PM quietly drops call for limits on MPs' outside earnings

Boris U-TURNS on vow to limit MPs’ outside jobs: PM quietly drops call made at the height of Owen Paterson sleaze row with ministers saying it is ‘impractical’ to cap hours or earnings

  • Boris Johnson rushed out call to limit MPs’ earnings amid Owen Paterson row
  • Ministers now written to Standards Committee warning of ‘impractical’ changes
  • Suggested that a cap on hours or earnings would not be fair on politicians  
  • Boris Johnson has quietly backed off a call to curb MPs’ second jobs in the wake of the Owen Paterson scandal, it was revealed today.

    At the height of the sleaze crisis in November, the PM wrote to Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle urging ‘reasonable limits’ on politicians’ outside earnings.    

    But ministers have now written to the cross-party Standards Committee warning that restricting the amount of time MPs can spend on sidelines would be ‘impractical’.

    The premier’s chief of staff Steve Barclay also dismissed the idea of a cap on earnings, suggesting it could catch people who had legitimate income from activities such as writing books. 

    Mr Johnson rushed out the call for restrictions on MPs’ second jobs amid a storm over the abortive bid to save his ally Mr Paterson from punishment for lobbying.

    The PM said there should be a ban on working as consultants, and also suggested MPs should have limits placed on the time they spend on second jobs.

    Owen Paterson

    Boris Johnson

    Boris Johnson (right) has quietly backed off a call to curb MPs’ second jobs in the wake of the Owen Paterson (left) scandal

    At the height of the Owen Paterson scandal in November, Mr Johnson wrote to the Speaker urging 'reasonable limits' on how much outside work MPs could do

    At the height of the Owen Paterson scandal in November, Mr Johnson wrote to the Speaker urging ‘reasonable limits’ on how much outside work MPs could do

    The dramatic intervention was intended to outflank Labour amid growing alarm that its attacks on the government over sleaze were hitting home.

    But Tories complained the plan had been drawn up ‘on the back of a fag packet’, and it quickly descended into a shambles, with Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan suggesting that 20 hours on a sideline ‘is fine’. 

    Ms Trevelyan also indicated that former attorney general Geoffrey Cox would not have to curb his £1million a year legal practice under the mooted changes – despite No10 claiming he would.  

    The Standards Committee has since carried out a review of the code of conduct and wider rules.

    In what appears to be an humiliating backtrack – first reported by the Guardian today – Mr Barclay wrote in response to a consultation by the committee: ‘It is the government’s initial view that the imposition of fixed constraints such as time limits on the amount of time that members can spend on outside work would be impractical.

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

    In a joint letter submitted with Commons Leader Mark Spencer, Mr Barclay cautioned that a cap ‘could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system’.

    He suggested a long-serving MP ‘could inadvertently reach the ‘ceiling’ through earnings accrued over time’, questioning whether that would be fair.

    ‘In respect of a cap on earnings from outside work to impose such a limit could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system. 

    ‘Earnings from activities such as writing books for example, would not preclude Members from meeting their principal duty to their constituents. 

    ‘Moreover, in practice, a long-standing Member could inadvertently reach the ‘ceiling’ through earnings accrued over time. In this scenario, there is a question of whether it would be fair to subject that Member to a standards investigation. 

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

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

    The letter stressed that rather than the level of earnings reforms should target ‘the type of outside work which MPs are able to undertake’. 

    ‘We believe that it is possible for MPs to strike the right balance between their parliamentary duties and outside work so long as it falls within reasonable limits as historically, the House can and has benefited from Members having outside experience.’ 

    Tories complained the plan to restrict MPs' outside earnings had been drawn up 'on the back of a fag packet'

    Tories complained the plan to restrict MPs’ outside earnings had been drawn up ‘on the back of a fag packet’

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