at my old job to have the experience to do my new job.” That is not how it works.
We have been here for a while. Labour secured an Opposition-day motion in 2015 that called for an end to MPs holding paid directorships or consultancies, and 250 Conservatives—many of whom are still Members—voted against it, along with 38 Members of the Liberal Democrat party. Why did they not vote for this recommendation back then? It would have saved the Committee on Standards in Public Life from having to do all the reports, and it would have saved a lot of dodgy dealings along the way. The recommendations were made in 2018. Why did the Government not support them then? Instead, it has taken a Conservative MP being found to have broken the rules many times. It has taken a botched attempt to rig the system of standards, and the threat of this Opposition day debate to make the Prime Minister do what the British public wanted him to do a long time ago, and even then, it is not a very good amendment.
The Prime Minister knows that he cannot ask his MPs to vote against what the motion suggests. He knows about the unprecedented letter from all five living former Cabinet Secretaries. He knows that there are calls for an investigation into links between the second jobs of several MPs and Government contracts. He has been backed into this.
But why has it taken so long? Is it because Conservative MPs feel that it is only right—it is only fair enough—to earn a bit on the side? Do they feel that their worth is not in doing public service but in comparing how much they earn against their wealthy pals? Is there a Conservative culture of entitlement and disconnect with most working people in this country, which means that Conservative MPs feel that their salary is not enough, that they need more?
Many Conservative MPs have tried to blur this debate by talking about second jobs as doctors, nurses or reservists, or even about the private-public divide, but that misses the point. The distinction is clearly about being a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant. It is about using influence for private gain.
There have been excellent contributions to this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) took us to the heart of the debate, saying that constituents feel that it is contemptuous for Members who are paid more than four times the average salary to be paid more. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) stood up for decency, giving us a sorry list of times that the Government have failed to uphold standards, saying that this needs to stop.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) said that MPs should not be available to the highest bidder and that people who want to earn more should not seek office. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) reminded us—though his Opposition colleagues do not need reminding—that MPs are here to serve constituents, as he does, and revealed that Conservatives have earned an extra £8 million on top of their salaries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) said that this is a matter of standards and trust, and that it is not only about second jobs but about second sources of income. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) said that while the majority of MPs work very hard, a small minority damage our reputation by earning large amounts of money.
My hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) all shared the anger felt by their constituents that at such a difficult time for our country, MPs are voting for cuts to universal credit at the same time as topping up already high salaries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) showed that this debate is exposing cash for connections—it is drawing aside the curtain and revealing what is happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East quoted a Conservative MP saying that they could not cope on £80,000, which makes me worry about where we would end up with this amendment. Will the Government really cut second jobs? My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) said that the Government need to show leadership in standards. That should not need to be said, but it will be cheered on by people across the country.
Why is it wrong to be paid to be a strategist, lobbyist or consultant? First, our responsibility is to our constituents, not to whoever pays us. I feel, every minute of every day, that I have 100,300 bosses—that is how many people live in Putney. They are my bosses, not whoever might be paying me. That would mean that I had a conflict of interest—of course it would—and receiving no payment would immediately cut that conflict of interest. The bottom line is: how could any Member of this House say that their constituents are their first priority and then devote valuable hours to advising private companies?
That brings me to my second point—time, which has been mentioned by many Members. Since I was elected less than two years ago, I have received more than 1,500 emails a month, I have sent nearly 40,000 emails back to my constituents, and I have spoken in Parliament more than 300 times and tabled more than 500 questions, alongside very regular meetings with constituents in Putney that inform everything I say in this place. How would I have time to work an extra hour a year—let alone 70 hours or more—on top of that for a private company? No matter how good the money is, I could not fit it in and properly serve my constituents.
The third reason is the clear links to Government contracts. We talked lengthily about Randox in an earlier debate today, but why do businesses and lobbying companies pay MPs? It is not for the fun. It is not just for the advice. It is clearly for the influence.
I listened carefully to the Leader of the House argue that a ban on second jobs will see a lot of expertise and skills lost from this House, but I again say that I do not think we need to be paid for a second job to bring in all our skills and expertise to be able to talk to a wide range of interests and people in the constituency. There does not have to be a link between payments and private interests, and the public interest we serve. What are our motivations as public servants? That is at the heart of this debate.
To close, whether Conservative Members like it or not, the party is over. It is a matter of when, not if. The public have made their feelings loud and clear to the House and in the House during this debate. The party stops now. We have an opportunity in a few moments to end it tonight once and for all, or to dither and delay and pass the watered-down Government amendment which will potentially not end it at all. Who knows what will come up at the end of January with the Government amendment? Instead, we should go back to our constituents with our heads held high and say, “No more dither, no more delay. We have heard you loud and clear. No more MPs for hire. Less cash, more case work.” Vote for the Opposition’s motion today.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their thoughtful contributions over the past three-and-a-half hours. In closing, I will respond to a few of the issues raised by hon. Members, but first I want to say this. The impassioned nature of the proceedings this afternoon, and the range of opinions, experiences and insights put forward by Members on both sides of the House, proves how important it is that we now move forward as one from a position of consensus. I look forward to the constructive support, therefore, of the Opposition Front Bench as we make progress.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said in opening the debate, the Government have reflected carefully on the concerns that have been raised in recent weeks about the outside interests of Members of Parliament and fully recognise the need for the rules that bind all our behaviour in the code of conduct to be up to date, effective and rigorous. Indeed, we on the Conservative Benches are pleased that the Labour party brought forward a motion on this important matter. The Government not only support the intent of the motion, but take a tougher stance than the Opposition in advocating, as we do, recommendation 1 of the 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The Government have put on record that they would support a change to the code of conduct to endorse recommendation 10 from the same report. Those recommendations, if they were to be adopted, would serve to allay the concerns that have been aired eloquently in this place and outside it, establish that the role of the MP continues to command the confidence of the general public, and ensure that the rules on outside activity reflect the fundamental principle enunciated eloquently by Edmund Burke in 1774 and many times since that, first and foremost, Members of Parliament have a duty to their constituents.
That duty is paramount. It is why we, as Members of Parliament, are here today: because we were elected on a vow to serve those whom we represent. If duty to our constituents is as important to the leader of the Labour party and the sponsor of today’s Opposition motion as it is to the Government, he might ponder whether the people of Holborn and St Pancras have been sufficiently served by the right hon. and learned Member, or whether the British people wish their MPs to be mouthpieces of trades union interests. An updated code of conduct would mean—
No, I don’t think so. An updated code of conduct would mean that Members of Parliament who neglected their constituents and put their outside interests first would be investigated and subject to the proper sanctions, if found to be in breach of those rules. That, in turn, should help to ensure that the work of this House continues to command the confidence of the public.
The Government recognise that the Standards Committee has a vital role to play and would welcome advice from the Committee on how these proposals can best be implemented. The Government also await the Standards Committee’s report on the code of conduct with interest. Any changes to the system will need to be taken forward on the basis of cross-party consensus of the whole House, for obvious reasons. Naturally, the Government will advocate for the development of such a process. We look forward to the constructive support of the Opposition Front Benchers in the coming weeks and months.
To turn to the comments from hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) made eloquent and powerful points and made it clear how difficult this situation is, in an impassioned contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) made points about how important it is to get the balance right in this complicated argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made a constructive contribution, suggesting some additional measures. He is well placed to make those suggestions and they will be listened to carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) spoke about the difference that was being advocated in some quarters between the public and private sectors, and he made extremely powerful points about getting more people into politics in future when that is hard enough at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) said that we have very high standards in this country and that we are one of the least corrupt countries on the planet. That is without question. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) also made the point that the trade unions have a part to play in this discussion.
So often, these issues are presented as intractable lines in the sand between two incompatible and firmly entrenched positions, but they are not entrenched positions. They are about finding a way ahead that reflects our duties to the people and the nation and a process that we can all get behind, given the strength of feeling. I am grateful again for the contributions that we have heard in the House today and for the work that will be brought forward as a result.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
I must advise Members that if they shout a certain way, they should vote a certain way.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House acknowledges recent concern over the outside interests of Members of Parliament; believes the rules which apply to MPs must be up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous; recalls the 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life into this matter; believes that recommendations 1 and 10 in that report form the basis of a viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public; believes that these recommendations should be taken forward; and supports cross-party work, including that being done by the House’s Committee on Standards, to bring forward recommendations to update the Code of Conduct for MPs by 31 January 2022.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the course of the previous debate, the Government sneaked out guidance on the cap on social care costs that means that people on low and modest incomes, especially in the midlands and the north, will have to pay more for their care. Should elderly people and their families not have a clear explanation of what they will have to pay for their care, with proper scrutiny and accountability from hon. Members? Can you advise us as to whether Ministers will be coming to this House to set out the details of their proposals that will see the poorest pensioners in this country paying more?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. I have been given no notification that any statements will be made today. Clearly, if a statement will be made tomorrow, the House will be informed in the usual way.