Parliamentary vote on paid lobbying looms as Government tries to defuse sleaze row

MPs will vote today on proposals by the Labour party to ban them from having any paid consultancies or directorships, after Boris Johnson has attempted to defuse the row with his own announcement yesterday afternoon.

Prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (inset) have repeatedly clashed over their approaches to lobbying (pic credits: Johnson – House of Commons; Starmer – Getty)
Prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (inset) have repeatedly clashed over their approaches to lobbying (pic credits: Johnson – House of Commons; Starmer – Getty)

The Prime Minister unexpectedly announced yesterday – ahead of today's vote – that MPs should be banned from being paid lobbyists, in an attempt to head off the growing allegations of sleaze that have dogged his party in particular.

The Labour-led vote is in response to a series of damaging scandals in recent weeks that have revolved around MPs acting as lobbyists, with many having second jobs.

Much of the debate has been triggered by the controversy over former cabinet minister Owen Paterson.

He resigned as an MP earlier this month amid a furious row over the Government’s attempts to prevent him being suspended for breaking lobbying rules.

A motion drafted by Labour will be binding if it is passed later today. Announcing the move, on Monday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “It should be a point of consensus that paid directorships and commercial consultancies are not jobs for MPs. The only people MPs should be lobbying for is their constituents.”

In a second motion, Labour will call for the publication of all the minutes of meetings between the Government and health firm Randox, one of the firms Paterson lobbied on behalf of. Randox has been given some £600m in COVID-19-related contracts to date.

Last-minute move

Last night Boris Johnson called for a ban on MPs working as political lobbyists. In a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, he backed some key recommendations from a 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

These included preventing MPs from accepting paid work as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, and from accepting payment or offers of employment to act as a political consultant.

Responding to Johnson's move, Starmer said: “Be under no illusion, the Prime Minister has only done this because his back was against the wall because the Labour party have put down a binding vote for tomorrow.”

PR industry reaction

Responding to Labour’s motion to crack down on MPs having second jobs, Liam Herbert, chair of the PRCA Public Affairs Board, said: “The problem is when MPs act as lobbyists. We are clear that legislators cannot also be lobbyists, full stop; distinguishing between ‘consultant lobbyists’ and any other type completely misses the point.”

He welcomed Johnson’s support for a ban on MPs working as lobbyists, but noted: “These recommendations were made in 2018 and they must now be implemented.”

CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra said: “The CIPR has long supported a ban on serving parliamentarians working as paid political consultants and would welcome a vote to enforce this in legislation.”

He added: “Indeed we would support extending this to the House of Lords and those who have recently left ministerial offices. It does little to enrich the value and experience that some second jobs can bring into Parliament and raises legitimate questions about conflicts of interest that only damage the public reputation and trust of and in our political institutions."

Industry disquiet over parliamentarians carrying out lobbying activities extends to the House of Lords.

Earlier this year, the PRCA criticised the appointment of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords by Charlotte Street Partners as a consulting partner and urged the agency to reconsider. The agency said the appointment had been cleared by the Government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

And last autumn, the House of Lords’ Commissioner for Standards rejected a complaint by the PRCA against Lord Feldman, managing partner at Tulchan. The complaint alleged that Feldman had failed to uphold ethical standards because of a “conflict of interest” between the former Conservative chairman's role as an unpaid adviser to the Government and his work for the agency.

That same month, the PRCA's Herbert dropped a complaint about the conduct of Portland after the agency severed ties with its employee, Conservative peer Lord O'Shaughnessy.

Future outlook

Today’s vote is “only the start of what we need to do”, Starmer said yesterday. He revealed how a future Labour government would “ban all second jobs” and “stop the revolving door” between the public and private sectors.

Ministers would be banned from lobbying the government for five years after leaving office. There would also be “strict rules” on donations from shell companies, the creation of a new “office for value for money” to reform the way government funds are spent, and a new independent “integrity and ethics commission”.

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