Crackdown on second jobs: A new front in expenses controversy

The expenses row has destroyed public faith in their MPS, and now the focus is turning to their lucrative outside earnings

Brian Brady
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:59

Already reeling from a full-scale onslaught over the amount taxpayers have had to pay towards their second homes, Britain's MPs now face an unprecedented crackdown on their second jobs as well.

While the House of Commons was digesting the impact of the publication of MPs' expenses details last Thursday, elsewhere in Parliament a senior civil servant was starting a process that could see their earning power being squeezed still further. Hundreds of MPs could now be faced with the prospect of having their wages cut if they refuse to give up lucrative jobs outside Parliament.

It had originally been reported that Bill Cockburn, head of the Senior Salaries Review Body, had told a meeting of the Commons Public Administration Committee on Thursday that MPs were underpaid by 10 per cent to 15 per cent.

It has since emerged, however, that the man who is currently reviewing how much MPs should be paid also warned they would have to concentrate more on the job in hand if they wanted to justify fatter wage packets.

In an exchange with the committee chairman, Tony Wright, about the prospect of performance-related pay, Mr Cockburn suggested a two-tier salary system in which MPs would get less money if they took on work outside the House of Commons.

"I would agree ... that this is a reasonable thing to do," he said. "So for example if you're an MP and you're a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for example, your Assembly pay is abated by two-thirds. So there is already a principle of abatement if you're in receipt of an MP's pay, and it might be that that sort of concept might have further potential."

Government sources last night confirmed that the idea of a two-tier salary system would be considered by Gordon Brown as part of his attempts to "clean up" Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal.

The practice of taking second jobs – and more besides – has been targeted by Labour, as they claim that Tory MPs are more likely to accept work outside Parliament, often in banking or the law. Mr Brown has already forced through a change requiring MPs to declare the amount of time they spend on outside employment – and how much they get paid for it – from next month.

But Sir Christopher Kelly, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has rejected appeals to consider a ban on outside employment, as he judged it would risk losing "quite a lot of experience and diversity" from the Commons.

The Independent on Sunday has established how more than a third of the 645 MPs in the UK boost their bank balances by taking on outside work in addition to their parliamentary and constituency duties. The latest Register of Members' Interests reveals that 93 MPs are paid to sit on the boards of almost 270 companies.

Some 193 MPs declared paid employment, including consultancy and advisory positions, speaking engagements and media work.

But, although some of the biggest earners are nationally recognised political figures, other less celebrated MPs – from all parties – are supplementing their incomes by agreeing to do work elsewhere.

The former Labour home secretary David Blunkett is one of the biggest earners, with a wide range of directorships, media work and speaking engagements pulling in up to £200,000, in addition to his £64,000 MP's salary. Ann Widdecombe, who is bidding to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons, earned an estimated £280,000 last year, over and above her parliamentary salary.

Alan Milburn, once seen as a future Labour prime minister, has seen his business career flourish since leaving the Cabinet. He now earns over £100,000 a year from outside interests, and has set up his own company to handle his media and consultancy work.

The former armed services minister Adam Ingram has put together a portfolio of directorships worth up to £170,000 since leaving the Government two years ago.

The suggestion that a new front could be opened in the battle to keep MPs in line came as the expenses saga rumbled on, with the revelation that more than 50 had claimed expenses for council tax they have not paid.

The Sunday Telegraph said 18 of the MPs involved in questioned claims had already made repayments to the Commons Fees Office. The Labour MP Eric Illsley, who was accused of over-claiming by more than £6,000 between 2004 and 2008, said he was "embarrassed" by the revelations and that he would pay the money back.

The new expenses allegations emerged after police launched a criminal inquiry into an alleged misuse of expenses by a small number of MPs and peers. Scotland Yard said its economic and specialist crime command will investigate, following a public outcry about the way some MPs used their allowances.

It is understood that the former Labour minister Elliot Morley and his colleague David Chaytor, who were both accused of claiming for "phantom" mortgages, are among those under scrutiny.

A Labour peer, Baroness Uddin, may also face questions about her use of a flat in Maidstone.

Most embarrassing claims revealed: From Mr Muscle to latex gloves

Douglas Alexander, Paisley and Renfrewshire South – £9.20 for a box of latex gloves ... John Bercow, Buckingham – £1,197.51 to clear a sanitary towel which was blocking his drains ... Ben Bradshaw, Exeter – a copy of a gay lifestyle magazine costing £3.25 ... Graham Brady, Altrincham and Sale West – £10 for a "milk frother", £21 for a black toilet roll holder ... Ian Cawsey, Brigg and Goole – £69 for a breathalyser ... Jonathan Djanogly, Huntingdon – £47-worth of jam-making equipment and £550 on saucepans ... Dominic Grieve, Beaconsfield – £55 when he lost the key to his garden shed ... Michael Martin, Glasgow North East –£17.99 for a can opener ... Richard Spring, West Suffolk – £39 for copies of the Racing Post in April and May 2008 ... Bill Wiggin, Leominster – £68.16 for a subscription to Practical Poultry magazine, and £68 for Fishing News ... Philip Hammond, Runnymede and Weybridge – teaspoon collection, which included: £5.23 for six "superior" teaspoons. Then in July 2007, he made another claim for the same item. Six months later, in January 2008, he bought another eight teaspoons from John Lewis, costing £3 each ... Ashok Kumar, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – £130 to have a bath rotated ... Solicitor–General Vera Baird, claimed thousands of pounds in home improvements, light bulbs, tissues and even Mr Muscle cleaner, but was refused claims of almost £160 for flowers and £349 for a mosaic sculpture ... Crispin Blunt, Reigate – £750 to fell overhanging trees, £99 for a drinks fridge, and a £60 medical check up, which was rejected ... David Ruffley, Bury St Edmunds – a camcorder, rubber gloves, anti-moth sachets costing £150, £230 for a professional photographic session, with an extra £16 for parking at the studio and the London congestion charge of £5 ... Jim Knight, South Dorset – £7,279 on a MZ770 printer last January before spending £173 on services from Sherren printers in February 2008 ...

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