I beg to move,
That this House
believes that, as part of a wider regulatory framework for second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.
It is good to see your cheerful face in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, although it might not last for long.
There is a compressed time scale this afternoon, so I give notice that I will not take many interventions. That is a shame because I was looking forward to them given that, until an hour ago, not a single Government Back Bencher had sought to speak in the debate. Somebody who is very mischievous said to me that that was because they were all off doing second jobs. I totally reject that suggestion. They are not making speeches because they are afraid of the argument.
I hope that the debate does not descend into the usual finger-pointing exercise. I have no interest in denigrating the activities of any hon. Member. The House should be clear that Members who have second jobs at the moment have not broken any rule of the House. I am not suggesting that anybody is less diligent as a Member of Parliament because they have a second job.
I will start the debate, by way of context, with a number: 895. That is the number of young people in my constituency who have no job, and yet here we are talking about MPs continuing to have several jobs after the general election. Some of those young people or their families might be watching our proceedings.
The Commons has always allowed MPs to have other jobs, but all rules—and above all, this rule—ought to be reviewed from time to time. In reviewing the rules, it would be better to make progress with consensus across the parties. However, let me be equally clear that if there is no such consensus, the Labour party will ensure, by the time of the election, that there will be regulations governing our candidates once they are elected.
There is a strong case for change. We have moved a long way since the time of Hugh Dalton, who reputedly visited his constituency once a quarter.
Yes, and it is said that when he arrived, it was such a special occasion that the station master put on his top hat and tails and rolled out a red carpet for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Yes, I get the red carpet regularly, but only on the way back out.
I will quote two Prime Ministers, neither of whom are from my party. I am not in the habit of quoting Prime Ministers from other parties, but these quotations are quite relevant. More than a century ago, Gladstone said that “an MP who does his duty to his constituents has very little time for anything else”. Of course, MPs were all men in those days. In 2009, Mr Cameron said that it was
“necessary to demonstrate 100 per cent focus on Parliament, politics”.
We can all agree that being an MP is a profession that requires an enormous commitment of time and energy.
I will not give way yet.
Let us be honest: the demands on our time have increased dramatically since the time of Gladstone and, indeed, since 2009, when the current Prime Minister made the comments that I have just quoted. MPs are under more pressure than ever in their constituencies. Most of us spend more time than previous generations of MPs in the areas that we represent and our constituents rightly expect us to be there. I think that all Members on both sides of the House would agree that that is a positive development.
In addition to the work that we do in our constituencies, the role of Back Benchers in the Commons is changing. As reforms to the Select Committees, the modernisation of the House and the improved and increasingly intense scrutiny of legislation roll out, there is added pressure on our working week. There is also the fact that we live in an internet age of mass e-mails and 24/7 media. All of that means that our work is increasing exponentially. In the mind of the public—
Hon. Members should listen to the argument. I am not making a case against any individual. Just listen to the argument and I will give way shortly. Let me make the case. In the mind of the public it is clear that there is an overwhelming mood, which amounts to an expectation, that we should be working full-time for our constituents.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not going to take interventions at the moment. [Hon. Members: “Shame.”] No, it is up to the hon. Gentleman. I will decide whether it is a shame or not. He said that he will give way shortly. What we also do not need is a Whip on the Opposition Front Bench trying to antagonise Government Members.
Apart from the pressure on our time, there is another issue: the deteriorating reputation of politics in the mind of the public. We all know, for whatever reason, that the public perception of our role as law-makers and public representatives has sunk in recent times to an all-time low, and we need to address that. No single reform on its own can restore the trust that we need to rebuild, but better regulation of second jobs would clearly help. Here is one reason why. [Interruption.] I will explain why if the Leader of the House can be patient for just one second. He has to hear the argument before he can rebut it. Here is a reason why that can help. The issue relates to the problem of perception—I use that word carefully—of potential conflict of interest. Our primary loyalty as right hon. and hon. Members is to promote the common good for our country and our constituents, rather than our personal, private interests.
I am not suggesting for one moment that any right hon. or hon. Member is allowing the pursuit of private interest to interfere with their duty to the wider public interest, but I am suggesting that there is a widespread perception that that is the case. In politics, as we know, perception is just as important as reality.
As the hon. Gentleman can see, I do not have any remunerated outside interests currently, but I did have one that carried forward after the election. He seems to making the case for separating the Executive completely from Parliament. Is he saying that none of those on the Opposition Front Bench would be prepared to be Ministers after the next election?
Let me say first that I note that the hon. Lady did not refer to the primary point, which is whether Government Members support reform. As regards the question of whether Ministers are somehow operating a private interest, that is a preposterous argument. Ministers work for the Crown on behalf of the public, because we live in a democratic society. For anybody to suggest that Ministers or a Prime Minister are somehow working for their private interests is a preposterous argument. I hope that when she reflects, she understands that that is the case.
If we stop to reflect for an instant, it is easy to understand how the perception I was describing might develop. The House will know that anyone who becomes a director of a company board, or consultant to a company, has a fiduciary duty—a legally defined concept—to that company. [Interruption.]
Order. We have already had the Opposition Whips intervening. I do not need the Government Whips leading the march of opposition.
Fiduciary duty requires the person who sits on a board, or who is a consultant to a company, to act in the best financial interests of that company. MPs swear an oath of loyalty to the country and to their constituents. Let me illustrate the problem as I see it. Were an MP to find themselves on the board of, or be a consultant to, a tobacco company—to take an example at random—they would be bound by a fiduciary duty to pursue the financial interests of that tobacco company. Imagine proposed legislation to improve public health, which would be damaging to the interests of the tobacco industry, being introduced in the House of Commons. The perception of a conflict of interest would arise in the public’s mind. An explanation would have to be sought on the way an MP chose to vote, particularly if the remuneration received—as is the case for some hon. Members—is two or three times greater than the remuneration they receive as an MP. The public’s perception would lead to only one conclusion.
It is in order to tackle this problem that my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband has taken decisive action. From 2015, all Labour MPs will be banned from having directorships or consultancies for third-party commercial interests. I hope that other party leaders will see the sense of what we are proposing and move in the same direction.
I will on that point. I invite the hon. Gentleman to set out what he would say to the hundreds of young people under the age of 24 in his constituency of Dover who have no job, when he defends the right of MPs to have several jobs.
The House will have noticed that the hon. Gentleman has not said that he will vote with the Opposition to regulate second jobs. He acknowledges that there are hundreds of young people without a single job, and he has failed to address the central moral question. I would like all-party agreement on the Opposition’s proposal, but it looks like Government Members will not respond to it.
There are those who will make the valid argument that Members of Parliament need to remain connected to the world beyond Westminster. The problem is to my mind best resolved by having a set of MPs who represent far more diverse backgrounds than we have at the moment. For example, about 60 MPs went to 13 fee-paying schools.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with second jobs and the connection with the outside world is that we seldom see Members taking low-paid jobs? They usually take very highly paid jobs. If they spent their time in their constituencies talking to their constituents, instead of working for firms in the City, they would know more about the real world.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. If we believe that we need to connect, then the choice of jobs that some MPs take is intriguing. I will come on to that point in a moment or two, because I have some thoughts on it. Having a more diverse set of MPs would be a better way of connecting the Commons to the world than simply saying that we should all take second, third, fourth or even fifth jobs.
I have spoken to Labour MPs who were involved in business activities before being elected and who remain closely interested in the corporate world in which they worked, but who, shortly after being elected, voluntarily ceased to take remuneration because they believed that being an MP was a full-time commitment. I have also spoken to many Labour candidates for the next election—a new generation of Labour MPs, I hope—and I have not yet met one who believes that being an MP should be anything other than a full-time commitment. As my hon. Friend Helen Jones said, when hon. Members say that having a second job somehow connects them to the outside world, what they generally mean—I am not talking about everyone—is a top, well-paid job. Not a single MP has recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests a second job as a manual worker, a hospital porter, a cleaner or a call centre worker.
Today’s motion deals with remunerated directorships and consultancies. Beyond those activities, the motion talks about regulating other sources of income. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North has announced that we are considering a cap on other forms of outside income, such as earnings from journalism or media appearances, that would apply to all parties. An hon. Member might belong to a profession—normally we talk about lawyers, doctors or perhaps dentists—and need to retain their professional qualifications, but I remind the House that a gas fitter also needs to do so many hours a year to retain his CORGI certificate and an electrician needs to keep in touch with the regulations of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Nothing we are proposing would prevent such a thing.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s exception. I ought to be a gas fitter; I would be better off financially than I am in my current profession. He seems fixated on the paid part. Many Members have jobs on boards and organisations that are unpaid but which occupy the same amount of time and effort as those that are paid. Is his problem with the paid part?
I think the hon. Gentleman has been persuaded by my argument and might decide to join us in the Division Lobby. I hope others do, too, because, on this question of fiduciary duty, if an MP is remunerated, sometimes very substantially, it will create the perception that they might be tempted to calculate the impact of a particular proposal on that income before deciding how to vote. I do not suggest that any MP has ever done such a thing, but in the public mind, that is a widespread view. If we cannot agree this afternoon, Government Members should at least reflect on that.
MPs’ other activities, including remunerated activities, can be taken into account in any new rules we might agree. For the vast majority of MPs, our proposals should be very simple and make no real changes to how they go about their work. Without robust regulation, however, the perception will continue that politics works for a tiny closed circle of people at the top of our society, but not for the millions of hard-working people who play by the rules yet find it increasingly hard to get by, and that brings me to the kernel of my argument. Millions of people play by the rules, but feel that they are getting a really rough deal, while also believing that there is a different set of rules for others, particularly those at the top. We politicians must take account of that public mood. It is time we stepped up to the mark. Precisely because it is we who set the rules, the rules have to apply to us above all.
No, I have almost finished and others want to speak.
Every single one of us feels great pride whenever we enter or leave the Chamber, and we all believe that if politics works properly, we can make our world a better place.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that there is something requiring a remedy, but he keeps telling the House that the problem has not occurred. Does he know of any circumstances in which the problem he purports to be trying to solve has actually arisen?
As I have said many times, the problem is the public perception that when an MP is earning several hundred thousands of pounds a year from a third-party commercial operation, they will take that into account when making a decision. I do not allege that any MP has so behaved, but the public believe—[Interruption.] Government Members can protest, but they will know, assuming they knock on doors at election time—perhaps they do not—what people say about us.
Working as an MP is the highest honour a democracy can bestow on us, so there should be no doubt in the public’s mind that we are placing every ounce of our intelligence, energy and loyalty at the service of the common good, not being diverted into defending our own private personal interests. For that reason, I hope the House can have a sensible debate, not a finger-pointing one, and even at this late stage support the motion.
On behalf of the Government, I ask the House to reject the motion.
I am interested in the contrast, which could not be more obvious, between this Opposition debate and the Bill we have just published. On the one hand, the Bill, the aim of which is to tackle a real issue, focuses on a specific potential problem concerning the transparency of third-party lobbying and third-party influences on the political system. By contrast, Jon Trickett has presented a flawed motion to which the House should object regardless of whether Members agree with the principle he has tried to enunciate. It also turns out, however, to be nothing other than an effort to fling mud. He says he is not trying to impugn anybody’s motives, that nobody has done anything wrong, that everything is absolutely fine and that the House has behaved wonderfully, but then he says that the House should be constrained. It makes no sense.
It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman did not tell the House the reason for the motion. It is chaff. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, what matters is the perception that the Labour party is in the pay of the trade unions, which control its policies, candidacies and leadership, which it bought; so in order to divert attention from that, which goes to the heart of this issue, the Labour party throws up this chaff.
My hon. Friend is right. Not only Labour MPs, but the Labour party membership, were outvoted by the trade unions, and nothing that the Leader of the Opposition is saying will change that. As far as I am aware, one third of the electoral college for the leadership of the Labour party will continue to be trade-union controlled, so if they can get a sufficiently large majority, they can control the leadership of the Labour party.
The speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth made no sense. I tried to listen to it and hear the argument, but if he wants to intervene and explain, even at this stage, I would be glad of that.
The motion is about regulating the ways that Members of the House work. As Leader of the House—that is one reason why I am responding to this debate—it is my view that proposals adopted by the House to regulate how Members behave should be the product of consultation across the House, and considered on the basis of proper scrutiny by relevant bodies, either in the House or externally. In this case, the Labour party has put forward a proposal without any such basis or advice to the House; procedurally it has gone about it the wrong way.
What is the real objective behind the motion? We should proceed in this House on the basis of trying to solve real problems. If the hon. Gentleman wants simply to talk about the issue, and the Labour party wants to get rid of the perception that those who are paid in this House are controlled by their paymasters, I have a simple proposition for the hon. Gentleman, which involves not taking money from the trade unions. That is not just a perception; the reality is that Labour’s interests are controlled by the trade unions. What is the hon. Gentleman trying to solve?
Order. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to reach a conclusion and bring the debate together, but I do not think he wants to be dependent on the policies and funding of the Labour party. This debate is about remuneration and second jobs in this House. I am sure the Leader of the House is desperate to get to that point.
I am trying to get to the argument, as I understood it, of the hon. Member for Hemsworth, and his point about the public perception that where Members of the House are in receipt of money from outside organisations, they are in the control of those organisations. I do not think that is true and I want to know what the motion is trying to achieve. It does not ensure that Members spend any given amount of time working with their constituents. A paid directorship or consultancy for one or two hours a week would be ruled out by this motion, but if a Member was engaged in travelling the world, for example, to undertake speaking engagements on behalf of some other organisation, which took them away for weeks—
Apparently in the view of Opposition Members that is absolutely fine and would not interfere with their ability to look after their constituents at all.
The motion does not stop Members from having second jobs; it simply tries to stop them having certain kinds of second jobs, which is rather bizarre. It imposes no limit on the amount of money Members can earn outside politics; it simply wants to stop them earning money in particular ways.
My right hon. Friend has set out how what he considers to be the conflict issue has not been made into a real issue by the Opposition; it is just a hypothetical issue. There is also the issue of time. What is his view about the remarks made by Mr Straw? He said:
“I devote around 60-70 hours to my duties as an MP, both national and constituency-related…After allowing for sleep, and family/social activities, there are another 30-40 hours available for my other work.”
My view is that as a result of the reforms, Members are accountable through the transparent registration of interests, which includes the amount of time they spend on those interests. They are accountable to their constituents through the register in a transparent way, and their constituents will judge them. The implication of what the hon. Member for Hemsworth was saying is that none of that has caused any problem and is all fine.
David Miliband was a director of Sunderland football club and engaged in other consultancies, and Mr Darling may also be engaged in activities. Mr Straw is a consultant to a company, which apparently is absolutely fine, as is Mr Blunkett and Mr Raynsford, who is in his place. I refer to those right hon. Members because apparently is it fine for them to do those things and it does not impinge on their constituents or responsibilities, yet the hon. Member for Hemsworth wants to stop them from doing that. How absurd is that?
Yes, I have done that.
In our parliamentary democracy it is well established and accepted that many MPs have responsibilities beyond those of individual Back Benchers representing their constituents. There is nothing unusual about that. We do it as Ministers, as Chairs of Committees, and even in the distinguished role of Deputy Speaker of the House. Such responsibilities do not in any sense constrain Members of the House in being effective advocates and representatives of behalf of their constituents. I have not heard a serious suggestion that MPs should be barred from taking on responsibilities that go wider than their role as a constituency MP. The motion does not preclude Members from maintaining second jobs or paid outside interests; it merely sets out to impose a ban on a very specific type of employment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the powerful point made by my hon. Friend Jon Trickett that our main task is to restore the standing of politicians in the country? Most people in the country regard our wage as very handsome, and they expect people to do a full-time job if they are getting a full-time wage. It cannot be done the other way round if people are part-timing.
My view, and I think that of the hon. Member for Hemsworth and Members across the House, is that it is perfectly possible in addition to one’s responsibilities to one’s constituents, and to the House, to undertake additional activities. We do that as Ministers, as Chairs of Committees, and in our constituencies in all sorts of ways. We do it in charitable work and, as has been said, when engaged in authorship and advisory positions, looking after charities and in all-party groups. If one looks at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, one sees that people the length and breadth of this House are engaged in a wide variety of additional activities. It was held to be in the interests of the House that that wide range of activities should not be unduly constrained, but that Members should be completely transparent about their activities and interests, whether they are or are not remunerated, and how much time they take.
This issue was previously considered by an independent expert body—the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Opposition Front Benchers may like to recall that that Committee argued that those who wished to be full-time Members should be free to do so, but that it considered it
“desirable for the House of Commons to contain Members with a wide variety of continuing outside interests. If that were not so, Parliament would be less well-informed and effective than it is now, and might well be more dependent on lobbyists.”
The Opposition’s proposal could lead to the very thing that on this very day we are trying better to control.
The motion mentions two types of corporate structures, but the hon. Member for Hemsworth was talking about payment as a principle. That ignores partnerships or self-employment. The motion is flawed. I know the hon. Gentleman was introducing it as best he could, but does that not show the lack of understanding of corporate structures and business overall among Labour Members?
Yes, I fear Labour also misunderstands the nature of the relationship of a director to a company, and, where a director is a Member of Parliament, the relationship between those two responsibilities. Someone may act as a director and have a responsibility to the company as a whole in certain areas—I freely admit that for one year in the more than 16 years I have been in this House, I was a director of a company while also a Member of Parliament. I entered into an explicit contract that I would not undertake any activities for that company that drew on my interests and responsibilities as an MP—
No, we did not publish the contract, but I entered into a contract that made it clear that where there was any conflict of interest, the company would expect me to declare it and remove myself from any activity with the company concerned. I was very clear about that, so the question of a conflict of interest between my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament and to the company would not arise.
The right hon. Gentleman has described beautifully how the contract he drew up with the company protected the interest of the company, but not how it protected the interests of this House or of his constituents. Even the right hon. Gentleman must know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is the point.
On the contrary, I was explaining to the House how it is perfectly straightforward not to prejudice one’s responsibilities as a Member of Parliament. Members in this House are very clear about that and that is why such matters are published in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The fact that the hon. Lady has stood up and said that he who pays the piper calls the tune will be an entertaining thought for us to take forward and I look forward to my hon. Friends making that very clear.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth knows that I have written to the Leader of the Opposition about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, published today, to say that if he and his colleagues wish to follow through on the principle initiated by the Leader of the Opposition that members of trade unions should be able to exercise a deliberate choice about their participation in a political fund, the Bill is available. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come forward and say whether or not he will do that. If he does not, we will know that it was all rhetoric with no follow-through.
The conclusion of the Committee on Standards in Public Life was that Members of Parliament should remain free to have paid employment unrelated to their role as MPs. That was widely accepted, and I have seen no evidence or argument that questions the validity of the conclusion and the hon. Gentleman mentioned no individual case that prejudiced that conclusion. We have clear rules on lobbying and the registration of interests that were put before the House by the previous Labour Government and agreed in April 2009. As we heard, the hon. Member for Hemsworth, who was on the Government Benches at that time, supported that and was against the exclusion of other earnings. The then Government did not go further down that path and they were right not to do so.
We have mechanisms for investigating any alleged breach of the rules and proper procedures for taking action where necessary. The Chairman of the Standards Committee, Mr Barron is in his place and if he wished, he could take action—although I suspect he would not need to do so, as no case arises. I do not think we have any lack of rules that would enable us to act when any conflict of interest took place. We do not need new and arbitrary rules.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Leader of the Opposition shows through today’s motion that he does not really understand how business works? He said a year or two ago, if I remember correctly, that he would like more entrepreneurs on the Labour Benches. When we look across the House, we have to ask how many people on those Benches started a business and got it going. There is a small number, but not many. It is quite clear from the motion that they do not understand. I have been a publisher since the age of 25 and I am a director of the company I set up then; I do not think that that harms my ability to represent my constituents in this House.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I was rather disappointed because the implication of the motion seems to be that if someone is in business, they ought specifically to be excluded from being able to pursue those interests in this House. The hon. Member for Hemsworth was perfectly happy for people in all sorts of profession to continue—doctors, farmers, lawyers and, presumably, architects. There are all sorts of partnerships and a sole trader or partner would be able to continue to work in their interests, but a director of a company would apparently not be able to do so. I presume that he would exclude paid directors of companies that are limited by guarantee, which are often not-for-profit organisations. I fail to see why so many such organisations, which do good work, should be precluded from having any Member of Parliament participating in them.
The motion refers to the
“wider regulatory framework for second jobs”.
There are practical issues that mean that the proposal is flawed. It refers to a director but not to an employee of a company, and it does not refer to partners—trustees have been mentioned. A range of circumstances have been ignored and left out, and the effort is to preclude directorships specifically. It refers to “consultancies”, although that is undefined, and apparently being an adviser would be okay. Or would every adviser be treated as a consultant? If we put the word “adviser” into the motion, instead of referring to consultants, it would no doubt extend widely among those on the Labour Benches, but apparently that is okay—[Interruption.] I will not go through every entry in the register, as I have already done that, but there are many circumstances in which Members are advisers to organisations. Apparently, I do not understand whether they are consultants or not.
As I have said, many professions, including many that are very time consuming—there are Members in the Chamber who consume quite a bit of time in writing books and articles and taking part in broadcast activities, but that seems to be perfectly okay—are ignored.
I cannot see from the motion who would police the new rules. Who would define who was a director for this purpose? Who would undertake the difficult task of deciding what was a consultancy? I cannot imagine the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards would welcome the task of monitoring the provisions—we might hear whether she would. Do we need a new quango? Would
Members rather the function be given to IPSA—
I think that was an ironic cheer from Opposition Members. IPSA considered the matter in its latest report and stated, perhaps with a moment’s regret, that it was not within its remit. It then made an ex cathedra statement about it anyway—
Well, IPSA is a bit cathedral-like, is it not? A bit papal, really.
IPSA considered the issue and, although it decided it was not within its remit, said that
“the proportion of MPs with significant outside earnings is small.”
At least IPSA agrees with the hon. Member for Hemsworth that there is not a problem, but, like most people, it imagines that when there is no problem it is not necessary to find a solution.
The solution—the key to which is in the Bill published today—is transparency. Members are free to divide their time between their different and varied responsibilities. They represent constituents, scrutinise legislation, hold the Government to account and pursue the interests of their party—all those things take up a lot of Members’ time—but they must judge how to balance and allocate their time. Individual Members will be accountable through the register for where their interests lie and to their constituents for how they undertake their responsibilities.
Should this not be an issue for the electorates and constituencies concerned? It seems to me to set a dangerous precedent to try to impose some sort of central authority.
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Transparency is key. If there is any adverse perception to which the hon. Member for Hemsworth is referring, we should make it clear that the register is absolutely transparent and that people can look to see that Members do not undertake activities that conflict with their responsibilities to their constituents and in this House.
We can dismiss the issue of earnings, because clearly Opposition Members are very happy for people to earn a great deal of money if necessary, as long as they do not earn it in specific ways. We can dismiss the question of time, since no argument is being presented that Members are incapable of undertaking other activities and that they would not have sufficient time to look after their constituents. Clearly, they do and, if anything, all the evidence suggests that Members are devoting more time to their responsibilities in this House and using the advances in communications technology and elsewhere to provide improving services. Opportunities are increasing, added to by IPSA’s proposals for Members to have an annual report, to set out for our constituents how we do that.
It seems to me that no issue arises on the motion. The issue before us is how to achieve the greatest transparency and our Bill, published today, is the only relevant action taking place. It meets the objective of being more transparent about third-party influences—whether that is about lobbying or non-party campaigning at election times or about the scrutiny and accountability of trade unions.
There is an issue, of course, about “who pays the piper calls the tune”, as Helen Goodman said. That is an issue in relation to the Labour party and the influence of the trade unions, and the Labour party really has to respond to that. I suggest to Labour Members that they cut the chaff and stop trying to divert from where the real issues lie, and instead respond to the offer we have made for there to be a change to the legislation that begins to tackle the real issue that the public care about, which is that he who pays for the Labour party calls its tune.
The motion is flawed in practice and pointless in its content. Whether or not one has sympathy with some of the arguments presented by the hon. Member for Hemsworth, I urge Members to recognise that the motion should not be supported by the House and to reject it.
Order. There must be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions in order to ensure everyone can participate in the debate and we have time for the wind-ups.
May I, appropriately, at the start of this contribution refer to my interests as listed in the register? I should also at the outset make it clear that I have had second jobs throughout the time that I have served as a Member of Parliament. Before I was elected as MP for Greenwich in 1992, I ran a small business offering housing consultancy services—so the Conservative Member, Mr Stuart, who believes Opposition Members do not have business experience is not correct—and that reflected my own career in housing over the previous 20 years. I sold that business when I was elected to the House, but remained as a consultant to the organisation that bought the business until I became a Minister in 1997. From 1997 to 2005 I served as a Minister in the Department that is now known as the Department for Communities and Local Government—it would take up too much of my five minutes to list its various names when I was a Minister there. That was the hardest-working second job I had by a long way during my time here.
After I left Government I accepted invitations to undertake work—some paid, some without remuneration— from organisations operating in fields in which I had previous professional experience or relevant skills. All were referred to, and approved by, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which considers applications from former Ministers proposing to take on outside interests. It is worth quoting the opening paragraph of the guidance issued by the Committee at the time:
“It is in the public interest that former Ministers with experience in government should be able to move into business or into other areas of public life.”
It went on to talk about the necessary safeguards to ensure propriety, but that statement of the public interest was very clear and the Leader of the House referred to it in his comments about the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
I have never allowed my outside interests, which are all properly declared, to interfere with, or inhibit, my parliamentary and constituency work. They certainly demanded a lot less time than my responsibilities as a Front-Bench spokesman for my party in Opposition and as a Minister between 1997 and 2005.
As I am standing down at the next election, my party’s proposals, as referred to in the motion and described by my hon. Friend Jon Trickett, will not affect me personally, so I hope I can offer a reasonably impartial analysis of their likely impact. It is certainly right that we should be debating this issue as there is genuine public concern that MPs should act in the public interest, and should not abuse their position by undertaking inappropriate activity on behalf of lobbyists or organisations seeking improperly to secure an advantage. I stress the word “improperly” because it is also right that organisations, whether commercial or not, which want to influence Parliament should be able to speak freely with MPs and have relationships with supporters in this House. I myself, in the voluntary sector before I was elected in 1992, had frequent contacts with MPs and Ministers in order to pursue issues relating to the voluntary organisation I was involved with, which was promoting policies and practices to achieve better housing outcomes and more effective relief for the homeless.
I agree with every word the right hon. Gentleman says, and I congratulate him on his involvement in so many other activities which are a great help to his work in this Chamber. What advice would he give to somebody who owns a business that they cannot sell, however? I am a farmer, and the only way for me to remove myself from the business completely would be either to sell the farm completely or move out of it all together. What advice would he give people like me?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a specific issue and I will refer later to one or two circumstances that seem to me to be not well covered by the terms set out in the motion. I hope he will bear with me until I get there.
When I was in the voluntary sector, one of the observations often made by my colleagues working in the housing world was that MPs, as generalists, had only a limited knowledge and understanding of the often complex and technical rules that applied to their clients—members of the public—and the frequent refrain I heard was “If only they could spend time working with us, then they would better understand the issue.” I therefore want to emphasise at the outset the importance of not acting in ways that might inhibit or restrict proper links and relationships between MPs and the wider world.
The motion states that, as part of a regulatory framework for MPs’ second jobs, following the next general election no MP should be permitted to hold “paid directorships or consultancies.” It is not clear to me what the logic of that is. What is the difference between a paid directorship or consultancy and a contract to write a book or an article, or a payment for practising as a lawyer or a doctor, or a fee for providing a piece of expert advice? Is it the payment that is the problem? If so, the motion is far too narrow as it would leave open all kinds of opportunities for MPs to receive payment for remunerated activities other than those described as directorships or consultancies. If the problem is not the payment but is instead the relationship implied by the directorship or consultancy, why should a paid directorship of an organisation with a remit that clearly involves public interest objectives, such as the construction of social and affordable housing, be banned whereas a remunerated relationship other than a directorship or consultancy with a profit-making organisation pursuing entirely private interests would appear to be acceptable?
One of the arguments advanced by those who wish to curtail MPs’ outside interests is that the MP’s job is a full-time one and their constituents deserve their full-time attention. I wholly agree.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention, and I was going to come to that point, although my time is very limited.
I wholly agree that MPs should be working assiduously for their constituents and putting in the necessary time to fulfil all their constituency and parliamentary responsibilities. In my experience the vast majority of MPs do that; they work hard and conscientiously, putting in far longer hours than would be expected in most other jobs.
Over my 20-plus years in this place, I have consistently worked very long hours, dealing with a huge volume of constituency correspondence, holding six advice surgeries every month, and sustaining a busy programme of visits and activities in the constituency. We all, I believe, try to do our best to represent our constituencies and constituents and are probably doing more such work today than at any time in Parliament’s history. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth referred to Hugh Dalton in his introductory remarks. I am told that when Lord Palmerston was invited to become a Member by the landowner who controlled the constituency he was “elected” for, it was on the condition that he never, repeat never, appeared in the constituency.
Things have moved on a lot since then, but if it were truly suspected that MPs were not adequately pulling their weight, we ought to have measures to restrict the demands of their parliamentary second jobs such as Front-Bench and ministerial responsibilities or chairmanships of Select Committees. That would be absolutely absurd, and I genuinely do not think that it is an issue.
My final point is about the representativeness of this House. People have expressed real fears that we are increasingly becoming a professionalised House of Commons with fewer opportunities for people in mid-career to come into this House bringing expertise from outside. I fear this measure would accelerate that process.
It is a privilege to follow Mr Raynsford. Indeed, I would happily donate my time to allow him to continue for a further five minutes, because he outlined many reasons why both this motion and the thinking behind it are flawed.
The shadow Front-Bench team is, I think, trying to address the concern among the wider public about politicians, their position and trust. As one of the 240-odd Members who entered the House in 2010, I recognise that the seat that I managed to secure was a victim of that affair. I recognise the need to ensure that the public trust politicians, but I wanted to share with the House my own experience.
In the selection for the constituency of Bracknell there was an open meeting—a caucus. There were seven of us, most of whom had had jobs before and one of whom is now a Member here. During that selection process I pointed out to the meeting that I would continue working in a second job as a doctor. This was a meeting that everybody who was on the electoral register in Bracknell could attend. Approximately 50% of the people there were non-Conservative members. Despite that, I was selected in a very competitive field. My hon. Friend who is now Rory Stewart was second. I like to remind him of that on a regular basis. As an aside, I am rather pleased that he is here. He has written some fantastic books and I want him to continue writing books while in the Chamber.
I went on to the election and I was interviewed during the election campaign. The only time I was mentioned on the BBC website, it was because I called for an increase in MPs’ wages. That is significant. I thought it was rather perverse that I was taking a £50,000 pay cut to come here to be an MP from being a GP. We should all reflect on that before making political points on either side of the House. I also said that I would continue working as a GP. I met more people on the doorsteps of Bracknell and the surrounding area who congratulated me on that fact than people who said, “No, you shouldn’t be doing that. I want a full-time Member of Parliament.”
Yes, it is true. With reference to the comments from the shadow Minister, I point out for the record that I applied to the Speaker’s office this morning at 10 o’clock to speak in the debate. On medicine and maintaining professional skills, yes, one has to practise but it is not actually prescribed, so there is a difficulty in determining how many hours I would have to practise as a GP. Indeed, I am currently going through revalidation.
After I was elected, I appeared in that esteemed organ, Private Eye, under the “New Boys” column, which listed my income and suggested that this was wrong. I was challenged at a public meeting—I hold regular public meetings in my constituency—by somebody waving the article at me and telling me that I was a part-time Member of Parliament. I pointed out to him that like most Members in the House, I do upwards of
50, 60 and sometimes 70 hours a week. It is rather different from any other job I have done in my life because I do not feel that I stop working. I am constantly thinking about this role and the challenges that we all face.
I asked the man a series of questions. I asked whether he was a parent, to which he replied yes. I asked, “Do you think that is a full-time job?” and he said yes. I asked him a second question. I said, “In the unlikely event that I am asked to be a Minister, should I say yes or no?” He said, “You should say yes.” I said, “Do you think it is a full-time job being, say, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister? Do you think those are full-time jobs?”—not that that is on the horizon. He said, “Of course they are full-time jobs.” I said, “So what you are saying is that being a Minister is a full-time job, being a father is a full-time job, and you are having a go at me for doing about four hours a week as a GP, when I am doing about 60 hours a week as an MP. I think your argument is flawed.”
With reference to whether I should be paid for that or whether I should volunteer, I get the impression that I should be giving my time for free. I think that is a perverse argument. There are Members who want to do voluntary work in addition to their jobs and I congratulate them on that, but the idea that I should not be paid to be a doctor is, I believe, not widely held in my constituency or across the country. Most people would say that I should be paid to undertake that work.
Moving on to the question about what I bring to the Chamber as a doctor, I shall give one example, which is very relevant today. The CQC issued a report today on the Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a trust that rather bizarrely secured foundation trust status in 2007. The trust is financially unviable and has significant clinical problems, according to the report. I highlighted this at the Department of Health shortly after arrival. My continuing work at the time was in Slough. I was working as a GP and I knew there was a problem. I contacted Monitor, I contacted the CQC, I spoke on the telephone to that fantastic individual, Cynthia Bower, and pointed out to her that there was a problem. I am slightly surprised that it has taken three years for the CQC to conclude that there is a problem, but the fact that I was still working in the area gave me evidence and first-hand experience of what was going on, and my constituents recognise that.
The other example that I can give the House is of the hospital that I would like to see built in the Thames valley. That is based on the experience of working throughout the constituency. In the register of interests, I have various entries because I do not work in just one practice. I work all over the place—whoever will take me—and from that experience I have a regional perspective on the health economy in the Thames Valley, a perspective that is almost unique, particularly if one adds to it the fact that I am also a Member of Parliament in the Thames valley. The two together make me a better Member of Parliament for the Bracknell constituency. So although I recognise what the shadow Front-Bench team is trying to do, this is the wrong way to go about it. I ask the Front-Bench team to reflect on that.
May I start by saying to the Leader of the House that it seems to me that, in his opening remarks, he was being deliberately obtuse when he said that he did not understand the motion. For clarity, let me read it to him. It seems very clear indeed. It states that
“this House believes that, as part of a wider regulatory framework for second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.”
It could not be clearer. I do not understand the claim from the Leader of the House that the motion is flawed.
Here we go again. I was going to go on to say that the Leader of the House accused my hon. Friend Jon Trickett of putting up chaff, and here we have yet more chaff from Mr Stuart. There is a clear legal definition of a consultant and if he needs to check that out, I suggest he look up the dictionary definition. I am not going to waste the limited amount of time I have explaining it to him. He knows very well what a consultant is.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth pointed out, perception is key in this agenda. We know that Parliament and MPs are held in very low esteem by many of the electorate and it is our duty to try to repair the trust of the electorate. I say that because I have spoken to many constituents—people have also written to me—who have said, for example, that the top-down reorganisation of the national health service was done only because many senior Conservative MPs stood to benefit financially from the 49% privatisation. Surely none of us, on either side of the Chamber, can allow that sort of perception to persist among the wider electorate. People need to have trust in their Members of Parliament. The motion would go a long way towards re-establishing that trust with the electorate at large.
The Leader of the House implied that agreeing the motion would impose some terrible, onerous obligation on Members, as though this idea had somehow dropped from space, from Mars or something. However, if we look around the world, it becomes clear that the restrictions imposed on fellow parliamentarians in other countries are much more stringent than the restrictions in the UK. Our friends in America have imposed strong, stringent restrictions on the elected representatives who serve in that country. This motion contains a reasonable and measured proposition that would put us on a par with many of our international colleagues.
I do not understand why, under the terms of the motion, the hon. Gentleman would be happy with me doing what I did a few years ago, when I spent five months doing a fraud trial as a barrister, but would apparently not be happy with me attending 12 board meetings a year, all properly declared? How can attending just 12 board meetings a year prevent me from doing my job in this place? I do not understand the terms of the motion.
I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little obtuse, because there is a way round that. The earnings from that work could perhaps be capped. That might be the way forward. As a Member of Parliament, I know that my time is taken up almost entirely with being an elected representative. How he finds time to go and represent clients in court is beyond me, but that is a matter for him. One way round that problem would be to put a cap on earnings.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech. I seem to recall an hon. Member from the Government Benches who went on “I’m a Celebrity” and got into a lot of trouble because she absented herself from this House. How does that compare with five months on a fraud case?
My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. Indeed, one wonders what Conservative Members have to say about that, because that hon. Member had the Whip withdrawn from her for having the temerity to spend her time during the recess on “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” It seems to me that Conservative Members are applying double standards.
Our democracy is indeed in crisis. We have to do something about that. Politics is a noble thing. It is the way in which we introduce things such as the national health service, the welfare state, equal pay and the minimum wage. It is absolutely key that people have confidence in what we are doing.
It sends completely the wrong signal.
The obtuse way in which the Leader of the House approached the debate is extremely regrettable, particularly when our democracy is in crisis, as I have said. We have an obligation to restore the standing of politics in our country, because—as I was saying before my hon. Friend intervened on me—it is politics that can and does make a difference to people’s lives. I have talked about things such as the national health service, the minimum wage and many other wonderful, progressive leaps forward that were made as a direct consequence of the political process. If we undermine our politics and do nothing to restore faith in it, people will hold us in contempt and it will be so much more difficult to make the progressive changes that are desperately needed in our country to get young people back to work, tackle the crisis of low pay and deal with the problems of ill health and the ageing population. There are so many things that we need to address, and we need a strong political class to be able to deliver those changes. We can get that by restoring faith in our political process and, as a start, agreeing to this motion.
I would like to apologise to the House for the fact that I was doing a second job earlier. I had to pop off and sit on a statutory instrument Committee. I shall have another second job in a bit, which involves sitting on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The quorum is two Members of Parliament and I believe that I am needed, so I shall pop over there for two minutes later on. All sorts of conflicts exist in the demands on Members’ time, but, to pick up on the demand made by Chris Williamson, I do not believe that having a “political class” is the solution.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The motion is badly drafted, in that it would trap one of the businesses that I have created, but not the other. I shall talk a bit about my history. I first fought a general election in 1983, when I was the youngest Liberal candidate in the country. Later that year, I founded a business called John Hemming and Company. I fought the general election in 1987, and I was elected to Birmingham city council in 1990. I became the group leader and deputy leader of the council in 2004. During all that time, I have also chaired my business, which is now called JHC.
Speaking of conflicting demands on Members’ time, I went to chair my board meeting yesterday. It took two hours. I came into the House of Commons early, at about 7.30 in the morning, and at about 10 o’clock I got on the tube and went to my office. I chaired the meeting and was back here by noon. I have to ask: what is the big danger in my popping off to London Bridge for two hours, once a month? What mischief is created by that?
If there were a crisis in one of the hon. Gentleman’s businesses involving large sums of money, and he had to make a choice between dealing with that and an important constituency matter here, which way would he go? That illustrates the problem of dual loyalties and dual wages.
I am lucky, in that I am able to arrange things so that that does not happen. I am in control of the timing in the business. Obviously, my priority is with Parliament. My duty is to Parliament, as is quite clear under our constitution and, like most hon. Members, I work seven days a week performing that duty. Admittedly I only did half a day on Sunday, and I might finish by 4 o’clock on a Saturday, but I do work the standard 60, 70 or 80 hours a week, depending on what is going on.
It has been suggested that it would be reasonable to pay people like me who have large external earnings a lower rate of pay here. I do not mind that, as long as no one says that I am not a full-time MP. This is what I resent about the motion. Its argument is that I am not doing this job correctly for my constituents because I happen also to chair a business that I have run for many years.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an issue of perception involved? The perception is that hon. Members’ directorships or consultancies could influence the way in which they vote on certain issues. As I mentioned in my speech, people feel that certain Members voted for the national health service reorganisation so that they could gain financially from it.
I accept that this is about conflicts of interest, and there is a problem when external bodies control what Members of Parliament do. I am a member of a trade union, so I am not anti-trade union, but if the unions are controlling what the Labour party is doing, that is not a good environment.
Similarly, there is a problem with having a second job as a Minister. That really creates a conflict of interest, because Ministers can lose their ministerial salary if they do not vote along party lines in Parliament. We accept that as part of our constitution, but it clearly involves a conflict of interest, in that Ministers have to support the Government. I am lucky as a Back Bencher; people say that I can afford to be independent. I will not lose any income if I happen to rebel against the party.
The last such resignation was in the 1960s, when the practice went against the then Government and was brought to an end. The second job of being a Minister is clearly demanding, and it undermines that Member’s constituency activity.
The wording of the motion is absolutely dreadful, in that it would pick up one of my businesses but not the other. Why is that? What is the sense in picking up one structure of ownership and not another? The Opposition are also suggesting that we should not take the earned money, but they have no problem with those Members who are shareholders taking unearned income. Traditionally, Labour Members thought that earned income was more acceptable than unearned income, but they now seem to be arguing that we should have our unearned income. That is easy enough for me to structure, as I am in control of my corporate structures, but it is difficult for other people in other circumstances. The whole thing is frankly absurd. It drives us on again to what I think the hon. Member for Derby North was arguing for—the development of a political class. He did say that. He said that the Labour party wants a political class—a concept according to which we work only in politics and do not have any experience outside it.
No, no, no, no—the hon. Gentleman completely misses the point. It is perfectly possible to do as I did and have three different jobs before entering this House. That gave me more than 20 years of working experience in different institutions, which I can bring to bear on the politics—without having another paid job alongside being a Member of Parliament.
The point I am making is a very simple one: I do not think we should have a political class. An Opposition Member has called for a political class—he said those words, and I see nods around the Chamber—but I think that is very dangerous. It is dangerous to have a situation where external bodies beyond the Government, who do control votes in Parliament, control people in Parliament. Apart from being extremely badly drafted, the motion drives things further towards a political class. Thus people who have not had real jobs go through the special adviser process and all that sort of thing, ending up not being in the real world. That moves against the concept of people being able to be Members of Parliament for a short period of time, and what do we gain from it? Nothing.
This is turning into a navel-gazing debate, but it should not be, because it is not about us but about what the people who elect us think about us. It is about real engagement and representation in the world, so I want to provide some examples of what is happening in the real world of work.
A young lady in my part of the world told me today that she has got two jobs—or she has almost got two jobs. After 30 years as a machinist, she was made redundant, so every day she sits at home at 7.20 in the morning waiting to see whether she will get a phone call inviting her to get in her car and go to work at 8 o’clock. If she does not get that phone call, she rings the local newsagents to ask whether they have any work for her in the shop. She does not get any pay for either of those things. That is how she is living.
Her partner is on a zero-hours contract at a big factory in a town called Peterlee. He was told three weeks ago, “We want you to come to work on Sunday morning at 7 o’clock.” He and 11 colleagues went to work that Sunday morning, but when they got there, they were told, “Sorry. We don’t need you. You can go home.” No money.
I welcome the fact that unemployment rates have gone down today, but in my part of the world they have gone up again. We in the north-east now have people who have been in long-term unemployment longer than for any time since 1996. An average of £1,350 a year has been lost in the north-east since 2010. In fact, living standards are back to where they were in 2000.
Back in the unreal world, we have George Entwistle getting £450,000 for 54 days work—something like £8,500 a day. About 2,500 bankers, we were told this week, are paid more than £1 million a year; and all the millionaires in this country have had a £100,000 tax handout from the rest of us. That is estimated to apply to at least 8,000 people. Here is a number for this place: if that tax had not been handed out, 70,000 people could have been employed on the national minimum wage.
And then there is us, stuck in the middle. We get £67,000 a year—three times the average salary, which is much more than the average salary in my part of the world. More than a quarter of Conservative MPs do not think £67,000 is enough, so have outside earnings; only 6% of Labour MPs do not think it is enough and have outside earnings. No doubt it is the same for some Members across the parties. There are multi-millions of pounds between the lot of us, because we are unhappy with £67,000 a year.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, but does he share my concern that the motion does not cover a Scottish MP, for instance, who has spoken in three debates, voted in only 30% of votes, yet earns £100,000 or £200,000 from outside interests? Why is that not covered?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; I do not think the motion is wide enough. The motion says, “You’re a full-time MP and you’re nothing else.” Whether or not someone votes 30% of the time or 100% of the time, they should not be paid any more than the basic salary of an MP. That is what the people of this country want us to be: full-time Members of Parliament.. They are sitting out there asking, “Why on earth do these people need to do more than they are doing already? Why should they be so different from us?” For at least the past five years, they have been asking, “Are these people on the same planet as us? Do they go to the same shops? Do they live in the same world?” They think that the answer to those questions is no, and unless we can convince them that we understand how they feel, they will not be interested in democracy. That is a long-term worry for the House. If we continue to be so unlike those people, they will become less and less likely to get off their backsides and vote for any of us, let alone those we are discussing today.
On Saturday I spoke to miners from Maltby colliery, which has closed in the last three months because of geological problems, and they were disgusted by the fact that Members of Parliament were making multi-millions of pounds. We are told that a Member once earned three quarters of a million pounds, and those miners are 35-year-old guys looking who face having no more work for the rest of their lives. They have dedicated themselves to an industry and worked hard for that industry, and now they find themselves ruined. What is happening to them is absolutely disastrous.
How can our constituents be confident that we are committed to them—to their issues, their problems and their concerns—when we are focusing on outside work? Is being an MP not an honour and privilege, and is an MP not worthy of respect? If not, why not? Should that not be the case? How can we expect people to believe that we care for them, that we understand them, that we feel for them, if at the same time we are checking our diaries to see whether we are late for our next board meeting or court appearance?
My hon. Friend is making an extremely good speech. Another issue is conflict. How would it be if we said to the police, for example, “You can take any other job you want?”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We tell members of the police force and people in local government, “You cannot do certain things in life because of the nature of your job.” But we say that we in the House of Commons should have carte blanche. Should I be able to go back down the pit on Saturday mornings—not that I can do that, because the pits have been shut—or do a job as a car worker? My constituents expect me to represent their interests. This job means total commitment in return for the utmost respect.
During the last few weeks, in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and during our consideration of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we have committed ourselves to doing away with double-jobbing. Members of Parliament used to go to Holyrood, Stormont and Brussels as well as coming to the House of Commons. It is right that we put a stop to that, and we should stop all the other kinds of double- jobbing as well, because the people of this country will not understand if we are anything other than full-time MPs, dedicated to working in the House of Commons and in our constituencies on their behalf.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Anderson,who, I know, speaks from the heart on this and many other subjects. I agree with his analysis of the pressures faced by many working people who have one, two or even more jobs to do during the working week, but I must point out to him that the motion does not do what he wants. It is very narrowly defined. It deals with particular types of financial relationship, but it does not deal with partnerships or with contracts of employment. In his powerful speech, Mr Raynsford demolished the basis for the motion.
Apart from the obvious point that the motion is defective—it does not mention earnings from, for instance, rented property—it constitutes an attempt to create a political class. The only way in which such people can express themselves, earn more money, or gain more power or prestige is to become Ministers, and that plays into the hands of Front Benchers. It gives them more and more power, and puts us more and more in their pockets.
If we breed a political class that enters this place with a diminished and diminishing knowledge of the outside world, the walls of the Westminster bubble will become thicker and thicker and we will genuinely create two nations, one of which will be entirely ignorant of the other.
I spent 23 years working for a citizens advice bureau—outside Parliament—before I came to this place, and I continue to have regular meetings with citizens advice bureaux, in addition to my constituency surgeries. I believe that keeps me in touch with the real world sufficiently, without having another job operating a fraud trial.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that, and I sincerely pay tribute to the work she does. She understands that by keeping in touch she is making sure that her considerable knowledge does not go out of date, which is a very important point. A lot of Opposition Members and Government Members bring knowledge and work experience to this place, but there is a danger that once we enter the House we start to lose touch with our job experiences. That is why I decided after the election not to carry on practising at the Bar, but to sit part-time as a Crown court recorder, where I do 15 days in the year. That is the minimum required, and the appointment was made just before I was elected to this House.
Does the hon. Gentleman surrender his salary during the time he is away from this place, as would happen in any other job? Another hon. Member said that he was away on a court case, but should he not have his wages here reduced, as would happen in any other occupation where someone is not available to do the full-time job for which they get a full-time wage?
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. I do not do that, but I do keep fully in touch with what is going on, as with my work as a
Member of Parliament. The fact that I, on 15 days of the year, choose to serve the public interest—that is what sitting as a part-time judge involves—keeps me in touch with the work that I used to do as a lawyer. It makes me keep up to date with sentencing law and the law of criminal justice, and it enhances the contributions I can make in this House. What is wrong with that?
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My hon. Friend is making a case in his usual reasonable and considered way. Does he agree that the experience and knowledge he gains in carrying out his role is hugely valuable, and is a great benefit and boon to the constituents he helps daily?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I am not the first person to do this—many former Labour Members, including a number of distinguished ones I can think of, did exactly the same and brought great experience to this House. They probably brought greater learning than I do. If we lose touch with that experience, this place will become the poorer. In the race to the hair shirts, we will throw out a lot of the beneficial influences that can be brought into this place.
I had better not give way any further because I am running out of time. I accept that it is for individual Members to make judgments about the balances they have to strike—believe you me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I view it as a great honour and privilege to serve the people of my constituency, and I think about that every working moment. However, I do feel that I strike a fair balance in the work I do. I am available for my constituents and I work as hard as any other MP to fight for their interests. Bringing into this place the work that I have done in the past and the experience that I have gained, and keeping in touch with it in the way I do during the recess is beneficial.
The hon. Gentleman, too, is being sincere in what he is saying, but does he not think it slightly incongruous that this House is the last place where what he describes is possible? Even in the other place people are not allowed to be part of the Chamber and part of the judiciary.
I hear the words “separation of powers”, but we do not have an American system, and nor should we have. If we follow that to its logical conclusion, we turn ourselves into something not at all in keeping with the understood and learned traditions of the British constitution. It can be a good thing that several colleagues in this place have the sort of experience that I have, although I would be the last person to say that we want an identikit House full of lawyers. My hon. Friend the
Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) made a powerful speech about his medical practice, so people’s experience in many walks of life enhances our debates.
If the spasm of emotion that underlies what we hear from Labour Members is taken to its logical conclusion, the House will be diminished. Their proposal would not enhance the quality of the legislation that we pass. It would only make the public look at us once again as a rather odd set of individuals of diminishing relevance who contribute less and less to the public life of this country, so we should oppose the motion.
This is hardly a spasm on my part. I greatly respect Mr Buckland, but may I tell him that it was 16 years ago that I wrote in a book that all MPs’ additional earnings should be put into a charitable fund or used elsewhere? I repeated that in another splendid book that I published a short while ago. All the considerable royalties from that book go to charity—why not, because I already get a full-time wage for what I do?
I am sorry that I picked on the hon. Gentleman during his speech, but for five weeks last year I could not act as an MP. I did not receive any salary during that time—quite rightly so. We forget that we live in a little bubble with a system that we are used to, but people watching the debate and tweeting are baffled that anyone can say, “I have a job paying £65,000, but other jobs get my priority and attention at certain time.” If Members have to perform outside work, it would be easy—and absolutely right—to deduct the money earned from their parliamentary salary.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but it is part of a different argument.
The public will not see this subject in subtle tones or have regard to the lawyers’ arguments we are hearing. In 2009, after the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal, our reputation was at rock bottom, but now it is even worse—it is subterranean. We saw the reaction to the suggestion that MPs’ salaries should be increased: all the old resentment was churned up.
The Daily Telegraph did democracy a reasonable turn by submitting a freedom of information request that demanded to know the most popular book that wicked MPs were borrowing from the Commons Library. I am sure that its journalists were desperate for another negative story about MPs and that they prayed in their offices that that book would be “Fifty Shades of Gray”, “How to Keep a Moat”, or “Duck House Owning for Beginners”. However, the book in greatest demand at the Library was the improving tract that I wrote, which recommends that MPs live off their salary.
We must look at this from the perspective of outsiders, not by considering subtle points about what is unearned income and what is a salary. If Members want to get outside experience, there are splendid institutions in the House through which we can go off to join the Army, Navy or Air Force, or secure a fellowship with a commercial firm over many months. Those experiences are marvellous, but the important point is that they are not paid. The great resentment among the public arises because we receive a full-time wage and so we should be doing full-time work.
The hon. Gentleman talks about resentment, but the public are angry about MPs’ expenses and salaries because they pay for them. Is he really suggesting that the public are furious that a Member of Parliament attends 12 board meetings a year? Does that really make them angry when they are not paying for it?
The answer is a resounding yes. I am sure that members of the public will write to the hon. Gentleman, because he explained earlier that he left Parliament, playing truant, to go to court and defend someone in a case, and no doubt he was paid a huge sum to do so, but for that period he was paid to be an MP, even though he could not possibly have performed his duties to the full extent that he should have done. Do the public resent that? Yes they do.
Order. Mr Colvile, I am not sure that quite fits with paid directorships and consultancies, so I think we will let your good duty in court go—[Interruption.] Sir Edward, I do not think we need any help from you either.
Again, there is a great gulf between what is happening in this Chamber and what is happening outside. I believe that it is entirely reasonable for Members who wish to go off and do other work to do so under certain circumstances, but let us get away from the idea that MPs, who get a handsome salary as far as most of our constituents are concerned, should greedily look for other earnings. Of course it is an advantage also to work as a journalist, a writer or whatever else, but when it comes to the crunch and there is a crisis, when Members know that they should be here writing to Ministers, demanding answers, making a case or meeting people, if someone comes along and says they’ll pay them ten grand to write an article in the next 24 hours, what choice will they make? If there is no money involved, there is no real choice, as we know where our loyalties lie. We must escape from that. I appeal to Members: do they not know how low the public’s regard for us is?
Would it not be clear, if we on the Government side of the House recognised that the people who would vote Labour believe that the amount of money going to them should be capped and the money should not go beyond £65,000, while we on this side of the House generally—not in my case, actually—do not feel that it is necessary to limit us and we can keep the money?
I have very little time to answer the hon. Gentleman, so I will return to my original case. Forget the intricacies of the matter and see it in simple terms, which is how the public will see it. Think of what the howling headlines will be if MPs insist on a full-time wage and then get additional wages on top of it. No one can do two jobs adequately.
It is a pleasure to follow Paul Flynn. I wanted to ask him what he thinks constitute an MP’s hours of salary. He made his case eloquently, but he did not say whether he, when writing his books—I have read some and really enjoyed them—was actually working as an MP. However, that is for another day.
This is another example of how the Opposition suddenly noticed in June 2010 that we have to make lots of changes in this country. Their argument today follows 13 years in which they could have done what they are trying to do today. In fact, in 2009 they backed plans to have greater openness but not a ban on second jobs. As someone who does not have a second job, I suggest that more flexibility is a good thing. I believe strongly in being flexible in our approach but also transparent about it. I think that we have enough transparency. We have the excellent Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, with which we are all acquainted, and the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in which every Member must list their interests.
That makes the point that the whole motion is very badly written. My hon. Friend should be remunerated if he works. My hon. Friend Roger Williams, who was here earlier, is a farmer, and he made a good point. If he earned money from his farm but had to give it away, how would his farm stay open and profitable? He is a Member of Parliament but he has to be a farmer as well.
On this very basic point, does the hon. Gentleman think that his constituents would find it acceptable for him to have two, three or perhaps even more forms of employment as well as being a Member of this House?
The hon. Gentleman will have to do a lot better than that, because I have only one job, and that is Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale. We were not all hatched out of an egg as a politician. Some people here have businesses such as farming that go back for generations. We have to take all this into consideration, and the motion does not do so.
Many of these outside earnings are from industries and companies that have a link to hon. Members’ constituencies. For example, the former right hon. Member for South Shields earned £175,000 for being vice-chairman of Sunderland football club. He is a man I greatly respect, I might add, before I get any accusations thrown at me in that regard. That was clearly not part of his work in this House, but it assisted his constituency. It could therefore be argued that he should not be expected to do all that work for free because it is in line with and complements his parliamentary work.
Whatever one’s view, would it not be better to allow the voters to decide? We have achieved transparency. We should not be creating rule after rule just to grab headlines. What we are debating, as ever, strikes at the hypocrisy of the Opposition. They are worried about corporate lobbyists but not trade unions. They want to complain about outside earnings even though lots of their Members are being paid by the unions. They are worried about party funding, yet Co-op remains the only company in this country to own a political party. [Interruption.] This is phoney outrage.
The bit that the hon. Gentleman completely leaves out of the equation when he says, “Let’s leave it to the voters,” is that the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of parliamentary seats are safe seats where, frankly, anybody could be put up as long as they were from the right political party. [Interruption.] I say that very fairly; it is also an issue about Rhondda. That means that it is much more incumbent on the whole House to take a view on it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that eloquently put intervention.
Every time this House has a knee-jerk reaction to a few headlines we always get it wrong. We are better when we allow the public to make the judgments in this respect. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that those judgments should come through the ballot box, not through focus groups and rules.
The hon. Gentleman said that Members are paid by trade unions. Will he withdraw that or put the list of those Members in the Library, because Members are not paid by trade unions?
Order. You cannot suggest that we have another debate. The matter has been put on the record, and that is the record as it stands.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is arguable, though, is it not, how many Labour Members are being subsidised by the unions? Come on, hands up—let’s see you. How many are being supported by the unions? [Interruption.]
Order. Sit down, Mr Morris. Let us get into the habit of using the Chamber in the way it should be used. In fairness, I think that the matter has been put on the record and straightened out. I am sure that you want to participate in the debate on directorships and remuneration of those who receive them.
I totally agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I have been sidetracked from what I wanted to say. If people do not want an MP who has a job outside Parliament, they should not vote for him.
I entered this House in 2010 and did so because I wanted to change things for the people I represent. In that sense, I do not think I am different from the vast majority of Members, whichever side of the Chamber they sit on. We might have different priorities and we may have different policies, but our aims are the same.
Like many other Members who entered this House in 2010, I left a well-paid job—it was much better paid than that of an MP—but I understood exactly what I was taking on. I knew what the job paid and the kind of hours I would need to work. I have not regretted that decision. I did not enter this House with the expectation of using it as a stepping stone to lucrative company director posts or as a route into other, better paid jobs or consultancies.
I understand that some Members have more than one job and some have several. My take on that is that I honestly do not know how they do it. Being the Member of Parliament for North West Durham is more than a full-time job. It takes up all my time here and in the constituency, and I believe that that is how it should be. The people of my constituency, whether they voted for me or not, deserve nothing less, and I simply do not understand why some MPs think that their job here is part time or that their constituents deserve less than a full-time MP.
I accept that some Members have special talents, skills or qualifications that would be wasted if they were not able to use them outside this House. I have spent a career working in education and consider myself to have specialist knowledge of the education world, particularly with regard to special needs or additional educational needs. I am regularly asked to write articles and to speak at venues to young people and their teachers and schools, and I am happy to share my skills and knowledge with any group or organisation that is prepared to work in the best interests of those people. The difference is that I am never paid for it. I never accept payment, because I consider that work to be part and parcel of the job that I am paid to do as a Member of Parliament.
I think most of us would accept that an awful lot of the things that MPs do with charities as part of our job take us well beyond normal office hours, but could the hon. Lady explain the motion, which refers only to “paid directorships or consultancies”? What is her view of GPs and people in the health service who continue their second job while they are here and authors who spend a lot of their time writing books and pamphlets and getting paid for it?
If the hon. Gentleman had been present in the debate for more than three minutes, he would have understood it better.
The current system allows MPs to take additional jobs and to get paid for them so long as they declare them in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I do not understand this. It seems to be completely within the rules and I am willing to accept that in the vast majority of cases MPs can operate without any conflict of interest in practice. However, we have to understand the perception outside this place. This is a Westminster bubble.
No, I will not.
Government Members have argued about the intricacies of the motion and the legal aspects, but this is about how it plays outside this place. The perception among the public is that MPs are getting kick-backs for services rendered, and that damages the reputation of politics—it damages the reputation of us all. I support a ban on remunerated directorships and paid consultancies and a cap on other forms of earned income. We have a cap on benefits, so why cannot we have a cap on MPs’ income?
Government Members have argued about this and confused the issue, but it is simple: it is an issue of access and of privileged access. It is about people outside this place paying for special access and privilege in a way that the vast majority of the people who vote for us and who pay their taxes and MPs’ salaries never can.
Before I was elected, I ran a solicitors practice as a sole practitioner. I gave up my business, which I had worked hard to build up, to become a Member of Parliament. I made a commitment at that time that I would work full time as a Member of Parliament. I think that was the right thing to do.
I do not believe that my giving up that business and stopping practising as a solicitor has prevented me from being a member of the local community, maintaining my relationship with the legal profession in my community or keeping in touch with the people I represent. Government Members are promulgating the extraordinary idea that to remain in touch with the outside world, we have to receive a salary. We do hundreds of things in our job as Members of Parliament which ensure that we have a connection with our constituents.
I will make a little progress and if I have time, I will give way.
It has always amazed me that some Members of Parliament continue to do other jobs. Why would someone become a Member of Parliament if they wanted to be a company director or a consultant? They could be a company director or a consultant without being a Member of Parliament. Becoming an MP is not a route to becoming a company director or a consultant—or is it? I always ask myself why it is that companies want MPs as consultants or directors. Is it for their unique insights on the world? Even the cleverest of MPs—and there are some very self-regarding MPs on the Government Benches today—should not flatter themselves. It is clear why such posts are offered to Members of Parliament. It is not because of their unique intelligence, but because they are Members of Parliament. It is because of the influence that Members of Parliament have and the access that that buys.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that I appointed myself to that job and that when I did so, I was not a Member of Parliament, although I had stood for Parliament? It was therefore not a factor in the consideration.
As interesting as the hon. Gentleman thinks he is, I was not talking about him.
No one should have privileged access to an MP. Even more importantly, no one should be able to secure access to an MP by paying them. For that reason, I welcome the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition that MPs should be prevented from holding paid directorships and consultancies. Such arrangements give those who pay for it unique access to MPs.
It was interesting that the Leader of the House referred to a job offer that he received after he became a Member of Parliament. I would be interested to know why that company decided he was the person they wanted to give a job to. Does he know? Can he tell us? I would be delighted to take an intervention. Let me tell him the reason: it is because he is an MP and the company wanted access to him.
For far too short a time, I was a Minister. I got there in the end. I believe that being a Minister benefited my constituents. They understood that being a Minister was an important part of my job as a Member of Parliament. Ministers are also Members of Parliament, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that they in any way diminish themselves as MPs by being Ministers.
The key to the motion is access to MPs. I have not spoken about the hundreds of thousands of pounds that some Government Members earn. [Interruption.] I will not name them, because unlike the Leader of the House I have not given them notice. However, MPs should have a look at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: a number of Members earn hundreds of thousands of pounds. This issue is about buying access. MPs should look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they are really so clever that companies, which are engaged in business MPs have no experience in, really want them to join their boards for their personal knowledge and insight. The reality is that companies want privileged access to MPs and are prepared to pay for it.
I know the hon. Gentleman reasonably well. Does he accept that some people take extra jobs based on their experience? For example, I help a small business in Liverpool, which I have known for nearly 20 years. It came to me and said, “Could you help us do what you did for us 15 years ago?” That was the basis on which I took that work. I also found it interesting to travel to Liverpool.
The hon. Gentleman says he helps that business. I help businesses in my constituency, but I do not get paid for it—that is the key point. I have an equal obligation to all my constituents. I do not allow access to my time to be bought by an individual or a company. We need to support the motion.
As my hon. Friend Jon Trickett set out when opening the debate, Labour will make a commitment in its manifesto at the next general election to regulate second jobs. That is why we have led the debate today.
Our motion on the Order Paper states:
“as part of a wider regulatory framework for second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament, no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.”
There have been some interesting critiques of the draftsmanship of the motion, yet no amendment was tabled. Government Members have said that the motion is either too narrow or too wide. They could have tabled an amendment. We repeat the call we made today that if Government Members are serious about addressing this issue and about improving the motion, we could begin talks this afternoon. Of course, they are not interested in improving the motion—that is a complete red herring.
Decades ago, when this place resembled more a gentlemen’s club than a people’s Parliament, being an MP was seen as a second job. However, it is impossible to deny that things have moved on and that, rightly, the public’s expectations have changed. Of course it is good for Members to keep connected to the world beyond Westminster and to have outside interests, a point made by my right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford and Mr Buckland. It is important that we remain connected with the outside world, but I have to say this, particularly to Government Members: being in touch does not depend on a Member’s ability to earn unlimited and large amounts of money from the private sector. That is a very interesting definition of being in touch. It is perfectly possible to have “outside interests”, in the true sense of the words, without having unlimited outside financial interests.
A legitimate question was asked about MPs not being able to retain their skills—in medicine, law or engineering, for example—and whether that would leave the House worse off. We have been clear that MPs would still be able to do a certain amount of work. They would be able to keep up their expertise by, for example, working as a GP like Dr Lee, or as lawyers or engineers. They could still do that, but a limit would be placed on how much they could earn. As hon. Members have pointed out, such limits have been applied successfully in many countries. Clearly, the current rules are not fit for purpose in the 21st century. This is about changing politics to make it more open, transparent and trusted. My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband said last week:
“The vast majority of all MPs have performed their duties properly within the rules. And raising this issue casts no doubt upon that. But we should question the rules. The question of MPs second outside jobs has been discussed but not properly addressed for a generation. The British people expect their MPs to be representing them and the country not anyone else.”
This has been an important debate. My hon. Friend Chris Williamson hit the nail on the head when he talked about public perception and our absolute duty to repair public trust in the politic process, and rightly referred to the much stronger restrictions on MPs’ outside earnings elsewhere in the world. We can look at those systems. My hon. Friend Mr Anderson gave the House a reality check, pointing out that MPs were paid three times the average wage. He talked about the miners he met at the weekend at Maltby pit and spoke with passion and principle about people out there for whom life was very tough and who might be watching this debate, wondering, “What planet are some of those people on?”
My hon. Friend Paul Flynn reinforced that point by talking about the bubble we sometimes live in here. He said that the public would be rightly baffled by some of today’s contributions. My hon. Friend Pat Glass made an interesting proposal: since the Government are keen on capping benefits, why not a cap on outside earnings for MPs? That is worth considering. My hon. Friend Ian Lucas also made a powerful case for reform.
I listened to right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches defending the status quo. The Leader of the House was his usual complacent self, taking a “nothing to see here, move along” approach in his opening remarks. Interestingly, John Hemming talked about simply popping off to London Bridge for a few hours to do a bit of work and bemoaned the creation of a political class, which was exactly the same argument raised in 1911 when it was decided to pay MPs in the first place.
The prospect of the current arrangements continuing into the future, allowing right hon. and hon. Members to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds from outside interests—[Interruption.] The Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne, who probably has one eye on the reshuffle and that Cabinet post that never seems to come, will understand that the former Prime Minister does not receive a single penny in outside earnings. I am happy to help him on that important fact. Outside interests contribute not to the richness of debate in the House, but to the richness of individual Members; and they add value not to our deliberations, but to Members’ bank accounts. That is why things must change.
I have looked at the scale of the problem. Apparently, 18 Governments Members have 53 extra jobs between them. I sympathise with the Whips; I do not know how they manage to get these people in for a Division. Five Members have 19 jobs between them, while an estimated 85 Conservative Members—almost one in three—have second jobs and directorships.
To conclude, 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—and those in the Government, who say they want more of the same, the status quo, no change and business as usual. We can either look forward, as the Labour party will do, to a new Parliament and a new settlement where public, not private, interest comes first, or look to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, for whom second jobs have because second nature and where the public invariably come second too.
In 20 years’ time we will no doubt look back and wonder why it took so long to introduce the changes we desperately need for new limits on MPs’ second jobs. History will record which party was on the side of change and of the public.
This debate has generated much heat and no light. It is difficult to respond to a debate on a motion that contains so little substance, and that has no rationale behind it and nothing to be said for it. As we have heard, the Opposition have no idea what sort of new regulatory framework they want or why we need one.
Let me address some of the specific points raised by hon. Members. Mr Raynsford said that he does not want to restrict proper links between MPs and the outside world. He questioned the rationale behind the Labour motion, and highlighted contradictions in it. I agree with him entirely. My hon. Friend Dr Lee highlighted the value of his ongoing involvement in the NHS and the direct benefit that his constituents derive from that. Chris Williamson said that the motion was clear, although when asked for a definition of the regulatory framework, he was not able to provide one and neither was any other Labour Member.
My hon. Friend John Hemming highlighted the nonsense of opposing directorships and consultancies, but not opposing partnerships, from which—looking at his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—he derives a certain not insubstantial income. Mr Anderson seemed to suggest that hon. Members having second jobs was depriving young people in his constituency of jobs, which I think was a fallacious argument. I commend him, however, for spotting the flaw in Labour’s motion, because it does not do what he wants. He wanted all second jobs to be addressed, but that is not what the motion does.
My hon. Friend Mr Buckland sits as a part-time judge, and I noticed in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that the days he did so were days on which the House was in recess. Having spent time with him on Bill Committees, I know he brings his experience to bear and makes a substantial contribution to the debates as a result.
I was going to apologise to Paul Flynn for having reduced his income after I was forced to suspend him from the House some months ago, but I then realised that he was plugging his own book in the debate and I felt less sorry for him. Presumably, the production of that book took him away from spending time on his constituents’ business.
My hon. Friend David Morris rightly drew attention to the deeply flawed nature of the Opposition motion, and asked whether the Opposition oppose second jobs, earning extra money or having a conflict of interest, because it is not clear. Pat Glass also ducked the question of why the motion applies only to directorships and consultancies, and went on to call for a cap on earnings, which is not in the motion.
Ian Lucas said that no one should secure access to an MP by paying them, and I thought he was about to refer to Unite. I am sorry to learn that his unique experience did not secure him a lengthy stay in a ministerial post, and I hazard to suggest that he is safe from the approaches of companies wishing him to sit on their boards.
Finally, Michael Dugher said in summing up that he is committed to regulating second jobs. Again, he did not provide any clarity on which second jobs. Why are some acceptable but others not? He also asked why the Government had not tabled an amendment, but it is not our business to table amendments to a deeply flawed motion. It is up to him and the Opposition to ensure that the motion they present is fit for purpose. Clearly it was not, and his class war speech was very much inspired by his union puppet masters.
In conclusion, the House will have noticed the contrast in approaches. It could not be clearer. Instead of leading a serious debate on a concrete proposal, the Opposition have gone for grandstanding and spreading slurry indiscriminately, referring to the perception of a problem while denying that there is a problem. They are calling for regulation of second jobs, but from today’s evidence I would say that we need better regulation of the day job to stop Opposition spokesmen requiring the House to waste its time considering feeble and confused motions such as this one. The Government, on the other hand, are committed to promoting transparency, both in Members’ relations with the public and in the political system as a whole. We want to shine a light on this place and let the people make their choice. I urge the House to reject the motion.