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The party said ministers were trying to “water down” measures to ban MPs taking paid consultancies by removing key elements which would ensure action is taken.
The Commons will on vote on Wednesday on an opposition day motion tabled by Labour calling for a bar on “any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.
In a surprise move ahead of the debate, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he supported such a ban, in an apparent attempt to draw a line under the “sleaze” allegations engulfing his Government.
I have written to the Commons Speaker to propose:
1) The Code of Conduct for MPs is updated
2) MPs who are prioritising outside interests over their constituents are investigated and appropriately punished
3) MPs are banned from acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists pic.twitter.com/3SSQqrKRCG
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 16, 2021
However, Labour was furious when ministers later tabled an amendment which simply described this as a “viable approach” and voiced support for work the Commons Standards Committee was doing to update the MPs’ code of conduct.
It would remove measures in the original motion requiring the Standards Committee to come forward with proposals for implementing the ban and then guarantee time in the Commons for MPs to debate and vote on them.
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “Labour has put forward a binding motion to start to clean up our politics after the Tory sleaze scandal. The Conservatives are trying to water that down.
“Boris Johnson has been backed into a corner and one minute accepts our motion in a letter to the Speaker but then comes forward with an amendment that will remove the central part that guarantees that action will be taken.
“This is typical Tory dirty tricks.”
Ministers, however, will hope that the amendment will placate Tory MPs still angry over the Government’s handling of the issue by sparing them the prospect of having to vote against a ban on paid consultancies.
The Prime Minister set out his proposed reforms in a letter to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, including two key recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report on MPs’ outside interests from 2018.
These included changing the code of conduct so that any outside work should be “within reasonable limits” and “not prevent them from fully carrying out” their duties. Those who failed to comply should be “investigated and appropriately punished”.
The proposed changes would also ban MPs from accepting paid work as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, and from accepting payment or offers of employment to act as political consultants.
Mr Johnson said changing the Commons code is “rightly a matter for Parliament” but said he believes those two recommendations would be the basis of a “viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public”.
He announced the move just as the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was holding a press conference setting out his approach to MPs’ outside interests.
After wrapping up the conference and retreating to a side room with aides to study Mr Johnson’s letter, Sir Keir told reporters Mr Johnson had “caved in” because the Labour had put down a binding vote.
“This is a significant victory for the Labour Party, it would not have happened if we hadn’t put down that binding vote. This is a Prime Minister who has shown no leadership on this whatsoever.”
“This is a Prime Minister that has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do anything on standards in public life.”
Earlier, MPs finally voted to endorse the investigation that found former cabinet minister Owen Paterson had breached the Commons’ code of conduct by lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.
The motion, which was approved unanimously, also undid the proposed changes to shield him from a 30-day suspension, which the Prime Minister had ordered Tory MPs to back just two weeks ago.
However, ministers came under fire from former prime minister Theresa May who said the Government-backed attempt to save Mr Paterson had been “misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong”.
She warned the Commons that the U-turn to approve the investigation by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone would “not undo the damage that has been done” to all MPs”.