Why are there questions around MPs’ conduct?
The government has been mired in scandal in recent weeks over its failed attempt to overhaul the mechanisms which hold MPs accountable for their conduct – a move which, if successful, would have cancelled the suspension of Owen Paterson, a Conservative MP who has since resigned.
Critics have claimed politicians with second jobs – often well-paid private sector consultancy roles – are using their positions in government unethically.
Boris Johnson’s government has come under fire repeatedly during the pandemic – from the cash for honours scandal, Covid deals made with private contractors, the refurbishment of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat and the refusal to take action on claims that Priti Patel breached the ministerial code.
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What is the Commons Standards Committee report?
The Commons Standards Committee, chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant, has published its investigation into how MPs stick – or don’t stick – to the rules of conduct.
It said MPs should be completely banned from working as paid consultants as part of a new anti-sleaze code.
Any outside work should be detailed in a written contract – stating that the MP cannot lobby for the employer or company – which MPs can provide for inspection when asked.
The cross-party group of MPs and lay members also proposed a limit on the amount of time politicians can spend working second jobs, as well as a cap on how much can be earned from them.
“These aren’t the final proposals we’re putting to the house,” said Bryant. “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.”
Members should also be banned from subjecting others to “unreasonable and excessive personal attack”, according to the report, covering both in-person interactions and social media exchanges.
The proposals will now be put to consultation, with a refined version expected back in the House of Commons in spring.
“The government has committed to continually reinforcing high standards of conduct in public life so the public can have trust and confidence in the operation of government at all levels,” a Cabinet spokesperson said ahead of the report.
“It’s absolutely right that we fully take account of all of the evidence and work up the best solutions before responding.”
What do opposition parties want to change?
Labour set out proposals to reform the system which dictates MPs’ conduct, including a new independent corruption watchdog dubbed an “integrity and ethics commission”.
The reforms would include banning former Westminster politicians from consultancy work, lobbying or any paid jobs linked to their previous roles for at least five years after they leave parliament.
Speaking at an Institute for Government event on Monday, Angela Rayner said the current system was “no longer working precisely because we have a prime minister who is shameless in breaking the rules and won’t enforce consequences on others who break them”.
“Corruption – that is the word – is happening in plain sight and it is rife right through this Conservative government,” she added.
The independent watchdog would also be able to fine former ministers who break these rules in a bid to cut incentives for past politicians to pick up well-paying roles with companies they used to have authority over.
It could also launch independent investigations into allegations of corruption without the prime minister’s approval and demand ministers are removed from their positions if found to have breached standards rules.
“Never again will a prime minister and his ministers be able to break the rules with impunity because the rules are too weak,” Rayner said. “They aren’t enforced and it is the prime minister himself in charge of them.
“Boris Johnson’s corruption means that we must now urgently rebuild trust in our politics, in public office and in government as a force for good.”