A quarter of the Tory MPs who backed Owen Paterson in a sleaze row this week hold second jobs.
A recent report by the committee on standards in public life revealed that 119 MPs had regular paid roles on top of their constituency duties – around a fifth of the total number.
Paterson – a former cabinet minister – resigned on Thursday after the government performed an abrupt U-turn, having initially whipped MPs to back in a lobbying row.
He had faced a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after being found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules by the independent standards commissioner.
MPs are allowed to take on outside jobs but are banned from lobbying on behalf of their employers for six months after they have received payment.
Analysis by The Times found that 15 of 59 MPs who put their names to a controversial amendment to rewrite parliamentary disciplinary procedure have second jobs – including former ministers who are paid tens of thousands of pounds by companies which focus on their previous brief.
Among those MPs is Andrew Mitchell, who earns £180,000 from six consultancy jobs. The former international development secretary is a senior adviser on African affairs to SouthBridge, an investment bank providing “panAfrican financial and advisory solutions for clients across Africa”.
Chris Grayling, the ex-transport secretary, earns £100,000 a year advising Hutchison Ports Europe, a logistics firm.
A further 14 of the 59 MPs who signed the amendment have previously had standards breach complaints made against them upheld.
Elizabeth David-Barrett, director of the Centre for the Study of Corruption at Sussex University, told The Times: “It looks remarkably suspicious that so many MPs that have benefited from similar second jobs to Owen Paterson proposed this amendment to undermine the current system of regulation when they could be seen to have an interest in being less likely to be subject to an investigation under that very system.”
‘Attack on democracy’
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said: “A good number of MPs will have personal experience or circumstances that would have made it hard for them to consider the amendment on the standards process objectively. A close vote underscores the importance of these matters proceeding with care, and preferably by consensus. The government’s response to the standards committee’s report this week did neither of these.”
Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, added: “The fact that so many MPs who have second jobs and could face scrutiny from the standards commissioner pushed to weaken the system will look to many as an extraordinary act of self-interest.
“There is a real question here as to whether they should have recused themselves from the vote or stated that they were conflicted before doing so.”
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, said: “You can be a paid lobbyist or you can be an MP. You can’t be both.
“Not only was this an attack on our democracy, it was also a blatant attempt to replace the independent anticorruption watchdog with a kangaroo court of Conservative stooges who would have given a green light to dodgy lobbying.
“This vote was less a conflict of interest and more a corrupt closing of the ranks. Members of parliament are elected to serve their constituents, not private interests that line their pockets.”
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