New rules for MPs proposed in wake of lobbying scandal

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2021-11-29 19:26:00

There should be an “outright ban” on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services, a report has recommended.

The Standards Committee has unveiled its interim report into reform of the standards system in the wake of the furore generated by the Owen Paterson scandal, as well as an updated code of conduct for MPs.

The former Conservative MP was found to have broken lobbying rules with his £110,000-a-year private sector work.

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Committee chair: MPs’ conduct rules ‘need overhaul’

He later resigned as MP after Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially instructed Conservative MPs to vote in favour of a motion ignoring Mr Paterson’s month-long Commons suspension, before performing a U-turn.

The case has sparked a renewed focus on MPs’ second jobs and outside earnings, as well as the rules governing their conduct.

The committee has announced that a “senior judicial figure” will be tasked with reviewing whether the current system for dealing with alleged breaches of code of conduct is fair.

The committee and Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone are concerned that social media has allowed personal attacks which do not break the law to be “widely disseminated” in a way which “can be regarded as disreputable”.

Ministers should also publish more details about their interests, the standards committee recommends.

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Paterson had ‘fallen foul of the rules’ – PM

Mr Johnson has faced criticism for declaring a free holiday at a villa owned by the family of Conservative peer and minister Lord Goldsmith on the list of ministers’ interests and not on the parliamentary register, which would require more details to be disclosed.

It is “manifestly inappropriate for ministers to be subject to fewer and less onerous standards of registration of financial interests than members who are not ministers”, the MPs say.

Such a move could leave ministers vulnerable to investigations by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner, rather than the PM’s adviser on ministerial interests.

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‘Shame’: MPs vote against suspension of ex-minister

In its interim report, which will be followed by a final document in the new year, the cross-party committee has put forward a range of other recommendations to change the system.

These include:

• MPs should have a written contract for any outside work which explicitly states that this cannot include lobbying ministers, members or public officials, or provide advice on how to lobby or influence parliament. Employers should also provide an undertaking that they will not ask MPs to do so
• Clarifying the criteria for the “serious wrong exemption” in the current rules to make it clearer and preventing it being used as a loophole for MPs’ lobbying
• Increasing the period in which lobbying is banned following receipt of a payment from an outside interest from six months to a year
• Establish a “safe harbour” provision which will protect MPs from investigation for potential breaches of the code of conduct if they seek guidance from officials and follow it before taking up a role

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Labour MP Chris Bryant, chairman of the committee, said it had laid out a “package of reforms to bolster the rules around lobbying and conflicts of interest”.

He said: “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, these robust proposals will empower the standards system in Parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account.”

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