Public very sick of being taken for fools over MP sleaze, says Ian Hislop

His comments came as MPs have been embroiled in sleaze allegations over money earned outside Parliament.

Rebecca Speare-Cole
Tuesday 25 January 2022 22:14
Ian Hislop (Ian West/PA)
Ian Hislop (Ian West/PA)

The public are “very sick of being taken for fools” over MPs’ second jobs, Ian Hislop has told a sleaze watchdog.

The editor of Private Eye magazine told the Commons Committee on Standards on Tuesday that MPs “need to redefine the term lobbying” and that current proposals for change need to be “harder”.

Speaking about some MPs’ second jobs, Mr Hislop said: “What do you think these companies are paying the money for? Do you think they are chucking it away?

“When politicians declare their interests, why do they think businesses are paying them this money?

“I think the public is very sick of being taken for fools at the moment on all sorts of levels, and it is very sick of being taken for fools on this level.”

Owen Paterson resigned as the MP for North Shropshire (Victoria Jones/PA)

His comments came as MPs have been embroiled in sleaze allegations over money earned outside Parliament.

The scandal erupted after Tory MP Owen Paterson resigned over findings that he lobbied on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

Mr Hislop told the committee: “I think we have to admit that the system failed in that Owen Paterson had obviously no idea he was breaking the code, and a large number of his fellow MPs decided that they had no idea either, and that the whole system wasn’t working.

“We have to redefine the term lobbying, and we have to incorporate some of the proposals you have made, and instead make them harder.”

During the hearing Mr Hislop clashed with Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin who suggested more rules are not enough to change MPs’ attitudes towards breaking them.

Sir Bernard Jenkin (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Sir Bernard said: “You can police rules and have tougher rules but lots of people will carry on gaming rules.

“If they think rules are the only issue and they don’t understand why the rules exist – what the principles are behind the rules – you aren’t going to change people’s attitudes.”

But Mr Hislop said: “That’s just depressing – the idea that politicians are just so innately corrupt that they won’t understand public anger at what they are doing and none of them will obey the rules.”

He later added: “You want a moral shift in the type of people who become MPs, I can’t do anything about that.”

Sir Bernard responded by suggesting that conversations may help to foster better attitudes.

Mr Hislop said: “Why do you have to explain to a new MP why he shouldn’t lobby for a company taking government contracts? Why isn’t that blatantly obvious?”

Journalists also spoke to the committee about the lack of transparency in the way MPs declare their interests, including second jobs and what constitutes lobbying.

Mr Hislop said that contracts for second jobs outside parliamentary duties should be published.

He said: “If you’re taking money from a company, what are they getting out of it?

“At least print the contract, tell us what you’re being employed for and let’s have a look at the minutes of the board meeting.”

Richard Brooks, another journalist at Private Eye, told the committee that current definitions of lobbying are not wide enough.

“By restricting what you band to lobbying, you narrow it down too much because lobbying is open to a very legalistic technocratic interpretation that doesn’t include all kinds of behaviour – a quiet word in the ear, expressions of opinion without formally lobbying – all those sorts of things that are just as important,” he said.

“The problem is that a lot of what goes on that distorts public decision-making doesn’t qualify as lobbying and I think you perhaps need to look a little bit further and say ‘OK, what sort of jobs do we need to ban’.”

When asked specifically which second jobs should be banned, he said: “Any job that is given to a member of parliament because they are a member of parliament, rather than because they have some other qualification for it.

“For example, if they’re a doctor, teacher, lawyer, nurse, that sort of thing.”

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