Ethical standards of politicians

Until 1911 Members of Parliament were not paid. This reserved the role to men of means who had either sufficient private wealth or whose main job, often in the City or the law courts, enabled them to make their living. The hours parliament sat reflected their need to do the day job in the mornings and afternoons. The hours have not changed very much even today – as well as the fact the parliament sits only part of the year.

The election of the first Labour MPs put pressure upon the purely unpaid Gentlemen’s Club nature of the House. These MPs could not do the job unpaid and had to rely upon Trade Union contributions in order to make ends meet until salaries – at £400 per year – were introduced.

But those who had relied upon income from other jobs were permitted to continue doing so. In 1974 a Register of MPs’ Outside Paid Interests was introduced, and in 1995 MPs were finally required to disclose the amount of remuneration they received. This has enabled the public and media to keep an eye on what extra jobs MPs are doing and whether or not they were using their privileged position as MPs to favour the organisations that paid them.

But strangely, no-one seems to have questioned that it is rather odd that MPs can claim to do their jobs effectively whilst also doing others. In many other full-time jobs employers do not favour their employees taking on extra hours elsewhere. The question is therefore – is being an MP a full or part time job?

Having served as Bedford and Kempston’s Member of Parliament for 13 years, I know for a fact that being an MP is very much a full-time job. An MP that holds down several jobs at the same time, can only be a part time MP.

This is a challenge to all MPs, irrespective of party. Whilst the majority of MPs with paid outside jobs are Conservative, there are Lib Dems and Labour MPs also in the list.

How can it be right that the public pays MPs £65,000 per year for a significant minority of them to regard that as part time pay for a part time job? How can that behaviour help to restore trust in the democratic system?

There was rightly a storm over the abuse of expenses. How about a proper debate about the nature of the role of MP and the ethics of paid non parliamentary extra jobs?

Read my letter to the Bedfordshire on Sunday asking whether it is right that Bedford’s Conservative MP is earning £78,000 on top of his parliamentary salary for outside work.

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