Unsurprisingly, I’ve had quite a few emails demanding that MPs should be prohibited from taking second jobs. We rarely apply such a restriction to anyone else in society, so I’m not yet persuaded that it should apply to MPs. The argument for making such an exclusive arrangement for MPs would not necessarily be that they won’t give enough time an attention to their ‘proper job’ because that might apply to anyone with a second job. Rather, a more persuasive reason for excluding MPs from the possibility of ‘moonlighting’ would be that their other remunerated interests might unduly influence them when legislating. The way to deal with this possibility is to require full disclosure and to outlaw advocacy and lobbying. This is exactly what the current rules do. Of course, there will always be scope for some tightening up, but as we’ve seen recently, the penalty for breaking the existing rules can be devastating.
A hundred or so MPs are on the Government payroll: In addition to their duties as MPs they have very demanding jobs as ministers -for which they are quite properly paid. In my opinion they are not paid nearly enough for the hours that they work and the responsibilities that they carry. It seems to me absurd that we pay the Prime Minister only £79,000 (in addition to the £82,000 we pay him for being an MP) which compares very unfavourably with senior roles in industry and the public services.
Given that we accept that MPs can have second jobs as ministers, it would be rather unfair to exclude the possibility of additional earning for extra responsibilities for MPs who are not ministers. That is why we don’t. On the contrary, MPs who are selected to chair legislative standing committees, select committees, or the Commons itself as Speaker and deputy speakers are paid for it.
If we accept that MPs, in addition to their responsibility to represent their constituents, have time to carry out these functions and be paid for them. Why should they not also do so by carrying on -in moderation- their former professions as nurses, doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, or whatever?
In Parliament we have all of the above, and we are better off for it. We are better informed by having professionals who are still up to date in their fields with their finger on the pulse with what is happening in industry, business and the NHS.
I think it would be a great shame if we were to become a class of professional politicians increasingly detached from the experience and expertise of life outside Parliament.
As for independence of mind, as a whip, I always found it much more difficult to lean on MPs for whom their political career was not the ‘be-all and end-all’ and who had other professional interests to fall back on.
It seems to me that the greater danger is not that we are too open to undue influence, but rather that we would excluding from our deliberations people of great knowledge and ability, who might command significantly greater remuneration elsewhere. In short, the danger is mediocrity.
Of course the solution to that one, would be to pay MPs so much more. My political antenna tell me that this would be deeply unpopular. So, be careful what you wish for.