A senior Conservative MP, who opposes plans to prevent firms from suing unless they have suffered significant financial losses, earns thousands of pounds as a defamation barrister on top of his parliamentary salary.
Sir Edward Garnier, who was a minister until September, said last week that he was seeking to amend the Defamation Bill to scrap a clause that would have made it harder for companies to sue. At the same time, the MP for Harborough declares on the Commons register of interests that, since stepping down as a minister, he has received £37,000 from legal work as a senior QC – including from defamation cases. He is currently representing Lord McAlpine in his defamation case against Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons Speaker.
While Sir Edward, 60, has acted within parliamentary rules and declared his financial interest as a libel lawyer, it has led some to question that the outside earnings of MPs could potentially compromise their views inside Parliament.
The Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Jon Trickett, said: “While Sir Edward was entirely within his rights to table these amendments, and has properly declared his interests, Parliament does need to look again at apparent conflicts of interests, even when these are declared.”
Sir Edward said his suggested changes to the Bill would not “make any difference” to whether he was instructed as a defamation barrister, and it was vital that MPs with specialist knowledge could speak out. “The whole point about Parliament is to debate policy ideas and law,” he said. “If every time someone stands up to debate something they are accused of being ill-motivated, out to feather their own nest or misconducting themselves, then we are not going to get anywhere.”Reuse content