It serves no-one if we make it difficult for voters to understand what their elected representatives are doing. Too often the impression is given that the House of Commons is a private club run for the benefit of its Members, where members of the public are tolerated only on sufferance.
Given that the latest Register of Members Interests, published in March, reveals that a quarter of Members of this House are pursuing parallel careers as company directors, consultants or in the courts, it might have been more appropriate had the Modernisation Committees report been entitled, Reconnecting MPs with Parliament. With the possible exemption of the cash for questions scandal, it is difficult, in this day and age, to think of anything more likely to reduce the standing of the House of Commons than substantial numbers of MPs drawing a £60,000-a-year salary to carry out a full-time job while moonlighting in the City or elsewhere in order to line their own pockets. If hon. Members are able fully to discharge their duties to their constituents and to Parliament on a part-time basis, then surely it is only right and proper that they should draw only a part-time salary. Funnily enough, I do not see a huge queue of stars from the Register of Members Interests wanting to go down that particular road.
As we have heard in this Chamber before, the work of a Member of Parliament has expanded hugely over
the past 50 years. Most of us struggle to do all that we have to do in this place and in our constituencies within the confines of a 70-hour week, or sometimes longer. In the 1950s, according to figures provided by the House of Commons post office, the average number of letters received by hon. Members was between 15 and 25 a week. That has exploded to between 300 and 500 individual communications thanks in part to fax, e-mail and the 24/7 media world that we all now inhabit. In order to cope with the increase in workload, there has been, quite rightly, an increase in the resources for MPs offices to enable us to provide a professional full-time service to our constituents. Given that hon. Members on both sides of the House claim the vast majority of those allowances, how then can some of our colleagues continue to treat membership of this House as a part-time occupation?
I have to admit that I was as sceptical as anyone else when I arrived in this place 10 years ago, particularly after the sleaze of the fag-end years of the last Conservative Administration, when it seemed that MPs were available for hire, but I have largely changed my mind. Like any profession with a mixed ability intake, we have the good, the bad and the indifferent. However, contrary to the view peddled in much of the media, I now have no hesitation in stating that the majority of conscientious Members of the House of Commons are the hardest-working people I have ever met in my lifeand certainly a lot more diligent than the journalists who seek to portray us as lazy, indolent and self-serving.
That said, we shoot ourselves in the foot somewhat given that 25 per cent. of our number work in other jobs. That would simply not be tolerated by any other employer. In my view, the public, who pay our wages, have a right to expect a full-time commitment from their Member of Parliament. Our salary of £60,000 is more than double the average wage of my constituents, and in many parts of the country it is worth considerably more than that. We cannot expect the public to hold us and this place in any higher esteem until we adopt the same standards of a full days pay for a full days work that are expected anywhere else in the modern world. If some hon. Members think that we are underpaid and worth more, they should have the courage to argue the case openly. We should not be sneaking off to the boardrooms to top up our salaries.
It is probably worth nailing the lie that it is possible to have an extensive portfolio of directorships, consultancies and other outside interests without affecting attendance in the Commons. A quick trawl of the voting records of the top five outside earners for 2005-06 shows that between them they average less than 50 per cent. participation in all Commons Divisions. That compares badly with the average participation rate for all MPs in the same period73 per cent.
Members may spot a remarkable similarity between my Bill and the Bill proposed by my friend and former colleague Peter Bradley in January 2002. Sadly, the Bradley Bill was lost through lack of timeand Peter Bradley lost his seat through lack of votesbut the arguments for regulating the outside employment of MPs are as strong as they were five years ago. In fact, there has been a slight increase in the number of MPs registering second jobs, largely explained by the increase in the number of Conservative MPs entering
the House at the 2005 election. My research reveals that 29 per cent. of current MPs have registered paid employment, representing 55 per cent. of Conservatives, 29 per cent. of Liberal Democrats and 14 per cent. of Labour MPs. Those figures drop to 51 per cent., 24 per cent. and 9 per cent. respectively when the proposed exemptions in my Bill are taken into consideration.
As with the Bradley Bill, I have tried not to be too prescriptive. There are things we do that are compatible with our public duties. Most of us write articles, contribute to pamphlets on policy development, or undertake useful work on behalf of charities or not-for-profit organisations. We are doing this stuff as part of the day job, and it should not be subject to restriction or regulation, hence the exemptions in the Bill. What I am seeking to achieve is to end the practice of moonlighting in second or third jobsin the case of one hon. Member, 14 other jobsin addition to serving as a Member of Parliament. To quote Peter Bradley,
The House of Commons has become the epicentre of the black economy. [ Official Report, 15 January 2002; Vol. 378, c. 170.]
In the time remaining, I would like to examine the performance of the shadow Cabinet. Of the 23 Members of this House who are in the shadow Cabinet, seven are listed as having third jobs. I say third jobs because of course they are constituency MPs as well. Between them, those seven have no less than 32 directorships and consultancies. What is the issue here? I would respectfully suggest that it is the fact that the taxpayer forks out £5 million in Short money to assist Her Majestys Opposition in discharging their duties. Is it not about time to impose a condition whereby in order to receive that great big dollop of public cash, shadow Cabinet members and Opposition Front Benchers must relinquish any remunerated employment, as is required of all Government Ministers?
Bill ordered to be brought in by Martin Salter, Ms Karen Buck, Mrs. Joan Humble, Dr. Alan Whitehead, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, David Wright, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Martin Caton, Colin Burgon, Angela Eagle, Mr. Kevan Jones and Joan Ruddock.
Martin Salter accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of remunerated employment of Members of Parliament; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed [Bill 105].
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Home Information Pack Regulations 2007 (S.I., 2007, No. 992), dated 23rd March 2007, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th March, be annulled.
The home information pack regulations, which are being brought before the House today, are a test case in how not to legislate. They will do nothing to take the strain out of home buying and add only cost and complexity to the housing market.
The Labour peer who chaired the House of Lords investigation into the matter said that he could not think of proposals about which so many experts were so strongly critical. His colleague, Lord Tunnicliffe, another Labour peer who led the House of Lords investigation into the regulations, called the Governments case for HIPs
the most data-free I have ever seen.
of little value but great expense to consumersan expensive waste of time.
Ministers have botched the process from beginning to end. Instead of following the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and listening and learning, they have ploughed on regardless, heedless of their potential damage to the housing market at an acutely delicate time. The change to the way in which we buy and sell our houses is probably the biggest and most jarring intervention in the housing market since Nigel Lawson abolished mortgage interest tax relief. History teaches us that we play politics with peoples homes at our peril, but that is just what Ministers are doing.
Michael Gove: All in good time. The housing market has already been hit by a double whammy under the Government. A massive increase in stamp duty and steep rises in mortgage payments have made homes more unaffordable.
Michael Gove: I shall not at this point, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the Bank of England has written a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointing out that his policies are driving up interest rates and leading to higher inflation than at any other time for more than 10 years.
There are increased house prices, mortgage rates and stamp duty. At that uniquely nervous time in the market, the Government are introducing a measure
that creates the risk of unnecessary turbulence. Let me make Ministers an offer: if they drop all the unnecessary bureaucracy and concentrate on delivering the one good aspect of the packagethe energy performance certificatewe will help them out of their mess. If Ministers press ahead with the folly, the country will know whom to blame for the mess that follows. As Lord Rooker said in another place:
If it is a failure, we Ministers will carry the can. That is our responsibility.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 20 October 2004; Vol. 665, c. 827.]
As matters stand, the Governments approach fails three vital tests. The regulations do not command the confidence of the market. They will not speed up transactions or make the process of house buying less stressfulquite the opposite. They have not been prepared in a way in which anyone who is serious about combating climate change would consider adequate.
Ian Lucas: I recall turbulence in the housing market, especially on a morning in 1992, when, as a solicitor, I was representing a client who called on me at 9.30 am to tell me that interest rates had risen to 10 per cent. By 12.30 pm, they had increased to 15 per cent. That is the sort of turbulence that we experienced under a Conservative Government. Is it not rich of the hon. Gentleman to lecture a Labour Government, under whom interest rates are a third of what they were under the Conservatives?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his history lesson, but he only underlines my point. Given the importance of the housing market and given that interest rates are increasing, only a Minister in the grip of folly would press ahead with an alteration that will only add to potential turbulence and do nothing to restore confidence.
Michael Gove: Not at the moment. Instead of listening to the hon. Gentleman, let us listen to the expertsfor example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. [Interruption.] I am about to quote the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyorsif the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) thinks that it does not know anything about the house buying industry, I shall be interested to hear his speech. The institution states:
We are concerned about the detrimental impact the introduction of HIPs will have on the market and therefore the economy. We are also concerned at the Government's cavalier approach to the legislative process. We do not believe the current implementation approach will work and in particular we envisage a detrimental effect on first time buyers from rising prices, shortage of supply and abortive cost.
serve in any way the governments aim of making the home buying process easier and more transparent. They will, in fact, make the process more difficult, much more expensive and remove existing transparency from the marketplace.
If I were drafting a law, and the countrys leading body of lawyers told me that I had got it so badly wrong, I might be tempted to think againbut not the Government. They ignore the surveyors, the lawyers and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, which argues that the Governments approach
presents a significant threat to the operation of the housing market and has the potential to cause strategic damage to the wider economy.
Not only the lawyers, surveyors, banks and building societies express concern; everyone who has commented on the proposalsfrom Oxford Economic Forecasting to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildingshas warned the Government of the danger of pressing ahead without listening and learning.
Michael Gove: Not at this stageforgive me. As I said, the Consumers Association called the regulations an expensive waste of time. Local authority trading standards officers said that the process will
add extra costs to the buying and selling of homes
the home buying process easier and more transparent.
Does the Consumers Association have a vested interest? Do trading standards officers have vested interests? All the groups that I have mentioned were explicitly asked by the Government to consider the regulations and invited to be key stakeholders. When they disagreed with the Government, they moved from being stakeholders to those with vested interests. We know the Governments definition of a vested interest: an expert who happens to disagree with them. Junior doctors disagree with the training programmethey have vested interests; generals say that military overstretch is a problemthey have vested interests; teachers say that they are overburdened by bureaucracy and regulationthey have vested interests. If one dares to disagree with the Governmenteven more important, if one dares to know what one is talking aboutthe only thing that the Government can say is, vested interest.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Surely the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that there are some practical examples of the use of HIPs. Will he point to any occasion on which the horror stories that he identified were realised in places where HIPs have operated?
Yes. I was on the radio this morning discussing the matter with a solicitor in north-east Wales who was directly responsible for implementing the dry run. He said that there were not enough assessors and that the search facilities that local
authorities provided did not have enough capacity to give people HIPs in a timely fashion. He had supported HIPs but changed his mind because of the Governments botched implementation of the scheme and was prepared to go on the radio to make that case.
The dry runs were not independent, as we were promised by Lord Rooker and the Ministers who were responsible for the policy when it had a chance of being competently executed, but run by people who had a vested interest in the process. Yet even they tell us that they failed.
Mr. Hayes: No more than my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on his stance and on the service that he has done the House in highlighting the way in which the Government have botched the matter. We warned them that it would go wrong when the Housing Act 2004 was in Committee. My hon. Friend will remember that they cited the Consumers Association at length and prayed it in aid. The reason why the Consumers Association changed its mind is that these are only, in its words, half HIPs: without the home condition report, they are meaningless. Will my hon. Friend take my adviceI say this with appropriate humilityand let the Minister for Housing and Planning off the hook, even at this late stage, by inviting her to withdraw this nonsense and do away with this half-hearted botched policy?
Michael Gove: I could not have put it better myself; my hon. Friend makes the point for me. Just one year ago, when we were debating the matter in Committee with the Minister, she was praising the Consumers Association. It was the source of sweetness and light, wisdom and judgment, because it happened to support her proposal. Then, last July, under pressure from her right hon. Friend the newly appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Minister was compelled to drop the home condition reports and execute a humiliating U-turn. At that time, the Consumers Association decided that it no longer wished to support the policy. As a result of withdrawing its support, did it remain a valuable source of wisdom and judgment? No, it was reviled and joined the ranks of the vested interests. This listening and learning Government decided to be deaf to consumers just when it mattered. This was not just a U-turn, but hypocrisy at the heart of HIPs.