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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Boris Johnson misses the mark - again!

Boris Johnson may have thought that he had stolen the opposition's thunder by proposing his own ban on MPs having second jobs, but closer examination of his proposals suggest that they are more spin than substance.

The Guardian reports that an analysis of the register of interests has found that fewer than 10 MPs are likely to be affected by Boris Johnson’s proposed rule changes:

On Wednesday the cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, in a series of interviews, suggested the changes could mean a restriction on paid outside work limiting it to fewer than 20 hours a week, or below 10-15 hours a week, or just to eight hours a week.

A 20-hour weekly limit on outside work would only cover Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general, who has been under fire over lucrative legal work spanning more than 1,000 hours a year which involved his voting by proxy from the Caribbean. Such a limit would theoretically let Cox cut back his hours and retain his main outside work for the British Virgin Islands, for which he is paid £400,000 a year for 40 hours a month.

Some MPs who work as councillors or mayors could also be affected, as could ministers, unless there were an exemption for jobs that counted as political service.

A 15-hour weekly limit would also conceivably cover Dan Poulter, a Tory MP who works as a doctor, and Andrew Murrison, a Tory MP working as a naval reserve surgeon, who helped with the coronavirus vaccination effort.

A 10-hour limit would drag in a few more MPs, including John Redwood, a former cabinet minister, who has been working about 12.5 hours a week as chair of the investment committee of Charles Stanley, earning £48,222 a quarter.

Many MPs earn high wages for a small number of hours, so would be out of reach of the proposed changes. Julian Smith, the Tory former chief whip, earns £2,000 a month for only one or two hours’ work advising on business development for Simply Blue Management.

The proposed prohibition on MPs being parliamentary advisers appeared to be so narrowly worded that only two Tories in 48 MPs with consultancy jobs directly fitted that description, according to the register of interests.

Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, is listed as being a parliamentary adviser on pawnbroking to the National Pawnbroking Association, getting £1,000 a month for five to 10 hours’ work.

Laurence Robertson, the Tory MP for Tewkesbury, is also a parliamentary adviser on sport and safer gambling to the Betting and Gaming Council, receiving £2,000 a month for 10 hours a month.

Only a few more MPs mention politics in the description of the advice that they offer as consultants. These include Stephen Hammond, a Tory former transport minister, who has been a strategic adviser to Darwin Alternative Investments, earning £60,000 a year for providing political advice on business and finance.

There is also a possibility that the work of James Gray, a Tory MP, could be covered, since he records having received £1,100 from Electric Airwaves for having helped train witnesses going before a parliamentary select committee hearing.

Most MPs working as consultants describe their work as advisers in general terms, offering “strategic advice” or business consultancy to private companies.

Bizarrely, the paper suggest that Owen Paterson, the former MP for North Shropshire, who resigned for breaching paid lobbying rules, might not have been covered by the ban. He was described in the register as a consultant to Randox Laboratories, a clinical diagnostics company, getting £100,000 a year, and as a consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods, a processor and distributor of sausages, earning £12,000 a year. Paterson was doing less than five hours a week in the jobs, so would have been unlikely to have been hit by time limits.

This is not an issue that can be sorted out by back of the envelope scribblings designed to appease the media and public. That is why MPs would be better served to await the Standards Committee proposals on the matter in the new year. At least then we would know they are workable and as such, help to restore public trust in the system.
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