Sat, 20 April 2024

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The House Live All
By Bishop of Leeds
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Boris Johnson Gets “Muted” Reception At 1922 Committee But Swerves Rebellion Over Second Jobs Proposals

5 min read

Boris Johnson sought to face off growing Tory disquiet over the government’s handling of the second jobs row at the 1922 Committee by admitting to MPs he’d “crashed the car” over the Paterson affair.

Tories at the meeting of backbench MPs said the mood was “muted” while the Prime Minister spoke, but that MPs were generally “behind the PM”. 

Johnson reportedly told his MPs that “on a clear road I crashed the car into a ditch” over his handling of Owen Paterson’s suspension, according to Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson.

The PM was also heavily quizzed on immigration and border security — one MP suggested that the meeting was “90% questions about small boats”, while another backbencher said they were “pleased immigration was dominant”. 

Having initially backed an attempt to overhaul the standards process a fortnight ago to try and prevent senior Conservative Owen Paterson from being suspended, the Prime Minister announced yesterday he wanted to tighten the rules after public outcry over the outside earnings of some MPs.

But many senior Tories remain unhappy at the sweeping plans to try and outlaw some types of second jobs, saying they were rushed out to try and spoil a press conference by Sir Keir Starmer to unveil his own proposals.

One senior Tory MP told PoliticsHome that the government indicated it felt it “had to do something” to upstage Starmer’s press conference on Tuesday amid growing pressure on the issue.

They described Downing Street as a “very weak operation” whose decision making these past few weeks has been “mind-bogglingly stupid”.

The government announced on Tuesday evening that it was tabling an amendment to the Labour motion on proposed reforms to second job rules in the Commons, but critics claimed their amendment only “waters down” Labour's plans.

Labour’s motion was rejected by MPs with 282 against to 231 in favour — a majority of 51. The government's amended motion passed without opposition, with 297 votes in favour to 0 against.

A small number of Tory MPs had indicated prior to the vote that they would be backing Labour’s motion in the Commons as they were unhappy that the government’s version could place a cap on the number of hours MPs can work on top of their primary role.

Writing to the Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle this week, Johnson said the new rules proposed by the government would see those who prioritise outside interests over their constituents to be “investigated and appropriately punished”.

But multiple MPs suggested they were uncomfortable with placing the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone in charge of making such a decision.

“How does one determine what is taking too much of your time in terms of an outside interest?” veteran MP Sir Edward Leigh asked in this afternoon’s debate.

He said if making a call on how much time was acceptable spent working outside parliament was left to Stone, it would “give that official a degree of power never seen before”.

The Labour MP Chris Bryant, chairman of the Committee on Standards, agreed it would be “very, very difficult for the commissioner to start investigating whether an MP was devoting enough of their time to their constituents”.

He added he is "very hesitant about going down this route of timesheets", noting he would urge his committee to "think very carefully about this".

Another Conservative PoliticsHome spoke to criticised the proposed new rules for being “too vague”, suggesting the government’s plan to allow the standards committee to flesh out proposals would mean they could either end up with a ban on almost all second jobs, or effectively just restating the existing rules.

One MP who had planned to vote with Labour said they didn’t think the rebellion would be sizeable enough to see the opposition’s motion pass however, and government whips are understood to have spent the afternoon ringing round Tories to make sure they cast their vote the right way.

But it was noticeable that for Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, the Conservative benches, usually completely packed for the weekly session, were much less well-attended than usual. It is believed MPs were staying away due to anger over Number 10’s handling of the sleaze row.

Speaking in the debate the senior Tory Sir Charles Walker said he would not be voting for either motion, telling MPs “a plague is deserved on all of our houses”.

The Prime Minister has requested two recommendations from the report be adopted, with the Code of Conduct for MPs “updated to state that any outside activity undertaken by an MP, whether renumerated or unrenumerated, should be within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from carrying out their full range of duties”.

The second reads: "The Code of Conduct for MPs and Guide to the Rules should be updated to state: MPs should not accept any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on Parliamentary affairs or on how to influence Parliament and its members.

“MPs should never accept any payment or offers of employment to act as political or Parliamentary consultants or advisors.”

Their motion will see the Committee on Standards bring forward recommendations to update the code of conduct by 31 January 2022.

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