PMQs: Boris Johnson labelled a ‘coward’ by Keir Starmer
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Owen Paterson’s resignation sparked a debate over whether MPs should be allowed second jobs. Today, after mounting pressure from Labour, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to propose plans that will affect whether MPs can conduct work outside of their parliamentary duties.
After Labour threatened the Government with an opposition day debate to whip the Tories into voting to support second jobs for MPs Mr Johnson moved to announce his own proposals yesterday.
In a letter to the House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, the PM outlined two changes that he wishes to make.
Both changes are recommendations from a 2018 report by the committee on standards in public life.
Firstly, Mr Johnson is seeking a ban on MPs accepting paid work as parliamentary advisors, strategists or consultants.
Second, he is asking that a new rule be introduced that states work MPs conduct outside of Westminster should be “within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from fully carrying out their range of duties.”
The announcement is likely to infuriate part-time backbenchers who will be left out of pocket by the PM’s plans.
It’s thought the standards committee will have 10 weeks to write up its reforms and that it will be potentially difficult for No 10 to ignore those recommendations altogether.
Unlike Labour’s motion, however, Mr Johnson’s proposals do not make the standards committee’s recommendations binding.
Confusion also remains over what second jobs will actually be banned for MPs.
The language used by Mr Johnson makes reference to ‘parliamentary’ consultancy work and not on roles that don’t relate specifically to Parliament.
If all – including outside consultancy work – is banned then roughly 30 MPs would have to give up outside positions.
This includes Andrew Mitchell, who earns more than £230,000 a year outside of his MP wage, and Julian Smith who pockets an additional £144,000 each year alongside his parliamentary work.
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With so many questions left unanswered it will be down to the standards committee to provide tighter definitions based on Mr Johnson’s initial wording.
One Labour MP suggested to Politico that three tests should be used to identify whether standards have been properly reformed.
The tests are:
Test one – Would Tory MP, Sir Geoffrey Cox, still be able to work 705 hours a year as a lawyer in the British Virgin Islands?
Test two – Would fellow Tory Sir Iain Duncan Smith still be allowed to work for a hand sanitiser company, despite such work surely constituting a conflict of interests?
Test three – Will the Government press on with a binding vote on the reforms within weeks of the standards committee publishing its final recommendations?
Playbook writes: “Falling short on any of these three questions would mean the government had not been honest about reforming standards, the Labour official said.”
Sir Geoffrey Cox, the MP for Torridge and West Devon, has come under particular scrutiny as to whether he can devote enough time to representing his constituents.
The former attorney general has been representing a series of British Virgin Islands (BVI) Government figures, travelling to the Caribbean islands at various points this year and taking advantage of remote working to carry out Parliament votes while enjoying the sunshine.
He was also found to have appeared virtually from his parliamentary office; something Labour has demanded an investigation over to find out whether Commons rules had been breached.
While Sir Iain, the former Conservative party leader, earns £25,000 per year from the multi-million-pound firm Byotrol.
But he has also come under fire from Labour after it was found the hand sanitiser company stood to benefit from recommendations made from a task force he served as chair over.
In a report proposing a raft of changes to post-Brexit regulation, the task force called for an “urgent review on guidance on hand sanitisers so that tested, effective non-alcohol based sanitisers can be used”.
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