Labour on Thursday accused Boris Johnson of reneging on a crackdown on MPs’ second jobs as Downing Street said certain restrictions would be impractical.
The prime minister came under pressure last year to curtail MPs’ earnings from second jobs after former minister Owen Paterson was found to have broken House of Commons rules in an “egregious case of paid advocacy”.
Johnson was strongly criticised for his failed attempt to both overhaul the Commons standards regime and save Paterson’s political career after the former environment secretary used his role as an MP to benefit two companies for which he was a paid consultant.
Johnson subsequently pledged to review the rules surrounding outside work by MPs.
But Downing Street said on Thursday it was “not practical” to introduce a time limit on MPs’ sources of employment beyond parliament. “We think it’s not necessarily the time spent which determines whether something is acceptable to constituents or the general public,” said a spokesperson.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Johnson of “breaking his promise” to reform the rules surrounding MPs’ second jobs and said he lacked “trust and moral authority”.
Starmer said Johnson was “saying one thing and doing another”. “He said he was going to deal with second jobs, there was going to be this cap at the height of this scandal of his own making,” he said. “And now, since he gets the opportunity, he is breaking his promises yet again.”
The Commons’ standards committee is undertaking an inquiry into MPs’ outside interests.
Steve Barclay, Downing Street chief staff and Cabinet Office minister, said in a submission to the committee that it would be “impractical” to impose “fixed constraints” on MPs’ outside work.
In his submission, first reported by The Guardian, Barclay said introducing a time limit “would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns over paid advocacy and the primary duty of MPs to serve their constituents”.
Barclay added: “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.”
Several cabinet ministers have endorsed the idea of a cap on the amount of time MPs spend on their outside work.
Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister and justice secretary, suggested last year outside earnings could be restricted in “one of two ways”. “You could do it by the amount or you could do it by the number of hours,” he said.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, international trade secretary, suggested there could be a limit of 10 to 15 hours a week on MPs’ outside work.
Downing Street said that it was hopeful that the standards committee would finalise its proposals soon and MPs would “come to a cross party consensus”.
Government insiders said Johnson would back plans to ban MPs from taking on paid parliamentary lobbying or consultancy services.
Thangam Debbonaire, shadow leader of the Commons, said Labour would ban all directorships and paid consultancy.