Moonlit MPs earn more than ever from second jobs, despite ‘crackdown’

MPs are making more money than ever from second jobs despite government promises to crack down on the practice, a year after the Owen Paterson scandal, a Observer the investigation found.

Of the 129 MPs who earned more than £2,000 from external income between October 2021 and September 2022, 86 – including former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – earned more or the same amount as the previous year.

Collectively, MPs have earned more than £5.3m from outside work over that period, with many, including former cabinet ministers, taking on new roles such as advisers and non-managers over the past year for companies that in many cases they were run by major party donors.

Many took jobs in areas they used to oversee the government.

Former education secretary Gavin Williamson took over in June as chairman of the advisory board of RTC Education Ltd, a private education group whose chairman Maurizio Bragagni and chief executive Selva Pankaj are major donors to the Conservative party.

Williamson was expected to earn £50,000 a year for a total of 80 hours of work. The Observer Understands that he left the role in October after being offered a position in Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, from which he later resigned after allegations of bullying.

Former Social Care Minister Caroline Dinenage was appointed in March as an independent non-executive director of LNT Care Developments Group, a developer and builder of residential care homes, a role worth £30,000 a year for 15 hours’ work per month.

LNT Care Developments Group founder and racing magnate Dr Lawrence Tomlinson has donated at least £91,000 to Conservatives and individual Tory MPs since 2017 directly and through LNT, according to the Electoral Commission.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore has seen his external income rise from £10,960 to over £62,000, thanks to a quadrupling of his salary by the Oxford International Education Group, a private company that connects overseas students with universities of the UK, when he was appointed non-executive director in May.

Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling earned £100,840 from outside work, much of it remaining in his £100,000-a-year role as a councilor at shipping company Hutchison Ports, for which he works seven hours a week.

Former Attorney General Cox earned more than £1million in fees as a solicitor, while Tory MP Fiona Bruce earned £281,415 from her legal work with Fiona Bruce and Co LLP.

Cox was charged last year with a conflict of interest, after it was revealed he lobbied against stricter financial regulation in the Cayman Islands while making tens of thousands of pounds from law firms based in the tax haven.

In a statement, he said al Observer: “There is no conflict of interest between my work as a lawyer and my role as a deputy” due to the impartiality which is “essential for the administration of justice”. He stressed that many MPs continue legal work while in parliament and the role was “no more time consuming and demanding than the role of solicitor general” he once held.

While she has not commented on the ObserverAccording to Bruce’s findings, by email, Bruce pointed out that much of the money listed in his earnings this year and last year was related to tax debts rather than his actual income.

Gavin Williamson was expected to earn £50,000 a year from a private education group before accepting a role in Rishi Sunak’s government. Photography: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons standards committee, told al Observer he said he was “irritated” by the government’s lack of progress in issuing even “simple recommendations” that could curb the impact of lobbying in parliament, while campaigners said penalties for MPs who flout the rules must be more severe.

MPs’ second jobs were the subject of a major controversy a year ago after the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found then Conservative MP Owen Paterson had breached the ministerial code of conduct by misusing resources, engaging in lobbying paid and not disclosing interest.

Evidence of Paterson’s lobbying was originally discovered by the Keeper. Randox, a healthcare firm, paid the former Northern Ireland secretary £100,000 a year to be its adviser. It turned out that he had lobbied ministers on behalf of Randox and another firm that paid him.

Aside from Cox and Bruce, the top earners included former Prime Minister Theresa May and former and current ministers John Redwood, Andrew Mitchell and John Hayes, all of whom have listed six-figure earnings over the past year.

Of the 247 MPs, 148 (or 59%) who listed any outside earnings last year were Conservatives, rising to 73% for those earning more than £2,000. Twenty-two of the 25 with the highest recorded earners were Conservatives.

“The standards committee completed its report months ago. We want to tighten the rules on side jobs to put an end to MPs acting as political advisers or paid strategists,” Bryant said. “We want to require MPs to have a contract for any outside job stating they cannot lobby ministers or officials on behalf of their clients”.

Susan Hawley, executive director of the charity Spotlight on Corruption, said: “Members of Parliament are paid by taxpayers to do a job: to represent the interests of their constituents. Unfortunately, the system we have today fails to adequately ensure that MPs focus on the job they were elected to do – that needs to change.”

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