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“I want to show that politicians are just humans too,” former Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP told the UK population as he began his contentious appearance on I’m a Celebrity. Unfortunately, his appearance, and the £400,000 he received for making it, only exemplified the growing concern around MPs’ second jobs. Now is the time to reform this poorly regulated system that enables MPs to spend more time on second jobs than in their constituencies and earn unlimited amounts of money for doing so.

The current rules around MPs’ second jobs are inexcusably flexible for non-ministers, with few limits on potential earnings or time investments outside of government. The only existing regulations are that MPs must declare their earnings and cannot accept payment for lobbying on certain issues. Strangely, however, these restrictions do not apply if six months pass between payment and lobbying, so long as there is no second payment. 

This lack of regulation creates two notable issues. First, MPs may neglect parliamentary debates and constituency work to travel and give attention to other causes, straying from their representative function. For example, Hancock faced criticism because his television appearance took him out of the constituency for three whole weeks. Similarly, Sir Brandon Lewis MP, who holds seven paid positions in addition to his role as an MP, has been attacked for holding “one job for every day of the week.” With so many additional commitments, it is easy to see why some voters in his constituency questioned his ability to devote sufficient attention to their needs.  

Second, the existing rules have not prevented some MPs from trading their access to power to further their own financial interests. This has resulted in clear conflicts of interest, which in turn has further damaged public faith in authority. For example, the former North Shropshire MP, Owen Paterson, was eventually forced to resign after improperly lobbying the Government on behalf of two companies that paid him over £100,000 a year. While existing rules, in theory, should have prevented cases like that of Paterson, they are evidently not clear enough. 

Fortunately, there are three clear solutions available to address this growing issue and improve transparency: creating time limits on when MPs can take up further commitments, implementing a cap on the amount of revenue that can be generated from these side hustles and banning certain jobs altogether, such as lobbying in conflict with government policy.

Limiting MPs’ ability to work outside of the parliamentary recess could encourage greater contact with their constituencies, boosting transparency and accountability in the process. North Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who currently hosts a programme on London-based GB News four nights a week, recently purchased a large property in Cowley Street, some three hours away from his constituency. By restricting tertiary employment to certain parts of parliamentary recess, MPs such as Rees-Mogg have less incentive to spend considerable lengths of time outside of their constituencies.

Implementing limits on the amount that MPs can earn from second jobs would also improve constituency relations and heal our liberal democracy, ensuring that their £91,000 salary can be matched but not dwarfed by other sources of income. The current lack of regulation incentivises some MPs to chase large sums from sometimes questionable sources. For instance, in a sting operation orchestrated by campaign group Led by Donkeys, former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was recorded offering his services to a non-existent South Korean firm in exchange for £10,000 daily. By contrast, if MPs could not earn such great sums from work outside of the constituency, there would be reason to spend more time on the needs of their constituents since the taxpayers would account for a greater proportion of their income. 

Finally, limiting the types of second jobs MPs can hold further reduces the probability of conflicts of interests.  MPs in occupations which mandate a regular annual commitment to their practice to maintain their practising certificates, such as doctors and lawyers, have a stronger claim to maintain second jobs. Rosena Allin-Khan MP, for example, should not be chastised for her regular work as a team doctor in Balham. By contrast Liam Fox MP, also a doctor, should be probed over his £86,000 tertiary income, none of which comes from medical practice but rather public relations. Indeed, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner MP sensibly alluded to a potential “case by case” assessment of second jobs, which would pick up on such nuance, as a ‘one size fits all approach’ is doomed to fail. 

By imposing limits on the time scale and financial proceeds of extra-parliamentary work, MP-constituency links would be strengthened, and our liberal democracy improved. Our MPs are elected to represent the interests of their constituencies, not to use their positions as a springboard to lucrative side hustles.  

George Thomas is undertaking work experience at Bright Blue.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not those of Bright Blue.

[Image: Heidi Fin]