The Commons standards tsar has said the public is angry over MPs’ second jobs as she called for changes to transparency rules.
Kathryn Stone said her office had received “an awful lot of letters” containing the views of “very angry” members of the public, who have voiced concern about MPs attracting outside paid work and that they are “getting away with things”.
The Commons standards commissioner said it was “bonkers” that MPs had to be more transparent about their activities than ministers, as she set out why she was unable to probe the renovation of Boris Johnson’s official Downing Street residence.
Giving evidence to the Commons Committee on Standards on Wednesday, Ms Stone also called for more clarification on the use of MPs’ offices after she chose not to investigate former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox for offering legal advice while using parliament facilities.
The commissioner and her team have come in for criticism in recent months, with former speaker John Bercow likening the experience of being investigated for bullying to a “kangaroo court”.
The Government also last year attempted to reform the standards system in a bid to delay former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s suspension for paid lobbying, a move which backfired, leading to Mr Paterson quitting Parliament and sparking a series of sleaze allegations.
Stating that it had been a “really challenging time”, Ms Stone told the committee: “Members of the public are really angry, they are really angry about the ways in which they see members of parliament exploiting opportunities to make additional money, there is no prohibition on that but members of the public are very angry about that.
“They are very angry about what they see as conflicts of interest – or perceptions of conflict of interest.”
Ms Stone said there was a lack of understanding in the public sphere about when she could and could not investigate, with claims of ministerial code breaches outside of her remit.
She said that was why she could not investigate the so-called “wallpapergate” saga in Downing Street surrounding the £112,000 revamp of the Prime Minister’s flat, with the probe left to Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser, Lord Geidt.
“To build on the point Lord Evans (chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life) yesterday, in a very articulate and very elegant way, described this process as bonkers – I couldn’t agree more with him about that,” Ms Stone said.
“It seems inconsistent to us, and the public, and we need to ensure that ministers are at least subject to the same scrutiny as backbench MPs when it comes to the registration and declaration of gifts, hospitality and so on.”
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