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The Commons standards tsar has said the public is angry over MPs’ second jobs as she called for changes to transparency rules.
Kathryn Stone said her office had received “an awful lot of letters” containing the views of “very angry” members of the public, who have voiced concern about MPs attracting outside paid work and that they are “getting away with things”.
The Commons standards commissioner said it was “bonkers” that MPs had to be more transparent about their activities than ministers, as she set out why she was unable to probe the renovation of Boris Johnson’s official Downing Street residence.
Giving evidence to the Commons Committee on Standards on Wednesday, Ms Stone also called for more clarification on the use of MPs’ offices after she chose not to investigate former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox for offering legal advice while using parliament facilities.
The commissioner and her team have come in for criticism in recent months, with former speaker John Bercow likening the experience of being investigated for bullying to a “kangaroo court”.
The Government also last year attempted to reform the standards system in a bid to delay former Conservative Cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s suspension for paid lobbying, a move which backfired, leading to Mr Paterson quitting Parliament and sparking a series of sleaze allegations.
Stating that it had been a “really challenging time”, Ms Stone told the committee: “Members of the public are really angry, they are really angry about the ways in which they see members of parliament exploiting opportunities to make additional money, there is no prohibition on that but members of the public are very angry about that.
“They are very angry about what they see as conflicts of interest – or perceptions of conflict of interest.”
She later told the committee there were a “number of cases where being a member of Parliament is clearly the second job, given the amount of hours being expended and the amount of money being received”.
Meanwhile, Ms Stone said there was a lack of understanding in the public sphere about when she could and could not investigate, with claims of ministerial code breaches outside of her remit.
She said that was why she could not investigate the so-called “wallpapergate” saga in Downing Street surrounding the £112,000 revamp of the Prime Minister’s flat, with the probe left to Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser, Lord Geidt.
“To build on the point Lord Evans (chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life) yesterday, in a very articulate and very elegant way, described this process as bonkers – I couldn’t agree more with him about that,” Ms Stone said.
“It seems inconsistent to us, and the public, and we need to ensure that ministers are at least subject to the same scrutiny as backbench MPs when it comes to the registration and declaration of gifts, hospitality and so on.”
The anti-sleaze tsar said there needed to be clarity over the use of MPs’ offices following a furore after practising QC Sir Geoffrey took part in a Caribbean corruption inquiry from Westminster.
She said there was “inconsistency” over the use of parliamentary facilities by MPs, with the rules stating there should be no external use, while the Standards Committee had issued separate guidance saying there could be “proportionate use”.
Ms Stone did not open an inquiry into Sir Geoffrey but told MPs that, in her view, using offices for “business purposes that you are being paid by an external organisation for” is “not why members of Parliament are elected and not what their parliamentary facilities are for”.
Defending herself against criticisms made by Mr Paterson, who labelled the inquiry process “shockingly inadequate”, Ms Stone said she took frequent evidence from the former North Shropshire MP on the allegations against him.
“In the case of Mr Paterson, I did, as you know, interview him on a number of occasions and had some extended correspondence with him myself,” she told the committee.