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MPs and Second Jobs

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jacob Young.)

I have secured this debate to consider the urgent need to put an end to the ongoing scandal of MPs using their positions to enrich themselves through second jobs.

Being a Member of Parliament is a privilege. It is a well-paid job, and it is also a full-time job, so when MPs chase corporate cash, they are actually short-changing the public who pay them. That is why I introduced the Members of Parliament (Prohibition of Second Jobs) (Motion) Bill, which would ban MPs from having second jobs. I introduced that Bill soon after the issue of MPs’ second jobs shot to prominence through the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal. That case became a lightning rod for public anger not just about corporate lobbying, but about the wider dodgy deals and crony contracts that the Government were mired in.

That scandal should have been the moment when the Government cleaned the stables and took real action to prevent the corrosive influence of MPs’ second jobs. Has the problem gone away more than a year since that scandal came to light? No. In fact, it has only got worse. There has been the illusion of action so that the Government could draw a line under the issue, but an investigation by The Observer found that, one year after the Owen Paterson scandal, MPs were earning more than ever from second jobs. When scandals happen and real action is promised, what message does it send to the public if the problem is instead allowed to get worse?

The latest figures, from January, show that MPs have earned more than £17 million on top of their salaries since the last general election, and that Conservative MPs have taken nearly 90% of it. Around two thirds of that money went to just 20 MPs, of whom 17 were Conservative Members. I invited the top 10 highest outside earners to intervene in the debate because I wanted to give them the chance to defend the right of MPs to continue raking it in from outside earnings. It appears none of them has taken me up on my offer, which is a shame.

I am disappointed that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), is not here today. Under his Government, the Tories repeatedly blocked my Bill banning second jobs. Time after time, his Government blocked any meaningful action against second jobs, and no wonder—the former Prime Minister is now the highest earning MP, having made nearly £5 million in outside earnings since leaving Downing Street last September. It would take the average nurse around 150 years to make what the former Prime Minister has made in just six months, and it is 50 times more than his MP’s salary.

Those who earn more from their outside earnings than they do as MPs all too often seem to view being an MP as their second job. Over the last year, as I have pushed my Bill in this House, I have heard some truly laughable attempts to justify MPs chasing corporate cash. Government Members used to tell me that my Bill would deprive our Parliament of the real world experience provided by second jobs, which bring us closer to people out there. Isn’t it funny how the Government Members who justify the racket of second jobs never choose to work for low wages in supermarkets, as bus drivers or in care homes—jobs done by millions of people who we are here to represent?

Instead, we have examples such as the former Chancellor and Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who earned £1,500 an hour advising a US investment bank. These are not the jobs or experiences of most people. Big money second jobs like that do not make MPs more in touch with the real world. They do the exact opposite, adding to the sense of an out-of-touch political class that, I am afraid, is increasingly held in contempt by the public. We have even had Conservative MPs claiming:

“There’s 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.”

I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He has ascribed a quotation to a Conservative MP. Would he mind saying who it came from, so that we know it is not just a vague assertion or a hypothetical Conservative MP?

I believe that it was provided anonymously to the press when this Conservative MP was pleading poverty on £84,000 a year but did not want their constituents to know they were doing so. The Minister is mistaken if he thinks that that quote is somehow unrepresentative of an attitude.

How on earth do these people think that the rest of the population, who are earning way below £84,000 a year, cope? These are the same MPs, by the way, who are all too happy to vote through swingeing cuts to benefits and to suppress the wages of workers who earn far less than they do.

The former PM earned £5 million while remaining an MP, and MPs have raked in £17 million from second jobs since the last election. Does my hon. Friend agree that their time would be better spent in their constituencies, looking after their constituents and dealing with the cost of living crisis that we are in?

My hon. Friend is correct. It is even worse that this racket is taking place during a cost of living crisis, when we have seen a proliferation of food banks—we see Tory MPs raking it in while some Tory MPs even deny the need for food banks.

Many MPs seem to fail to understand that they already earn more than 95% of the public. If they do not get how well paid they are compared with the rest of the public, or if they are not happy with their salary, perhaps they are in the wrong job. Given that our job is to represent the people, perhaps our democracy would be better served by MPs who better reflect 95% of people in this country. Having MPs who are seen to be using their position not to serve the public, but to fill their own pockets is fuelling a lack of trust in our political system. People raise important questions about who MPs are there to serve: they rightly ask whether, if an MP is getting paid tens of thousands of pounds, that MP can really claim to be representing the public and not their other employer.

Despite what many may tell themselves, the truth is that MPs are being paid not for what they know, but for who they know. They would not get those vast sums from big corporations if they were not MPs with political connections, which creates obvious conflicts of interests. MPs’ second jobs are an especial danger to our democracy, given that trust in politicians is already at the lowest level on record. Two in three people now see politicians as merely out for themselves, while just one in 20 people think that politicians are in the job primarily to serve the public good. More than 60% of the public think that if an MP is being paid to do another job, that prevents them from being independent and able to make the right decisions as an MP. Banning second jobs is one way in which the Government can prove to the public that MPs are not just in it for themselves, and that they really are making decisions based only on what they believe is best for the people of this country. The majority of people in this country want a ban on MPs earning money from second jobs, and only a tiny minority—just 19%—support MPs’ second jobs. MPs need to wake up to the reality of that public feeling and public opinion.

So what is the way forward? My Bill to ban MPs’ second jobs could be an important first step in the long road towards a more transparent and healthy democracy. My Bill is clear and bold: no paid second jobs for MPs at all, except in very limited circumstances.

Could the hon. Gentleman set out what those exceptions would be? I am afraid that I cannot remember from his Bill.

I will set out the exceptions that my Bill outlines. I am disappointed that the Minister does not know the detail of my Bill, since his Government repeatedly blocked it. I thought they must have read it very carefully in order to repeatedly block its passage through Parliament.

My Bill adds a new punishment for breaking second jobs rules: a fine at least equal to the amount paid to the offending Member for their second job, removing any financial gain from breaking the rules. That is in addition to existing sanctions that the Standards Committee can recommend, which include suspension. Some will argue that my Bill is very tough—indeed it is, because it has to be. We need to cut the rot out of our politics. The very limited exemptions I have included are when a second job is about maintaining professional qualifications, such as in nursing, or when a Member is working on the frontline in our NHS—as a doctor, for example—or in another emergency service. Those roles are about genuine public service and public interest, and have nothing to do with the scandal that has been shaking Parliament and sowing such distrust in politicians.

Some MPs have asked me how my Bill would impact on ministerial or Select Committee roles. Of course, it would not do so, because those additional roles are a key part of our democratic functioning in which we are trying to rebuild trust. My Bill would also allow MPs to carry out certain paid work, such as media appearances or speeches, if that entire outside earning is donated to charity. That way, we can be sure that those activities are about public service, not private enrichment.

Hillingdon Council, within which the Uxbridge constituency is contained, is going through one of the most massive cutbacks of its voluntary sector at the moment, including the local autistic group, Samaritans and others. Would it not be really helpful if the £5 million that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) earned was donated to those charities?

My right hon. Friend makes a fantastic suggestion. Why does the former Prime Minister not donate that £5 million to these important causes in his constituency? Let us invite him to do so and see what he does.

To conclude, banning second jobs for MPs is an important step to restoring the integrity of our democracy. No one can serve two masters, and MPs’ priority must be their constituents. I am afraid that the time for half measures and empty promises on this issue has long passed. The Labour party has proposed a ban on second jobs for MPs, with exemptions for public services similar to those in my Bill. I will be proud to join my colleagues in voting through that ban if, as gladly appears likely, we are voted into power at the next general election. An election could be up to 18 months away, however, and there is no justification for allowing this scandal to carry on a moment longer. There is nothing stopping the Government from taking action to stop the rot now.

The people out there believe that MPs’ second jobs have to go, and no amount of clever wording, sophistry and non-representative examples can change that reality. The people—the public—rightly believe that MPs should be committed to public service, not personal gain. Each delay in action further damages trust and exposes the integrity of our democracy to yet more scandals in future. It is time to end the gravy train of MPs’ second jobs.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to be in an Adjournment debate with him again; I sometimes think that only he and I care about these issues—and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), of course. I enjoyed listening to his speech and I know that his views come from a well thought out and sincere position; I reassure him that the Government’s do too. We recently considered many of the issues that have been raised—he will have been present in those debates.

We firmly believe, as the hon. Gentleman does, that an MP’s primary job is to serve their constituents. It is at the will of our constituents that we all sit here and without their support, we are nothing. We on the Conservative Benches also appreciate that the issue of outside or additional earnings is complex, and it has been considered by the Standards Committee, as he will be aware. That is why we have continued to support the clarification and improvement of the rules in the code of conduct to ensure that Members’ interests are properly declared and that the ban on paid advocacy and lobbying is strengthened, as was decided by the House in December 2022.

At that time, the question was raised about whether work undertaken outside should be limited. We believe that the responsibility for considering what constitutes a reasonable limit is a matter for individual Members; or to put it another way, it is a matter for their constituents. As I have said, ultimately, it is our constituents to whom we must answer—not to the hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, the Government or even the House of Commons. That is why the Government came to the view that we would support the work that has been undertaken to introduce robust new measures to strengthen the standards system in Parliament and to ensure that the rules prohibit Members from using their parliamentary role to benefit private interests rather than their constituents’ interests.

We remain of the view that, as the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended in 2018, Members should be banned from accepting any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant. That is why the Government brought forward an amendment, which the House approved on 17 November 2021, to support the introduction of limits on Members undertaking outside work. These were that MPs should be prohibited from any paid work to provide services, as I have said, as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, and that outside work should be undertaken only within reasonable limits. The Government believe that an outright ban on second jobs is unnecessary as a consequence, as the rules in the code of conduct effectively address concerns about paid advocacy and emphasise the duty of MPs to properly serve their constituents and represent their interests in Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of good points, and he made a valid argument which, if he will forgive me, I will paraphrase. It was that it is a privilege to be here, and Members should not be spending their time on issues that are not associated with their constituents’ needs and should not be allowed to earn large sums of money by doing other things. One day, there might be a Labour Government—God help us—and when that happens, there is a chance that he might be sitting on this Front Bench, and at that point he will have a second job. Even though he would not ban that under his Bill, if his argument is about time, I point out that there is no second job or outside interest that could possibly compete with the amount of time that a Minister is expected to spend on their job, as he will see if ever he sits on the Treasury Bench. I confess that being a Minister reduces the amount of time Members have to spend on the needs of our constituents; it really does. We do it—it is an honour, a privilege and a pleasure—but it would be a lie to say that Members have as much time to spend on their constituency work when they are a Minister as they do when they are a Back Bencher. So the argument on time does not stand up on its own.

On the argument about money, the hon. Gentleman made it clear that he finds the fact that some Members of this House earn a great deal of money unpalatable and unsavoury, and he is entitled to those views. However, it is not for him to decide whether that should rule out such a person from being an MP. The people who get to decide that are not him or even the Government; those who should have the final say on whether such a person is an MP are their voters. Deep down, he knows that too, because I know that he is a democrat at heart, and he believes that sovereignty rests with the people. I do too, and I do not want to see a Government passing legislation that starts to make decisions for voters. Voters should have the final say: let them make their decisions.

I thank the Minister for responding in such a serious and considered way on this issue. I get the impression that he will not be supporting my Bill to ban MPs’ second jobs. He refers to constituents and the public as sovereign, and I agree. What about this for an idea, then? If the Government are not prepared to ban second jobs, as I think they should, what about passing legislation to ensure that the outside earnings of every MP are listed under their name on the ballot paper at a general election? Constituents could then have a look and decide whether they want to vote for a person to carry on being their MP.

The hon. Gentleman might find, if he did that, that people would be asking for a lot of other information to be published about Members at the ballot box. The public are perfectly capable and willing to find out about people they vote for, as he will know from knocking on doors. In my experience, voters are often very well informed and do not vote blindly. Consequently, although he says that the public support the thrust of his Bill, I put it to him that the public have also voted repeatedly over many years for Members with outside interests, when they have often had a choice not to do so. We should all respect their decision, because it is their decision.

The hon. Gentleman says that changing the law in this way would make this House more representative of people in the country. Often when I voted before I was a Member of this House, I did not vote for people like me. I made a choice to vote for the best candidate regardless of their background. Again, there are some things that are right for us to debate, but that are not right for us to decide. We must leave these decisions in the hands of the voters. Of course, such a system can only work when we have transparency, and it is transparency that this Government have supported and will continue to support.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughts, and I hope he will forgive me for not being able to recall the particular exemptions that he set out in his Bill. I thank him for his interest in this subject, but I am afraid that we will have to agree to disagree.

Before I put the question, I want to intrude a little on the debate to say that this weekend is WorldPride in Sydney, Australia. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world will be gathering to celebrate the festivities there, including mardi gras. [Interruption.] The Minister asks whether I will be one of them—I went to WorldPride in New York just before covid, and it was glorious and fantastic. The hon. Members for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) and for Redcar (Jacob Young) and I have all agreed that we would love to be there this weekend, but someone has to keep the show on the road, particularly on Friday. We want to send a clear message to all those celebrating. I have seen the Sydney opera house lit up with all the flags encompassed in the pride movement, and it looks fantastic. It will be superb weather, because it is Australia. They will have a fantastic time and we want to say from the House of Commons in the United Kingdom that we share your pride.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.