Stricter curbs on MPs’ second jobs to be backed by standards watchdog, piling pressure on Boris Johnson

Labour demands powerful ‘Integrity and Ethics Commission’ – to prevent prime minister sanctioning ‘corruption’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 29 November 2021 01:40
Owen Paterson broke lobbying rules, Boris Johnson admits

Stricter curbs on MPs taking second jobs will be proposed by a Commons watchdog, piling pressure on Boris Johnson to act and putting him on a fresh collision course with his own MPs.

The long-awaited report on Monday – which No 10 has suggested it will back – is expected to go further than the prime minister’s call for a ban on working as a parliamentary adviser or consultant.

It is also likely to reject government calls for a limit on hours worked – allowing up to 20 a week, one Cabinet minister said – after the idea was rubbished by the watchdog’s chair, Labour’s Chris Bryant.

But any call by the Commons standards committee to go further than Mr Johnson’s limited move will anger many of his older MPs, who enjoy lucrative outside earnings.

Labour, meanwhile, is increasing the pressure, proposing a powerful ‘Integrity and Ethics Commission’ to replace what it calls an “alphabet soup” of sleaze-fighting committees and advisers.

The watchdog would enjoy powers to investigate ministers, decide on sanctions for misconduct and ban former ministers from jobs linked to their former roles for at least five years after leaving office.

In a speech, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, will accuse Mr Johnson of presiding over a weak system that has failed to prevent government “corruption”.

“The current regime is no longer working precisely because we have a prime minister who is shameless in breaking the rules and won’t enforce consequences on others who break them,” she will say.

“Corruption – that is the word – is happening in plain sight and it is rife right through this Conservative government.”

The report by the standards committee will thrust the row over sleaze, given a rocket boost by the botched attempt to clear Owen Paterson from a lobbying scandal, back centre-stage.

Earlier this month, MPs backed a ban on working as a parliamentary adviser or consultant, as well as restricting outside work to “reasonable limits”, but with no cross-party agreement.

Questions were immediately raised about a ban on parliamentary consultancy only after it emerged it would not apply to most Conservative MPs with outside work.

No 10 appeared to backtrack on an hours limit, pointing to the committee’s looming report and welcoming “further work to be done on a cross party basis”.

But Mr Johnson is still rejecting a separate watchdog’s call for him to be stripped of the power to decide whether ministers are investigated for sleaze, despite the rising public anger.

Labour says its integrity commission would have powers to:

* Open investigations into misconduct and breaches of the ministerial code and obtain any evidence required – without the approval of the prime minister.

* Set binding sanctions for code breaches – in place of the “broken system” of the prime minister being able to ignore rule breaches.

* Close the “revolving door between ministerial office and lobbying – by banning former ministers from work related to their former job for at least five years.

* Force ministers to apply to the watchdog before accepting any job – in place of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is “unable to enforce its rulings”.

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