Sleaze reforms could place cap on MPs’ second job earnings, says government

Changes could limit amount earned, says deputy PM – as standards committee chief dismisses government plan as ‘for the birds’

Adam Forrest
Thursday 18 November 2021 11:05
Starmer brands Johnson ‘a coward, not a leader’ amid sleaze row

The planned crack down on second jobs undertaken by MPs could see limits imposed on the amount they can earn outside parliament, according to a senior cabinet minister.

Boris Johnson is facing warnings from his own MPs that he urgently needs to get on top of reforms after admitting to Conservative backbenchers he “crashed the car into a ditch” in the row over sleaze.

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said the government’s vague plan to restrict second jobs “within reasonable limits” – passed in the Commons on Wednesday night – could still see a cap place on earnings.

“You could do it in one of two ways,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “You could do it by the amount earned. Or you could do it by the number of hours. We’ve asked the committee on standards to work up with the detail by January.”

It contradicts what Mr Raab’s cabinet colleague Anne-Marie Trevelyan said on Wednesday, when the trade secretary said the government was focused on limiting the number of hours MPs spend on second jobs.

Asked about the huge sums earned by Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Cox from his outside legal work, Ms Trevelyan claimed the issue with second jobs “doesn’t have anything to do with money at all”.

On Wednesday, the Commons backed Mr Johnson’s proposals to ban MPs from taking paid political consultancies, and to bring second jobs “within reasonable limits”. However, just 297 MPs voted for the motion, with opposition parties abstaining.

More than 70 Tory MPs did not vote for the government, and four Tory MPs even voted for a rival Labour motion which would have imposed a clear parliamentary timetable for implementing reform.

The government will not wait for reforms to be drawn up by the Commons Standards Committee by the end of January, but the motion did not guarantee the parliamentary time necessary to enact detailed changes.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, the head of the committee on standards currently examining potential reforms, said the government plan on tackling second jobs was “for the birds” and “not very well thought through”.

He told Sky News the vague motion passed last night was only a “knee-jerk reaction to a crisis created by the prime minister himself”.

Mr Raab acknowledged the government has a job of work to do to restore morale within the Conservative ranks amid the sleaze storm. He blamed the “late-ish vote” – which took place around 7pm – for the failure of dozens of Tories to back the government.

At a private meeting of the Tory 1922 Committee on Wednesday, Mr Johnson took responsibility for the botched attempt to save Owen Paterson from suspension. “On a clear day I crashed the car into a ditch,” he is said to have told the gathering.

Asked on Sky News about discontent within the party, the deputy PM said there is always “one or other disgruntled individual” who is prepared to complain anonymously in the media.

Pressed on whether that means there is no general unrest, Mr Raab added: “Not sure I’d put it in that idyllic way. There’s always debate amongst MPs, but the most important thing is we’re fixing the problem.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said there is a lack of urgency from the government when it comes to dealing with the issue – and suggested No 10’s vague pledges on the issue meant real reform could be “kicked further into the long grass”.

“The problem with the amendment from the government which was passed yesterday is that there is no timetable,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Ms Reeves added: “It wasn’t a binding vote and, as a result, I just fear it is going to be kicked further into the long grass rather than the fundamental reform that people want and need to see now to restore confidence in our parliamentary democracy.”

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