Tories u-turn on limits to MPs’ second jobs – so their gravy train doesn’t stop?

Master and servant: Owen Paterson with his former boss, Peter Fitzgerald of Randox. They parted company shortly after Paterson stopped being an MP, which suggests that – rather than working for the people of North Shropshire – Paterson was really Randox’s inside man in Parliament.

Here’s an example of Tory greed at its worst.

Last year, after Owen Paterson ended up resigning as an MP because he had been found to have lobbied hard for at least one of several other employers, Boris Johnson promised curbs on the kind of secondary employment MPs could take.

But that was last year.

It seems he thinks we’ve all forgotten and he can signal the all-clear for his MP buddies (not all of them Tories!) to “Carry On Lobbying”.

Here are the details from the BBC News website:

Limiting the amount of time MPs spend on second jobs would be “impractical”, the government has said.

Boris Johnson called for a review of MPs’ outside work last year after a number of high-profile controversies.

At the time, the prime minister backed proposals to place “reasonable limits” on hours spent on other jobs.

MPs later backed government plans to prevent them taking on certain jobs, with No 10 saying any outside role, paid or unpaid, should be “within reasonable limits” and not stop MPs fully serving their constituents.

A definition of what that meant was not given, but International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan suggested 15 hours a week as a reasonable limit.

But Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay has now said the measure would not work and also cast doubt on a proposed cap on outside earnings.

“The imposition of time limits would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns over paid advocacy and the primary duty of MPs to serve their constituents.”

When it came to a cap on earnings, Mr Barclay also had his doubts, writing that such a rule “could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system”, such as writing books.

He said a long-serving MP “could inadvertently reach the ‘ceiling’ through earnings accrued over time”, and he questioned “whether it would be fair to subject that member to a standards investigation”.

He added: “To avoid this issue would require a substantive earning threshold to be set such that it would not serve to prevent MPs from taking on outside work for which they were properly remunerated in line with salaries in that sector.

“The introduction of such an arbitrary cap therefore may not have the intended effect of ensuring that members prioritise their parliamentary duties and the needs of their constituents.”

Why not just combine time limits with a ban on lobbying for firms that employ them, then?

(I’ll tell you why: no firm would then wish to employ them. Randox and Owen Paterson parted company as soon as he left Parliament.)

The u-turn provoked a sharp reaction from the pundits on the BBC’s Politics Live

Making an announcement in the middle of a war keeps it off the front pages, said Ed Vaizey.

He – a Tory – admitted it should be possible to limit the number of hours an MP works for other employers, and it should be possible to limit earnings.

And Stella Creasy said it isn’t hard to work out what is fair: if someone is a doctor it is fair to expect them to do a bit of practice to keep their skills up. “But you don’t need to practise to make a million pounds sitting in the British Virgin Islands [as former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox did] … it looks bad for all of us.”

She continued: “The public are looking at us with horror. The question isn’t how many hours – it’s ‘where do you find the time?’ There is quite a lot on, right now!”

Even Torygraph columnist Madeline Grant said: “Boris Johnson is very good at promising things in the short term to get out of trouble and then reverse-ferreting.”

She added: “They should have been looking at probity and conflict of interest, which is why the Owen Paterson scandal was so appalling.”

“I think they just bottled it,” said Miatta Fahnbulleh of the New Economics Foundation. “This might come back to bite them because it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.

“Being an MP is really hard; it is a full-time, pretty intense, full-on job, and for constituents [the question is] is your attention, is your priority, is your care divided? If you’re earning 200-300 grand in that other job you’d be right to feel that’s more of a priority.”

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