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Former Ministers: Earnings

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose a cap on the earnings of former Ministers from work related to their service in office.

My Lords, there are no plans to propose such a cap on the earnings of former Ministers. Clear rules are already set out in the Ministerial Code for those who wish to take up other employment or appointments on leaving ministerial office. For two years after leaving office, Ministers must seek the advice of the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and must abide by that advice.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. Will she join me in condemning the degrading spectacle of recently retired Ministers lobbying in the way that they did? When might we see any controls, and what would those controls be, on retired Ministers cashing in on public service?

My Lords, we are in difficult areas here. I condemn scams when they are set in action by the media but, yes, I condemn wholeheartedly people who offer themselves up for sale in that way. I believe that the whole House would condemn the way in which such people act. However, I think that the majority of parliamentarians abide by the rules and, when they leave office, seek the advice of the business appointments committee and abide by that advice.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the time has come to augment and strengthen the authority of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to enable it to embargo certain work done for pay by ex-Ministers that relates closely to the work of their former departments?

My Lords, I understand that it can already do so. The Prime Minister, when he took office, strengthened some things; for example, he made it mandatory for Ministers to follow the advice of the committee. However, I hear what the noble Lord says. It is an interesting idea that should and, I hope, will be pursued.

My Lords, why cannot those who have benefited from their experience and contacts made in ministerial office go off to work in the charitable and public sectors when they retire, where their experience is greatly needed? Surely it is that commitment to public service that the Labour Party has, historically, always believed in.

I agree with my noble friend that there are many jobs out there in the public service and in the charitable sector that would greatly benefit from the work of ex-Ministers. However, there are also other jobs from which ex-Ministers would benefit in sectors that would benefit, too, from the experience of ex-Ministers.

My Lords, is it not time to tighten up the rules and increase the two-year period, in all its respects, as a cordon sanitaire between a Minister—or any other person—leaving office and taking up employment that is far too near the kind of job that he was doing before? For seven years or so, I sat on the Prime Minister’s advisory committee. One of our reforms was to stop individuals using the fact that the committee had approved their jobs as a badge of approval. All that the committee had done was to implement the rules.

I pay tribute to the work of my noble and learned friend and to other Members of this House who have sat on the business advisory committee. I think that, after two years, the experience of many Ministers would become stale. However, I bow to the experience of my noble and learned friend in saying that perhaps we should be looking at longer than two years—but I say “perhaps”.

My Lords, is it not particularly shameful that the three former Labour Cabinet Ministers who offered their services as paid commercial lobbyists clearly did so in the expectation that when they left the House of Commons, as they are due to do in a few days’ time, they would find themselves in this place and would be doing their lobbying from this place? Does not the noble Baroness think that that is particularly shameful?

My Lords, the actions of my right honourable friends in another place are certainly worthy of criticism. However, people on all sides of this House could have been in that situation in the past, so I do not necessarily blame those three Ministers—any of us could have been in such a position. The actions of those Ministers were particularly reprehensible, but it could happen to people on all sides of this House.