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MPs raked in £500,000 while government flip-flopped over second jobs

Revealed: Theresa May and Geoffrey Cox were among MPs who made more than £80,000 in just four months

Adam Bychawski
17 March 2022, 6.34pm
Former prime minister Theresa May earned the most from work outside Parliament of any Tory MP
Michal Busko/Alamy Live News

The 20 highest-earning MPs raked in nearly half a million pounds from second jobs in the four months it took the government to U-turn on plans for a clampdown.

Former prime minister Theresa May and the Conservative MP and barrister Geoffrey Cox are among those whose private earnings since November total more than their entire annual parliamentary salary of £81,932. In total, the highest earners made £473,100 in that time.

It was revealed today that ministers had quietly abandoned their pledge to limit what MPs could earn from activities outside Parliament, made in November in the wake of the lobbying scandal sparked by Owen Paterson.

Paterson, a Tory MP, broke parliamentary rules by lobbying on behalf of two companies from whom he received at least £500,000 in payments.

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But the government on Tuesday told the Standards Committee, which is holding a consultation over changes to the MP’s Code of Conduct, that capping what MPs could earn, or how much they could work, outside the Commons would be “impractical”.

Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and Mark Spencer, the leader of the House of Commons, told the committee in the government’s written submission the cap on earnings “could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system”, citing “writing books” as an example.

Boris Johnson previously declared £88,000 as an advance from the publisher Hodder & Stoughton for a book “as yet unwritten” in 2015.

More rules mean more training, and thus creates more opportunities to make a mistake

Tory MP Bill Wiggin

Despite Tory MPs voting unanimously in favour of the prime minister’s plans to place “reasonable limits” on MPs’ outside activities in November, several subsequently wrote to the standards committee rejecting a cap on second jobs.

“Limiting time or limiting income does not improve the honesty and integrity of the system – it just creates more opportunity for errors,” wrote the Tory MP Bill Wiggin.

“More rules mean more training, and thus creates more opportunities to make a mistake,” he added.

Wiggin was one of the ten highest earning MPs last year, receiving more than £80,000 from outside work.

The Herefordshire MP has declared the £49,000 annual salary, and further £21,000 in fees, he earns as a director at four separate investment companies based in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in the members’ register of financial interests.

In the four months since Johnson won a vote on changes to the MPs’ Code of Conduct, Wiggin has earned £12,000.

Another Tory MP, Philip Dunne, who earns £3,400 a month in his second job as a non-executive director of an aerospace company, warned that a previous ban on paid parliamentary consultancy in the House of Lords had “led to the loss of experienced and qualified experts from parliamentary discourse”.

The government said it would support rule changes to “restrict the type of outside work which MPs are able to undertake” but it did not elaborate on what limits should be placed on MPs aside from supporting a ban on “paid parliamentary advice, consultancy, or strategy services”.

By contrast, the government’s own ethics watchdog said that there should be an “objective means of setting reasonable limits” on earnings by MPs from second jobs.

“We believe the Standards Committee and the House should set an indicative limit of hours and remuneration, with a rebuttable presumption that paid outside employment exceeding those limits would be considered unreasonable,” Lord Evans, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said in his written submission.

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