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UK Politics

Mark Pritchard investigation: New allegations fuel debate on MPs’ jobs on the side

Senior Tory Pritchard is under investigation by Commons standards committee

Labour has called for curbs on MPs’ outside earnings after a senior Conservative MP was accused of trying to exploit his foreign contacts to set up lucrative business deals from which he could profit.

A debate over whether MPs should have second jobs was reignited when Mark Pritchard referred himself for investigation by the Commons standards watchdog. But he strongly denied  what he called “hurtful and malicious” claims by the Daily Telegraph that he offered to use his personal “network” to arrange meetings with politicians in countries where he had parliamentary connections. He is consulting his lawyers about the paper’s story, which was based on conversations with an undercover reporter.

Although Mr Pritchard is alleged to have asked for a £3,000-a-month retainer and three per cent commission on any deal, he did not receive any money. If he had done, it is unclear whether he would have broken Commons rules if he declared the income in the MPs’ register and any possible conflict of interest when he spoke in debates.

Labour claimed that “Tory sleaze” had returned, and highlighted links between Conservative MPs and the financial services industry.

These include Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is the director of investment management firm Somerset Capital Management LLP, and who received about £134,400 in the last year for working 35 hours a month; Jonathan Evans, who earns £110,000 a year for 14 hours a month as non-executive chairman for Phoenix Holdings; Nicholas Soames, an adviser to insurance broker Marsh Group, who earns £92,880 a year for 15 hours a month; Andrew Mitchell, the former Government Chief Whip, who is paid £60,000 a year for 10 days' work as a senior strategic adviser by Investec; Mark Field, an adviser to international law firm Cains Advocates, who is paid around £40,000 a year for about 10 hours a month; Sir Peter Tapsell, an adviser to the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation (Japan) who earns £30,000 a year for about 10 hours a month and Sir John Stanley, a consultant on financial services to Fidelity, who is paid £21,600 a year for between five and eight hours per month.

The MPs declared their payments and there is no suggestion that they broke  Commons rules.

But Stephen Twigg, Labour’s spokesman on constitutional affairs, told The Independent: “We need MPs focused on securing the economic recovery for hard-working families not securing profits for financial firms.

"Labour has said that there need to be curbs on MPs' outside earnings. Democratic duty should be the singular focus of those on the green benches, not an added extra. These MPs will need to show that they're working in the interests of their constituents and not in the pockets of the financial sector.”

If Labour wins power, it may limit MPs’ outside earnings to 15 per cent on top of their £66,396-a-year salary.

Mr Pritchard, who told the undercover reporter he would not lobby on behalf of clients, said yesterday: “The allegations are false and I deny their claims. They have selected quotes out of context to fit their desired story.”

Before becoming MP for The Wrekin in 2005, Mr Pritchard ran a marketing consultancy. He admits having an "unorthodox background" for a Tory MP, after spending the first five years of his life in a Victorian orphanage in Hereford. He grew up in foster care in a council house and went to a comprehensive school, later setting up “The Old Boys Comprehensive Lunch Club.”

In 2010, he was elected secretary of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, giving him a role in representing their views to David Cameron, but stood down two years later.

A Eurosceptic with a close interest in foreign affairs and defence, he was an architect of a Commons defeat for Mr Cameron on the EU budget last year. No fan of the Coalition, he denounced what he called the “purple plotters” after reports that some Tories and Lib Dems wanted to field joint candidates at the next election.

In 2011, Mr Pritchard successfully proposed a ban on wild animals in circuses. In an emotional Commons speech, he claimed he had been put under pressure by Downing Street to withdraw the motion, first by being offered a post and then being threatened. Friends say he went through a difficult break-up with Sondra, his wife of 15 years. He announced in July they were to divorce.