Shadow Minister for Transport and Dearne MP, Michael Dugher, has penned an article on why Labour would ban second jobs for MPs’ involving consultancies and paid directorships if they win the General Election in May.
Writing for both the Huffington Post UK and the South Yorkshire Times, this is what he had to say: “Anyone who knocks on doors knows that one of the most depressing, but all too often, comments from the public is: “You politicians are just in it for yourselves”.
And at a time when trust in politicians and politics remains perhaps at an all-time low, this week has been another bad week for Westminster.
That’s why Ed Miliband has been absolutely right to repeat his call to do something about MPs so-called “second jobs”.
Labour MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates have already been put on notice that from the coming General Election, the party’s Standing Orders will be changed to prevent them holding second jobs involving consultancies and paid directorships. The party is now consulting on legislation to make this a statutory ban, as well as imposing a strict cap on all outside earnings by MPs. And this week, Ed Miliband confirmed that these measures will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.
The fact we have seen yet further allegations in recent days goes to reinforce why Labour has been right to call for new rules and new limits on MPs’ outside earnings. The perception that some MPs are only in it for what they can get, not for what they can give, merely serves to further undermine Parliament.
MPs are dedicated to the service of their constituents and the overwhelming majority follow the rules. But as Ed Miliband has said: “The British people need to know that when they vote they are electing someone who will represent them directly, and not be swayed by what they may owe to the interests of others.”
Decades ago, being an MP was seen as a second job, but it is impossible to deny that things have moved on and that the public’s expectations have rightly changed dramatically. Of course it is good for MPs to keep connected to the world beyond Westminster and to have outside interests, but being in touch does not depend on the ability to earn large amounts of money from the private sector.
Despite what many Conservative MPs will tell you, it is perfectly possible to have “outside interests” without having unlimited outside financial interests.
The current rules are clearly not fit for purpose for current times. And a quick scan through the Register of Members’ Financial Interests reveals the extent of the problem. Over 90 Tory MPs hold second jobs, meaning almost one in three Tory MPs has a second job. And Tory MPs with second jobs last year declared £4.4million of earnings in the register of members’ interests.
There is no doubt that Labour’s measures would make politics more open, transparent and trusted. They would not prevent MPs from doing a certain amount of work to retain any skills they had acquired before entering Parliament, such as working as an engineer, doctor or a lawyer. But there would be a reasonable limit, as is the case in many other countries, to how much they could earn. For example, the American system includes a cap of 15 per cent of an equivalent Minister of State level salary.
This week is not the first time that the Tories have come out against the proposals. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, the Government - including Tory and Lib Dem MPs - voted against the reforms in a Commons vote forced by Labour back 2013. It is clear that David Cameron wants to see business as usual for MPs. But the status quo is becoming more and more unsustainable and indefensible.
There will be a clear choice at the next general election: between the Labour Party, which wants big reforms, our politics opened up, and big money taken out of politics - including new rules and new limits on second jobs; or the Tories and Lib Dems who want to keep things the way they are.
The truth is outside interests contribute not to the richness of debate in the House of Commons, but simply to the richness of individual MPs. It’s time we did something about it. Every time the Tories and Lib Dems defend the status quo, their MPs may be richer, but our politics is all the poorer.”