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Politics

How to find out if your MP has a second job… and how much they get for it

For a salary of £81,932 you’d expect that to be a full time job, right?

Roughly one in three UK MPs had at least one job or other commitment outside of parliament during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to recent reports.

And what’s wrong with that? More than half of all employed adults in the UK reportedly have a ‘side hustle’ to boost their income, so why shouldn’t MPs?

Well, it’s not quite so simple when you’re responsible for running the country fairly, according to the law, and without corruption. 

Especially, if MPs are found to be working on that second job while in the House of Commons, as Sir Geoffrey Cox has be caught doing.

We break down what’s going in the scandal and how you can keep an eye on your MP’s additional sources of income.

Why are MP’s second jobs suddenly in the spotlight?

Sir Geoffrey Cox is the most recent MP to feel the heat in the row over ‘Tory sleaze,’ for his eye-watering £1million a year legal earnings.

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The Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon took part in parliamentary votes while in the British Virgin Islands working for his other job for law firm Withers. He was in the tax-haven representing the country’s government in an inquiry into governance and possible corruption, reports The Mail.

Last month, the resignation of former Tory minister Owen Paterson has thrown MP’s second jobs into the spotlight. An investigation found Paterson had lobbied ministers on behalf of companies which were paying him around £100,000 as a consultant. 

An investigation by the Commons standards committee found that he had “breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy” in the code of conduct for MPs, and was set to be handed a 30-day suspension.

But instead, the government  proposed a new Conservative-led committee to monitor MPs’ conduct, bypassing the standard procedure to set up a new one and cancelling Paterson’s suspension. Unsurprisingly, this only fanned the flames of anger at ‘Tory sleaze’. Paterson resigned, angering Tory MPs who had the day before been instructed to save his career.

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In an emergency debate in the House of Commons to address the scandal, MPs launched a blistering attack on an absent Boris Johnson for trying to overturn the suspension of Paterson and shut down parliament’s standards committee entirely.

The scandal has highlighted just how much money these public servants are making on top of their £81,932 (minimum) salary, for what seems to be very few hours of work.  

What are the rules around MPs getting second jobs?

MPs are allowed second jobs, so long as they are not a minister with the power to enact executive orders in their specific areas. This law was introduced in 1995 to reduce the number of politicians with no experience of the real world and therefore no connection with their constituents. But it can be exploited.

Some MPs act as consultants, paid by a business for their expert insight on parliamentary processes and current debates or legislation relevant to the business. It is when the lines blur, when MPs are found to be influencing legislation in favour of the businesses they represent, that it breaches the standards expected of elected representatives.

Second jobs aren’t all bad though, and many do not work in business. Dr Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, works as an NHS paediatrician, earning nearly £18,000 a year for part-time hours of 336 hours a year, and Sarah Atherton, Wrexham’s Conservative MP, worked as a part-time nurse at Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

MPs must publicly declare any additional income, along with gifts, donations and shareholdings over 15 per cent of their salary, so anything over around £12,000 if they’re on the basic MP’s salary of £81,932.

Is being an MP a full time job?

The job description of an MP doesn’t stipulate the number of hours, unlike most job contracts that require a 35 to 40 hour work week.

The job of an MP involves attending debates in parliament and running clinics with their constituents – it’s meant to be the public interest that they represent in government. 

Parliamentary sessions take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for around eight hours per day. 

Parliament doesn’t actually sit on the majority of Fridays – (it will do so only eight times in 2021), nor Monday mornings, so this is the time that many MPs will do case work for the members of their constituency. 

But they don’t have to turn up to listen and participate in every debate – only to cast their vote. Only 30 MPs were actually present to debate cutting universal credit.

So, it would seem that MPs are free to manage their own time and commitments.

Who’s earning the most?

MP’s second jobs are earning them anything from an extra £50 to more than £1 million per year

The National World investigation found that former prime minister Theresa May was the MP who earned the most from extra work in 2020, registering £1,299,107, largely for speeches.

Second is Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general who was found to have registered £899,929 working as a barrister. The Daily Mail reported that he earned vast sums while representing the British Virgin Islands in a corruption case against the government, and that he voted in Parliament by proxy while working in the Caribbean Islands in April and May 2021.

The MP with the most extra jobs is Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield who currently holds six consultancy roles, supporting investment banks and accountancy firms. He has registered more than £180,000 for 34.5 days’ work. This works out to £5,217 per hour

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Julian Smith, Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon is earning £144,000 for 62-84 hours of work for three companies, one of which involves advising on energy and renewable fuels. This works out to between £2,323 and £1,714 per hour. 

Chris Grayling, the former transport and justice secretary and Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, receives £100,000 from port operator Hutchison Ports, based in the British Virgin Islands. 

Where can you find out whether your MP has a second job?

To find out whether your MP has a second, third, or even seventh job, and what they earn from it, you can check the register of MPs’ financial interests.

The register exists to keep an eye on any financial interests or benefits that could influence an MP while doing their job as a member of parliament. 

Any new employment or earnings, gifts received, and land and property owned by an MP must be listed on the register. 

The register is arranged according to parliamentary sessions, which are between ten and 12 months long and it is updated fortnightly when the House is sitting, and less frequently at other times – such as summer recess. 

In the most recent publication spanning October 19 to November 1 2021, you’ll find Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, at the top. She received four payments from the Guardian totalling £758.80, as well as payments from Operation Black Vote, the BBC and publishing company Viking Penguin. 

And at the bottom, Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, who seems to really like completing surveys for the Parliamentary Panel Survey at £75 a pop. 

Somewhere in the middle, you might be interested to find Sir Mike Penning, Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead, who receives a monthly salary of £2,916 from business management consultancy JT Consultancy Ltd for ten hours of work. He also employs his wife as his office manager. 

However, the register has been described as a ‘dusty relic of a bygone analogue age’ by an anti-corruption group, so it might be time for better system.

When does a second job become ‘sleazy’?

The crucial thing when it comes to consulting roles, is that the MP must not lobby or influence parliament on behalf of that business. So they mustn’t act as influencers to sell products, win contracts or curry favour for the company they are working for. 

This is where Owen Paterson went wrong by securing benefits for two companies that he was paid as a consultant for. 

“This is an egregious case of paid advocacy,” reads the report that brought the scandal to light.

Paterson “repeatedly failed to perceive his conflict of interest and used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant… He has brought the House into disrepute.” 

Some MPs hold consulting roles that link to their previous or current work in government. There is no suggestion that they have broken the rules, and have declared their income in the register of MP financial interests. 

Conservative MP John Hayes, who previously served as the energy minister to David Cameron, received at least £150,000 over three years from an oil and gas firm, openDemocracy recently revealed.

Since leaving his role as health minister in 2019, Conservative MP Steve Brine has joined three firms, including Sigma Pharmaceuticals, earning almost £60,000.

#Torysleaze also started trending with #Torysewageparty after Tory MPs voted to allow water firms to carry on dumping sewage in rivers.

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