Over the last few weeks there have been various cases of MPs with significant business gains and lobbying cases. Some of these have clearly led to a strong benefit for businesses that have received contracts which have not been sourced through a tender. There are also examples which demonstrate that some of the companies which have gained contracts have done so without any experience of the work. Sadly this is not a new approach in Parliament and I can recall in the past how some Government members have tried to justify this behaviour by claiming that MPs should learn a great deal from having secondary outside jobs. They had indicated that if MPs spend all of their working time in the House of Commons and in their constituencies that somehow that is not sufficient for them to be an effective MP. I recall how a few years ago before Priti Patel became the Home Secretary that she was earning £1000 an hour working for a company and yet at the same time she was criticising charities that were paying their senior staff more than £100,000 a year which is about £48 per hour, so about one 20th of the value she received. It is clear from the more recent cases that some of her colleagues in Parliament are earning substantially more than £100,000 for far fewer hours although from businesses, not from charities. In some senses there is a similarity between the way that income is provided for charities and how it is raised for the public sector that pays MPs, Councillors and indeed Civil Servants. Of course, there are some senior Civil Servants and most Ministers who earn far more than £100,000 a year, although the MPs currently earn just below £82,000. Indeed, that is why a few weeks ago Peter Bottomley who is the MP for West Worthing raised the suggestion that the income for MPs should be increased by around 25% so that their salary would go over £100,000. The debate for Councillors has not yet emerged in the same way but clearly our representatives need to be rewarded for working on our behalf.
It is clear that this sort of theme will always be very difficult to be dealt with publicly. In part because most of us who pay tax and therefore are funding the Government and Councils earn far smaller wages than the MPs do even at the moment. However, there are people who I have spoken to who would not oppose the MPs to earn a meaningful income. Partly because along with some of the highest paid public sector people, that people at the high end of some businesses also earn substantially more than £82,000 each year. Although of course they are not the majority in our nation there are many people involved and one argument is that we need MPs from a wide range of backgrounds. Another strong argument is that what most of us would call for is a very clear end to private sector sources being able to financially influence MPs or indeed Councillors. That is not the same as MPs being prevented from meeting with businesses in their constituencies and indeed they should all learn from these opportunities so they can then respond in Parliament. Along with businesses there are charities and other agencies in every constituency which needs their MP to engage with them without there being any funding requirements. In addition, because most of the businesses in our area are Micro or Small Businesses, they could not fund an MP in the way these high-profile businesses have done so. Yet they could benefit from Parliamentary tributes along with the Charities.
A recent example of the strength of this approach came last Tuesday during a Topical Questions debate with the Minister for Justice. The MP who opened the discussion was Caroline Ansell who is the MP for Eastbourne. She then stated
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s work to bring together employers in the offender employment summit, and the significant investment that is to come. One more key element to addressing reoffending is the third sector. Will he join me in paying tribute to Sussex Pathways, which does such tremendous work for offenders pre and post release, so that they can make good on some of the opportunities afforded them in prison?
As it happens the Sussex Pathways Charity is one that I helped to form in 2008 and whilst I am no longer involved in it, I am delighted when local Charities such as Pathways can influence and inform our local MPs such as this. Perhaps we can see a repeat of this sort of approach in the future which has no financial impact but can raise credibility for wonderful charities and also perhaps for local businesses.