MP sleaze scandal: Is Parliament broken? Expert claims therell always be rule-breakers

Tory MP defends Conservative actions amid ‘sleaze’ controversy

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MPs’ behaviour had dominated the front pages since Boris Johnson whipped MPs to vote for an amendment which delayed a decision on suspending Tory MP Owen Paterson, for breaching lobbying rules, last week. Several MPs and even some Cabinet members have spoken out against the move. Express.co.uk speaks to a former House of Commons clerk about the steps needed to remedy the ongoing sleaze row and whether Parliament is truly “corrupt”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week admitted the Government must “do better” to tackle the sleaze scandal row.

He told Sky News: “Just reflecting over recent events, I think for us as a Government it’s fair to say that we need to do better than we did last week — and we know that.”

The comments from the Chancellor of the Exchequer are likely to put more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to apologise for his handling of the Owen Paterson case.

The former environment secretary was saved from a 30-day suspension in a Commons vote, in a move many labelled corrupt or biased.

Mr Paterson was found to have broken rules by lobbying the Government on behalf of companies who were paying them and for using his Commons office fr business meetings, which is prohibited.

His case has prompted a discussion about the second jobs and additional work some MPs conduct on top of their parliamentary work.

MPs are legally permitted to undertake additional work.

Some work as doctors, lawyers, authors, or speakers – but they must declare their additional income.

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been at the forefront of the ongoing debate after it was found he had received more than £1million from his outside legal work last year, and had conducted 232 proxy votes out of 243 between July 2020 and 2021.

The MP for Torridge and West Devon is a practising barrister and has also advised the British Virgin Islands Government inquiry into alleged corruption.

Video footage from September, revealed by the Times newspaper on Wednesday, appears to show Sir Geoffrey conducting work for the hearing in what appears to be his Commons office – which would be in breach of MP standards rules.

In a statement, Sir Geoffrey denied wrongdoing and referenced the proxy voting saying he had consulted the Conservative Party chief whip “specifically on this issue and was advised that it was appropriate”.

Political expert and former house of commons clerk Eliot Wilson said he was not surprised by the scandal and said MPs have had a poor reputation since the expenses scandal.

Mr Wilson told Express.co.uk: “In any body of 650 ambitious people, there will always be rule-breakers and (maybe more importantly) people who take the rules to the extremes of technical permissibility.

“These things will arise every few years.

“What was unusual was the extraordinarily foolish attempt by the Government to let Owen Paterson off the hook.”

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Parliament is not, in essence, a “corrupt place” or systemically corrupt, the expert added.

He said the systems in place to monitor the work and dealings of MPs, including the Register of Members’ Interests and Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards help to ensure proper behaviour.

The investigation into Owen Paterson who breached the rules is proof of this, the co-founder of Pivot Point Group and CulturAll Magazine claims.

However, he said the problem is with “money-grabbing MPs” who act in a way the public does not like.

Outside work helps to shape MPs and develop their horizons, many claim.

Mr Wilson told Express.co.uk the crucial element when it comes to these external interests is to ensure there are rules in place to regulate them effectively.

Above all, transparency and openness are key to ensuring individuals can be judged accordingly.

The former House of Commons clerk added: “If everyone knows that an MP works for a defence contractor or a pharmaceutical company, then we can judge them in that light.

“The worst of all worlds would be to have a list of ‘good’ jobs MPs could do – doctor, nurse, policeman – and a ‘bad’ list – lawyer, consultant, director.”

He added: “Let’s not overreact and have a House of professional politicians who’ve never done anything else and exist purely inside the bubble.”

The ongoing row shows no signs of abating and each day more and more allegations are levied at certain MPs claiming impropriety.

Opposition MPs and others are calling for the rules regarding second jobs to change.

However, Mr Eliot believes the current row needs to be addressed politically rather than institutionally.

He told Express.co.uk: “It would help if all the parties would agree to a declaration that there are robust systems in place in the House of Commons, perhaps we can look to strengthen those, but that they must be respected and the rules adhered to.

“Breaking the rules, which are pretty clear, must carry a stiff penalty, and it should be possible to lose one’s seat for egregious breaches.

“Mr Paterson got caught and was going to be punished: the system worked.

“What didn’t work was the Government trying to undermine the system post hoc facto.”

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