- The House of Commons Standards Committee has published a report proposing updates to MPs rules.
- MPs who hold ministerial posts will have to declare gifts and hospitality given to them in a ministerial capacity to Parliament.
- Campaigners welcome many of the reforms but some say more action is needed on MPs second jobs.
Campaigners have cautiously welcomed proposals from a Parliamentary committee to tighten rules for MPs on declaring freebies and bans on lobbying, while urging more action on second jobs and the necessity to uphold ethical standards in public life.
The cross-party Standards Committee’s recommendations, which must be approved by the House of Commons, include:
- The end of the exemption for MPs who are ministers, where if they were given a gift or received hospitality, they could argue it was in their ministerial capacity. As a result, they would not have to declare it to Parliament but it would be published on a slower time scale by the government. The new rule would require ministers to declare all gifts and hospitality to Parliament within 28 days.
- An update to the Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life to make them more specific to the work of MPs, including making explicit in the revised principles that MPs should “exemplify anti-discriminatory attitudes in their own behaviour”.
- A ban on MPs providing any form of parliamentary advice, consultancy, or strategy services, while also firming up rules banning MPs from lobbying the government on behalf of an outside interest who is rewarding the MP in some way.
- Requiring MPs to provide the sleaze watchdog, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, with a copy of a contract for any outside work they have, on request.
These reforms were broadly welcomed by think tanks and campaigners Insider spoke to ahead of the report’s release.
The change to the Nolan Principles was not met with universal support on the committee, however, with four of the non-elected lay members of the committee noting their dissent.
Instead of just noting the requirement for MPs to exemplify “anti-discriminatory attitudes”, the lay members say MPs should demonstrate “anti-racism, anti-misogynistic attitudes, inclusion and diversity”.
Dr Hannah White, deputy director at the Institute for Government, says the committee’s proposal is an important first step in official Parliamentary recognition of a tailored version of the Nolan principles.
“It’s welcome that the committee has stuck with its proposal to include specific reference to the importance of MPs exemplifying anti-discriminatory attitudes – in the face of government opposition to this change. However, in light of recent concerns about harassment and misogyny in Parliament it’s notable that four of the Committee’s lay members argued that it should have gone further and also required MPs to demonstrate anti-misogynistic attitudes,” she told Insider.
“The Committee’s repeated emphasis on the fact that the principles are not an investigable aspect of the code is accurate but may have the unfortunate effect of weakening MPs’ perceptions of their importance.
The proposal to change the rules on how ministers declare gifts is likely to cause friction with the government.
But the committee sided with witnesses, including this reporter, who argued having one rule for backbench MPs and another for ministers did not make sense, with campaigners at Transparency International UK saying it was a “perverse situation”.
Rose Whiffen is a research officer at Transparency International UK. She welcomed the proposals in the report.
“It’s heartening to see so many of our recommendations featured in the Committee’s final report, which is the first review of the Commons rule book for years. Revising the rules on gifts and hospitality will improve transparency and end the current oddity whereby backbenchers are subject to stricter reporting requirements than ministers,” she said. “To help restore confidence in the probity of our politicians, these much-needed changes to Parliament’s rules should be introduced without delay.”
The question of an explicit ban or limitations on second jobs, however, remains unaddressed by the committee. While the report does introduce a ban on MPs from giving advice on Parliamentary proceedings, such as preparing witnesses for select committee appearances, it concludes it should be down to the electorate to decide if an MP’s second job is acceptable.
Tom Brake, a former Liberal Democrat MP, now runs the campaign group Unlock Democracy. He said while changes to the lobbying rules were welcome, the committee had missed an opportunity to take strong action on second jobs.
“Scrapping the arbitrary distinction between initiating and participating in proceedings, which provided cover for covert lobbying is welcome. Less welcome is the committee’s unwillingness to tackle MPs second jobs”, Brake told Insider. “Recognising people expect MPs to focus on their constituency roles, without willing the means to ensure that they do, is a cop out.”
The committee also concluded that it would keep the requirement for MPs to have to declare if any close family members are involved in lobbying. In the report, the committee cited this reporter’s evidence as a reason they u-turned on their original proposal to scrap the requirement.