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Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the Minister was dragged here. [Interruption.] Order. No, he was not. A private notice question was submitted, and one of the reasons why I agreed to it was that a statement was made outside the House. So far as Ministers coming to see me is concerned, Ministers and shadow Ministers are more than welcome to come and see me—as, indeed, is any hon. Member—and they will always be able to get a coffee.

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Members of Parliament (Employment Disqualification)

4.24 pm

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): I beg to move,

In last week's debate on Lords reform, there was broad political consensus across the Chamber on the need to modernise and extend our democracy, not just in the Lords, but in the Commons, to improve Parliament's scrutiny of the Government and to rebuild public confidence in politicians. If we meant what we said last Thursday, I hope for similar agreement from both sides of the House that this Bill would make a modest but important contribution to the reform of Parliament and the rehabilitation of its Members.

There has also been much debate recently about the way in which we do our business here. Why does the House of Commons not sit routinely in the mornings? Simply because in Parliament's so-called golden age running the country and holding the Executive to account were not allowed to interfere with Members' principal interests—making money in the City and the law courts. Why do we have such long summer recesses? So that landowning Members of Parliament could go back to their estates to get the harvest in. In short, for many, the House of Commons has traditionally been a hobby, an inheritance, an exercise of power without much troublesome responsibility.

Times have changed and demands on MPs' time have grown exponentially. In the 1950s, Members of Parliament routinely received 15 to 20 letters a week. That figure is now closer to 300 to 500. Constituents' expectations are justifiably higher. Being an MP is a full-time job—a 24-hour a day job, if we let it be so—but we do not have to be here. We are here by choice. Unlike most people, we do a job that we have chosen to do. We are, or we ought to be, full-time professionals. We are certainly paid as such. Indeed, we are well paid for the job that we do. We earn three to four times the average income of our constituents.

My analysis of the Register of Members' Interests shows, however, that no less than 24 per cent. of our colleagues are not satisfied with the job that they are doing.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Name them.

Peter Bradley: I am sorry, but it would be difficult to name 155 Members who think that they can do this job and, in many cases, several others besides. The House of Commons has become the epicentre of the black economy. No self-respecting employer in our constituencies would tolerate the moonlighting in which many Members of the House are engaged. It would not be tolerated in our constituencies; it should not be allowed here. However, a quarter of MPs are evidently too greedy, too bored or too arrogant to devote the time and energy to the job that their constituents pay them to do.

Those Members have not fallen on such hard times that they are taking in laundry. They are in the City boardrooms and the Inns of Court, earning a small fortune. I am not suggesting that MPs should be required

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to clock on or that the Bill would stop them sending their apologies to Select Committees from the grouse moors—I had that experience as a member of the Public Administration Committee—but we can stop Members moonlighting. That is what the Bill would do. It is not about setting limits on MPs' incomes.

If hon. Members receive dividends or inheritances, good luck to them, but the Bill would ensure that Members are not paid to be somewhere else when they should be doing the job of MP. It is not unduly prescriptive either. It would allow such occupations—journalism, lecturing, public policy development—that are broadly compatible with the role of MP. It simply is not acceptable for MPs to pursue parallel careers as company directors, Queen's counsel or consultants. The Bill would outlaw those activities for MPs and in so doing help to improve the overall performance of Parliament and its scrutiny role in particular.

My review of the register has revealed that 8 per cent. of Labour MPs would fall foul of the Bill—that is 8 per cent. too many in my view—and that 28 per cent. of Liberal Democrat Members are moonlighting. It is hardly surprising, but the Conservatives carry off the prize and, indeed, the cheques. In recent years, the Conservative party's persistent theme has been that the House of Commons is supine, Parliament is in decline and the Government go unchecked. Why, then, do Conservative Members have the lowest voting records and the lowest attendance records at Select Committees, Bill Committees and statutory instruments Committees? Where are they?

According to my analysis, 66 per cent. of Conservative Members—more than 100—are out there in the marketplace when they should be putting their money where their mouth is and holding the Executive to account. When 57 per cent. of Tory Front Benchers and 48 per cent.—almost half—of the Shadow Cabinet are out there, too, it is little wonder that the Opposition are so roundly dismissed and despised by the public. How can a Tory Front Bencher be doing his job when he has 16 directorships to nurture? How can a Tory Select Committee Chairman find time for that important job when he is the director of eight companies, a partner in another, an adviser to two more and a practising barrister to boot?

The Bill would offer those Members and, indeed, right hon. and hon. Members from all parties a choice—be a member of the board or be a Member of Parliament, but not both. Most Members of Parliament are here because they believe in public service. We need to show our constituents that that is our top priority, first and last. If we cannot commit ourselves to our constituents and keep the faith with them, how can we expect them to place their confidence with us? Reform starts here, and it starts with us.

4.31 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I oppose the Bill. At the outset, I should make it clear that I have nothing to declare, in the sense that I would not fall within the ambit of the Bill because I do not have the sort of outside interest that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) has described. Incidentally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman contacted the Chairman of the Select Committee to whom he referred to say that he would be impugning his integrity.

15 Jan 2002 : Column 172

I listened to the hon. Gentleman with growing incredulity. He mentioned hon. Members flirting with the boardrooms and the courtrooms. I remind him that many Labour Members who are involved with the boardroom and the courtroom are the most active in cross-examining the Government. No consideration is given in the Bill to the type of work or the amount of time it takes up. It is a catch-all Bill that has nothing to do with the workings of the House, but everything to do with old-fashioned class warfare. Even now, hon. Members are frightened to raise issues of which they have intimate knowledge because current rules say that if Members have an interest, they cannot say anything—even if they know that legislation, for example, is wrong—because it is against the Standing Orders of the House. That is wrong.

The electorate would be wholly disadvantaged by the Bill. The only winners would be Whitehall or Downing street, because it would result in an emasculated Parliament. I note that the hon. Member for The Wrekin has listed some of the activities that would be exempt under the Bill. I have checked the Register of Members' Interests and that list appears to coincide almost precisely with his own declaration of activities.

I was also curious to find out why the hon. Gentleman wished to promote this Bill, so I researched his background. He did a BA in American studies at Sussex university. That is not bad, because I did a masters degree at Sussex university. The hon. Gentleman went on to become a public affairs consultant, a research director for the Centre for Contemporary Studies, a director of Good Relations and managing director of Millbank Consultants. So he has never done a proper job.

I decided to analyse the questions asked of the Prime Minister by those hon. Members who have time to spend—the sort of Member that the hon. Gentleman would like to see in the House. For example, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) asked:

That was a question, apparently.

Just before Christmas, an hon. Lady asked this:

we have a question at least—

That is an example of incisive questioning. What was the Prime Minister's answer to this difficult question?

On the same day, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) asked a penetrating question, bearing in mind that thousands of people had been made redundant in the aircraft industry. Nevertheless, he said:

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On 21 November, the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) asked this:

My final quote comes from the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams); I will not be too rude about her because she lives in the same block of flats as me and we often walk home together. On 14 November, she said:

Need I go on any further, Madam Deputy Speaker?

The Bill is a load of self-indulgent, unreconstructed, ill-thought-out tosh. It would weaken Parliament, not strengthen it. It may not be consigned to the dustbin today, but I have no doubt that the Labour Government will consign it to the dustbin and dump it tomorrow.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Bradley, Ms Karen Buck, Mr. Iain Coleman, John Cryer, Mr. David Drew, Ms Julia Drown, Clive Efford, Helen Jackson, Martin Linton, Mr. Martin Salter, Mr. Jonathan Shaw and David Wright.

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