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By Women in Westminster

How MPs Could Be Hit By Proposed Changes To Parliament’s Code Of Conduct

How MPs Could Be Hit By Proposed Changes To Parliament’s Code Of Conduct
4 min read

The standards committee has recommended a host of changes to the rules which govern MPs' conduct, including second jobs, after a major row over sleaze.

Proposed changes include curtailing consultancy roles, making companies draw up contracts preventing lobbying, and tightening up the Commons code of conduct.

The plans go further than what Boris Johnson had suggested to the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle last month, but stop short of Labour’s call to ban almost all second jobs.

There will be a further consultation ahead of a final report next year, but as things stand this is how the proposals would affect MPs: 

 

Consultancy Ban

The cross-party standards committee, led by senior Labour MP Chris Bryant, is proposing an outright ban on MPs providing “paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services”.

While more than 200 MPs have received earnings from work outside their roles in Parliament in the last year, analysis of the Commons register of interests shows more than 30 Conservative MPs have been paid as consultants.

The highest-paid of those is the former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who holds six roles and has registered more than £180,000 for 34.5 days' work this year.

There is no suggestion he and others have broken any of the existing rules, in which MPs are "strictly forbidden" from getting paid "in return for advocating a particular matter" in Parliament.

But there has been criticism of the existing code of conduct, and the proposed new system would mean even those roles which some have argued are unrelated to politics will be banned.

Serious Wrong

Owen Paterson, the ex-MP whose standards investigation sparked the current row over sleaze, had argued his contact with ministers and officials relating to two companies he was a paid advocate for, did not fall foul of existing rules as there is a "serious wrong exemption”.

This claim was rejected by the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, but the committee is saying this rule must now be clarified to “make clearer the risks of conflicts of interests and put an end to this being used as a loophole”.

One Register

Last month Boris Johnson faced criticism for choosing to register his holiday at a villa owned by his colleague Lord Goldsmith on the register of ministerial interests, rather than the one for MPs, which has a higher threshold for what details must be declared.

The prime minister's spokesperson insisted donations of this sort “do not need to be double-declared”, and it would not be placed in both, meaning the public would not find out how much the stay in Goldsmith's Marbella home would have cost.

There is consternation that Johnson declared the cost of his complimentary use of a private terminal at Heathrow Airport to take the trip in the MP register, but not the holiday itself.

At the time Bryant told PoliticsHome ministers “can declare in both registers and often do”, and now his committee plans to close the exemption whereby ministers “are not required to register gifts and hospitality they receive in their ministerial capacity with the Commons Register”.

Online Harms

There are two recommendations relating to the personal conduct of MPs, the first prohibiting them “from subjecting anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attack”, in any medium.

The committee also proposes adding to the Seven Principles of Public Life, referred to as the “Nolan principles”, with an an eighth principle of “respect”, asking MPs to abide by the Parliamentary Behaviour Code and “demonstrate anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity”.

It is understood the Commissioner wanted to be able to investigate social media posts, as she has been receiving increasing complaints from the public about what MPs say online, which currently sits outside her remit.

Second Jobs

Interestingly, the committee does not make any recommendations seeking to curtail the amount of time MPs spend on second jobs, as the inquiry was set up mainly to focus on the types of outside interests members have, not how they operate them.

The report says such rules are “not practicable or enforceable”, meaning there are not currently any proposals which would deal with Sir Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general who registered almost £900,000 of extra income in the last year for around 1,000 hours of legal work.

However Bryant’s committee does suggest an MP must have a written contract for any second job which makes explicit they cannot lobby ministers, colleagues or public officials, provide advice about how to lobby or influence Parliament, and that their employer will agree not to ask them to do so, which they believe will be a deterrent for some companies into offering some roles which exist in the current system.

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