The recent actions by the government in shamefully attempting to defend corruption have done considerable damage to the credibility of Parliament and people’s trust in both politicians and our political system. The actions of the Prime Minister, and others in the Conservative Party, have shown such a blatant disregard for accountability, so vital to our democracy, one can only assume that this was the intention. I have covered in a previous blog the numerous attacks on our democracy by this government. However, this blog will cover issues around money and benefits received from MPs holding additional jobs outside Parliament and how this potentially impacts our political system.
Rather than a ‘job’ perhaps a more accurate description of these extra-parliamentary roles taken on by many MPs in the House of Commons would be ‘sinecure’, the definition of which is:
‘A position requiring little or no work, but giving the holder status or financial benefit’.
Scanning through the register of members’ interests this description would seem to apply to a considerable number of MPs in the House of Commons. This register has been a requirement since May 1974, the purpose of which is to provide information about any financial interest which an MP has, or any benefit which they receive, which others might reasonably consider influencing his or her actions or words as an MP.
Examples of these payments and benefits are shown below. As it is a partial list, you can view the full register here, I have not named the MPs the information is related to:
- £250 for completing an Ipso MORI survey – time taken 2 hours
- £2,500 income per month for 8-10 hours work per month as non-Exec Director
- £480 ticket to Royal Box at Wimbledon
- 2 tickets to the Wimbledon Singles Final worth £1,545.60
- £1,961 Ticket to England vs Germany provided by betting company
- £16,600 for 40 hours work on providing advice to a betting company on responsible gambling and customer service
- £30,000 a year as Chair of a venture capital trust for 32 hours of work
- £700 for two ticket to the FA Community Shield provided by a fast food firm
- £2,500 a quarter, for a commitment of 3 hours per quarter, as an adviser on communications and marketing strategy to a limited company
- £200 as a panel member for BBC ‘Any Questions’
- Free membership of the Carlton Club
- £12,000 per year as an adviser for a teak growing company for an expected yearly commitment of 96 hours
- Strategic Adviser to a healthcare recruitment company, receiving £1,600 a month for up to 8 hours a month. This MP had a duplicate arrangement as a strategic adviser to another company on the same terms
- £75 for a Savanta Com Res survey – time taken 15 minutes
- Ticket to the Brit Awards worth £850
- £468,000 + VAT, consultant to law firm, for expected commitment of 48 hours a month
- £27,000 per year plus expenses as Non-Executive Director of Horse Racing related board, 10 hours per month commitment
- £3,600 ticket and hospitality for England vs Italy Euros final from a civil engineering company
- £5,000 a month +50,000 share options as member of advisory board for communications company – expected commitment of 10 hours a month.
I think you get the drift. The examples above are just a fraction of the entries in the register, which runs to 338 pages and records employment and earnings, and includes gifts and hospitality, donations, shareholdings, and land ownership.
The information contained within the register raises several concerns.
- It would be naive to think that a company would employ an MP as a strategic adviser for a considerable amount of money, for very few hours worked – and expect nothing in return. The rules around lobbying can be read here and forbid paid advocacy in the house. However, it is hard to see that there wouldn’t be conflicts of interest between the public and personal (or employers) interest and there are a number of grey areas which can be exploited. Further, I would suggest that it is not just positive actions that should be regarded as advocacy, but also the absence of any action when a policy is discussed in Parliament. Of course, this passive advocacy would be extremely difficult to prove, hence the problem with paid second jobs.
- While in some cases the time commitment is very small, in others it is extensive. One has to question how much these extra-parliamentary roles impact on their primary duty to their constituents
- In some cases, the extent of the time commitments outside parliament seems so extensive it would seem that their role of an MP is viewed as a side-line, and primarily to provide status, for paid employment in outside roles.
- Everyone loves a freebie, but it is remarkable how many freebies are dished out to those that can most afford to pay for them. Looking through the hospitality provided to MPs the amount of free tickets provided by betting companies raises an eyebrow, as it is such a controversial area in light of the tactics used by betting companies to ensnare vulnerable customers. Again, it is not a direct inducement, and I am not suggesting that tickets for a cup final are given to an MP to push through a particular policy, but it could even sub-conciously, pressure an obligation to the provider of the freebie. I’m not suggesting an outright ban on hospitality, but I would limit its extent and who can provide it.
MPs carry out a vital role in our society and deal with issues that can literally be a matter of life or death for their constituents. They also play a significant role in our democracy as part of the legislature holding the government to account. Transparency is vital, and to a limited extent the register provides it, but the potential conflict of interests presented by paid roles outside of Parliament present too much of a risk to our political system. Of course, there will be some MPs that would be horrified if their elected position was their only paid role. You may recall an MP recently stated that their £82,000 salary was really grim. I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy for this view.
Of course, all MPs have an employment history before they became an MP and will be influenced by previous life experience and affiliations. However, the sheer number of paid directorship and advisory roles taken on by MPs increases the risk of corruption in our political system and skews our democracy in favour of corporate interests.
The primary role of an MP is to represent the interests and concerns of the constituents that elected them. If they can’t carry this role out without additional payments, benefits and distractions from additional jobs, perhaps they should move aside for people that will.
5th November 2021
The rules on lobbying for MPs: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmcode/1882/188206.htm#_idTextAnchor052
Is it all over for our democracy? Blog by the author: https://julianvaughan.blog/2020/12/08/is-it-all-over-for-our-uk-democracy/