MPs will still be able to work up to 20 hours a week on their second jobs under the government’s plan to tighten the rules, a cabinet minister has suggested.
Boris Johnson has faced criticism over the vagueness of his proposal to ban consultancy jobs and limit work outside of parliament to what can be done “within reasonable limits”.
International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said an MP doing 20 hours a week of work outside parliament would still be considered “reasonable”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Let’s say two shifts, that would be 16 hours a week. Are we saying 10 to 20 hours a week outside your work as an MP and a parliamentarian? If that’s what you chose to do as your choice, that’s fine.”
Ms Trevelyan said that she worked a “90-hour week” doing her jobs as an MP and minister – and suggested there was no reason for under-fire Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Cox to cut down on his lucrative legal work.
Boris Johnson will face a showdown with his own backbenchers over plans to ban MPs from paid political consultancy work, amid a fresh row over alleged Tory “dirty tricks” and Westminster “sleaze”.
Labour’s motion calls for a ban on consultancy work and includes provisions requiring the Commons Standards Committee to come forward with proposals to implement the ban and guaranteeing time to vote on them.
In contrast, the more vaguely-worded government amendment simply describes the consultancy ban as “the basis of a viable approach”. And in a vague proposal announced on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he wanted to limit second jobs “within reasonable limits”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ms Trevelyan suggested an MP spending between 10 to 15 hours a week on work outside of parliament would be reasonable – claiming that it was simply a matter of “common sense”.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I think there is a common-sense test which is if you probably do 40-50 hours a week doing your main job, doing 10 or 15 hours a week doing something else, whatever you choose to do in your spare time.”
Ms Trevelyan also suggested Sir Geoffrey – in the spotlight after earning almost £1m over the last year working an estimated 20 hours a week on legal work – may not have to reduce his second job under new rules to tackle sleaze.
“That’s a question to discuss,” she told BBC Breakfast. “Key is, is he doing a good job for his constituents? Do they think he’s doing a good job for them? And, from what I’ve heard, no-one has stood up and said otherwise.
The minister compared Sir Geoffrey to Tory MP Maria Caulfield, who continues to serves in the NHS as a nurse – and made clear the changes proposed by the prime minister did not have “anything to do with money at all”.
She added: “That he continues to practise … is perfectly acceptable because in the same way that Maria Caulfield serves in the NHS as a nurse continues to practise her profession alongside serving her constituents is, I think, important for the NHS,” she said.
Asked by LBC about the huge amounts earned by Sir Geoffrey, Mr Trevelyan said: “I don’t think that’s a problem, personally. I think that richness of the different skill sets and qualifications and experiences that we all bring to the house as MPs is important.”
As well as a two-hour grilling in front of parliament’s liaison committee this afternoon, Mr Johnson will face the backbench 1922 Committee later on Wednesday in a bid to repair relations with his MPs.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of 1922 Committee, said there was “dissatisfaction” with the prime minister in the Tory ranks. He told the Today programme a ban on paid consultancy work but going further could “deter a whole class of people” from entering politics.
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