No 'excessive' personal attacks or paid consultancy: Plans to fight MP sleaze published

29 November 2021, 14:00 | Updated: 29 November 2021, 15:29

The Commons Standards Committee has set out its proposals in the wake of the Owen Paterson saga
The Commons Standards Committee has set out its proposals in the wake of the Owen Paterson saga. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

MPs could face investigation if they make "excessive" personal attacks online and get banned from consultancy services under plans to clean up Westminster.

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The Commons Standards Committee has set out its proposals in the wake of the Owen Paterson saga, which triggered anger at politicians' jobs outside of Parliament.

It also led to a review of standards in the Commons, after Boris Johnson attacked the existing system and attempted to back Mr Paterson before U-turning.

MPs would now be prevented from providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategic services.

A "senior judicial figure" would be asked to review if the current system for dealing with alleged breaches of the MP's code of conduct is fair.

And a new addition to the code, banning MPs from making an "unreasonable and excessive personal attack", would be made under the committee's proposals.

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Other recommendations in the report include:

  • A new requirement for MPs to have a written contract for any outside work which makes explicit that their duties cannot include lobbying ministers, fellow members or public officials.
  • Tightening rules to prevent MPs claiming they were acting to prevent a "serious wrong" as a loophole for lobbying.
  • Increasing from six to 12 months the period during which lobbying is banned following receipt of a payment from an outside interest.
  • Introducing a new "safe harbour" provision so MPs can be protected from investigation for potential breaches of the code of conduct if they seek out and follow the guidance of officials before taking up a role.

Proposals could also tighten the rules around ministers' registering gifts and hospitality while serving in their roles.

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The committee report states the distinction between "Ministerial interests and Members' interests is not always clear cut" recommending that ministers should now enter all benefits and hospitality received.

Standards Committee chairman Chris Bryant said: "The past few weeks have seen a number of issues raised about MPs' standards, but the key overarching issue here is about conflict of interest.

"The evidence-based report published by my committee sets out a package of reforms to bolster the rules around lobbying and conflicts of interest.

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"These aren't the final proposals we're putting to the House. This report is the committee's informed view on what changes we need to tighten up the rules and crack down on conflicts of interests following a detailed evidence-led inquiry.

"We will consult and hear wider views on what we've published today before putting a final report to the House for a decision in the new year.

"If approved, these robust proposals will empower the standards system in Parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account."

The committee's report will be the subject of a consultation before a final set of recommendations is published in the new year.