Watchdog calls for ban on MP consultancy work

07 December 2021 3 min. read
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Calls to ban sitting MPs from paid consulting work have escalated, with Parliament’s Commons standards committee having included in a raft of proposed anti-sleaze rules. The committee hopes to put a final version of its plan to a Commons vote by Easter 2022.

Tensions in Westminster continue to simmer, as the scandal surrounding former Conservative MP Owen Paterson remains in the headlines. Earlier in the year, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards determined Paterson had breached paid advocacy rules, after representing private firms in calls coinciding with their being awarded lucrative government contracts.

The scandal eventually led to a vote in the House of Commons regarding the banning of MPs working as consultants. The vote was initially set to be triggered by Labour MPs during an opposition day debate – however Prime Minister Boris Johnson eventually tabled an amendment for an upcoming Commons standards committee report.

Watchdog calls for ban on MP consultancy work

It included an update to the MPs’ code of conduct and a ban on MPs working as paid consultants or lobbyists, adding that any external paid or unpaid position held by an MP should be “within reasonable limits.” However, it did not rule out MPs taking up paid directorships or acting as consultants on matters that are not deemed political – something which led Labour to claim the amendment was a “watered down” of its own plan.

Despite this, the amendment eventually passed by 297 votes to 0. The vote meant the Commons standards committee would have to consider the amendment, and set out its recommendations to update the MP’s code of conduct by the end of January. Ahead of that schedule, the committee published a report, featuring likely recommendations which it is now open to consult upon.

Among the suggestions, there is indeed a recommendation that MPs should face a complete ban on working as paid consultants. At the same time, the recommendations suggest ministers should be more open about any potential conflicts of interest. Other recommendations in the report from the Commons standards committee include an obligation for MPs to have a written contract for any outside work, available for inspection if needed, and which would spell out that they cannot lobby on behalf of the employer.

Commenting on the report, Chris Bryant, the Chair of the standards committee, said, “These aren’t the final proposals we’re putting to the house. This report is the committee’s informed view on what changes we need to tighten up the rules and crack down on conflicts of interests following a detailed evidence-led inquiry. We will consult and hear wider views on what we’ve published today before putting a final report to the house for a decision in the new year.”

If approved, the proposals will seek to empower the standards system in Parliament, after the dramatic knock they took during the Paterson gate, and help to better hold MPs who break the rules to account. With the proposals already having been agreed unanimously by the cross-party group of MPs and seven co-opted lay members on the committee, they will undergo open consultation, before a final version is expected to be put to a Commons vote by Easter.