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Moonlighting MPs forced to come clean

Stephen Beard Jun 30, 2009

Moonlighting MPs forced to come clean

Stephen Beard Jun 30, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: Lots of folks are taking second jobs to get through the recession. But it’s hard to imagine a U.S. senator or congressman moonlighting for another paycheck. Across the pond it’s another story. Many British lawmakers hold down one, two or even three jobs alongside their full-time gigs as members of Parliament. Starting tomorrow they’ll have to declare those extracurricular activities in more detail.

As Marketplace’s Stephen Beard tells us, British voters are unlikely to be pleased, especially since this all follows another scandal about expense claims for things like moats.

STEPHEN BEARD: The gothic House of Commons has turned into a house of horrors for many of its members. First they suffered excruciating revelations about their expense claims. Now there’s more pain in store. The searchlight of public scrutiny will stab through the murk surrounding MP’s second jobs. Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society says, this won’t be a pretty sight.

KEN RITCHIE: Some of them are earning huge amounts, much more than they’re earning as a member of parliament. In some cases, the second job appears to be that of being a member of parliament.

Some MPs are thought to earn an extra $400,000 a year. That’s four times the parliamentary salary. MPs already have to register these outside jobs. But from tomorrow they’ll have to reveal exactly how lucrative the jobs are, and how much time they take up.

JOHN MANN: Politicians should have one job and one job only. That’s the job they’re paid to do. And if they’re doing the job properly, then that’s more than a full-time job.

Labor MP John Mann says tomorrow’s disclosures will demonstrate how some members are short-changing their constituents.

MANN: If they want to do other jobs, go do other jobs. But don’t be an MP as well.

Some MPs work as lawyers and doctors. There’s at least one working dentist. And, believe it or not, there’s a man who runs a cemetery. Most of the outside jobs are consultancies and directorships. John Mann says some of this comes pretty close to corruption.

MANN: This is cash for access. It’s bribing politicians in order that politicians are working on behalf of vested interests.

Many MPs defend the practice of holding an outside job. In a recent debate, Conservative member Charles Walker said it was only fair. MPs are elected for a maximum of five years. They should be able to prepare for the possibility of being turfed out of parliament.

CHARLES WALKER: It’s very important that we allow people in this place to retain a foot hold in their profession or the private sector so that when they leave this place they are employable and can have a future.

And other members argue that parliament itself benefits from the moonlighters’ expertise. Conservative Nick Herbert.

NICK HERBERT: I think many people would say that the kinds of experience brought to the table by people who are directors of companies or have financial experience or so on, is actually valuable in parliament and it’s for each individual to decide the extent to which they can balance their time.

Not anymore. From tomorrow, says Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society, it will be for the voters to decide on whose behalf their MP is really working.

RITCHIE: The glare of publicity that is being brought on members who appear to be off at Westminster feathering their own nests. I think that is certainly going to change things.

It already has. Tomorrow’s deadline for disclosure has unleashed another wave of fear in the House of Commons. MPs have been shedding directorships like dandruff. Being an MP is becoming less lucrative by the hour.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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