MPs second jobs

The government wishes to make second jobs an issue in the argument over allowances, requiring MPs to state how much time they spend on their second jobs. This is another boomerang for Labour.

A backbench MP has a full time job in the sense that you could not do it properly in less than 40 hours a week 48 weeks a year. But it is a demanding job with very flexible hours and demands. You do not do it 9 til 5 five days a week. For example, most MPs accept that they need to work at week ends, when constituents are available to meet them and invite them to events. If you wish to make a case on the media it is no use saying you do not do week-ends. We all accept that we should be at work at 10 pm in the evening on Mondays and Tuesdays when there are often votes. I answer emails, letters and blog postings seven days a week 50 weeks a year to avoid delays and build up.

However, the whole system is also based on the proposition that it is normal for an MP to do a second job. There are five types:

1. Official jobs that carry a substantial taxpayer paid salary and require the MP does no other outside job
2. Official jobs with a lower salary.
3. Unpaid official jobs.
4. Private jobs with salary
5. Private jobs without salary

Well over a third of all MPs have jobs in the first three categories. Labour seems to approve of these jobs. All Ministers, Government Whips, Senior Opposition Whips, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker are paid substantial salaries for their second jobs, with a rule that they may not hold other paid employment to avoid any conflicts and to demonstrate that these are very demanding second roles. If you have an exective second public job of course you should not also be in paid employment elsewhere.

Other MPs have paid official jobs as Chairmen of Committee business or Chairmen of Select Committees. These attract extra pay, but do not require the ending of all outside interests. They do naturally restrict the type of outside interest that would be possible.

Around 100 MPs have unpaid official jobs as Shadow Ministers and Opposition Spokesmen. The senior jobs within this group are very demanding and can require someone to avoid or resign from outside jobs. Contrary to common belief there are no cars, civil servants or other official assitance in the way there is for Ministers.

Most MPs would like a job in one of these categories. Most would prefer one in the first category. However, to make the system work you need maybe half of all MPs with no such jobs to cross examine those who have these jobs. They can only do this when Parliament is in session and when the people we wish to cross examine are appearing.

If Labour now wish to have an accurate statement of how many hours MPs spend on their second jobs, it could make fascinating reading. For ten years of my time in Parliament so far I have had demanding second jobs as a Minister or Shadow Minister. More recently I led the Economic Policy Review teams as a pro bono job. I found it meant I needed to work long hours and most days, to ensure my constituents did not suffer a worse service as well. When I see how some of these current Ministers operate I wonder how many hours they are devoting to their highly paid Ministerial second jobs. We could easily find out how many hours they spend on them, as the civil service keeps detailed and accurate diaries for all Ministers.

I wonder if Labour’s enthusiasm for transparency on second jobs is going to extend to telling us how much time Ministers have spent on their roles? Somehow I doubt it, as I suspect in some cases the answers will prove to be embarrassing. Labour thought it would just be a debate about category 4 second jobs. More MPs are covered by the other four categories, and the first category is by far and away the most important and most interesting.


  1. Kenneth Morton
    April 26, 2009

    JR Got them in one!

    Clear and precise analysis easily trumping hasty and cumbersome twaddle.

  2. Frustrated taxpayer
    April 26, 2009

    An interesting article, you are spot on when you say that Labout were focussing on the category 4 jobs (Private jobs with salary). This was a direct attack by the PM on the jobs often held my Conservative MPs, the remunerated directorships, etc.

    Perhaps it is time to rethink the model, I ahve never understood who an elected politician is realistically supposed to combine the roles of constiuency MP with a Ministerial role. The latter are full time jobs in their own right! One questions whether it is realistic for a Minister to commit 40 hours a week to representing their constituents and at least 40 hours a week to running their Department. I think we know the answer, in practice one of the roles has to suffer.

    It might be worth considering moving towards a model closer to the American model, with say a directly elected PM and Cabinet and fewer constituency MPs, but each MP representing a more equal number of voters. The directly elected management team would be responsible for running Government for the full term of the Administration – thus reducing the reshuffle antics that the press waste endless hours dissecting and ficussing their attention on delivering their policy commitments.

    This may be a radical departure from the current Westminster model, but it is this sort of thinking that is needed to adapt our policitical system to the needs of the 21st century rather than to continue to treat Ministerial roles as a part-time occupation.

    1. Denis Cooper
      April 26, 2009

      But in practice the (technically not) direct election of US Presidents has led to that office being occupied by some of the worst people in the country. I can’t get enthusiastic about a system which can so easily be manipulated to instal the criminally inclined into a position of such power.

  3. alan jutson
    April 26, 2009

    Interesting post John
    Second jobs snouts in the trough again.
    This is what Labour wants to peddle as a stick to hit the Tories with.
    I would sooner my MP have some experience of the real world, rather than be a lifetime public servent with no experience of profit, ecconomics, efficientcy, costs, employment law, sales, purchasing, and a host of other useful situations.
    Providing of course that there is no conflict of interest, and it does not stop you doing your job as an MP.
    EU law on 48 hours limit on working clearly does not relate to MPs as it does on the rest of us.
    Good job too.
    Talking of snouts in the trough, have you seen the 6 minute You Tube video on Guy Falks web site of a couple of days ago.
    It would seem that German TV turned up at Brussels on a Friday morning at 7.00am and caught a whole line of EURO MP’s signing in for the day with suitcases present, for their daily allowance.
    I assume it was for real, as it showed known faces of some Political Parties.
    Sign in and go home not bad if you can get away with it, and they have for years.
    This is the scam that Gordon wants for us here./
    Trust you will be voting against it next week. !!!!
    Some very embarrassed Euro MPs hiding faces, dissapearing in lifts, not many wanted to be interviewed.
    Keep up the post on what goes on in Westminster, it is very interesting reading.
    The more that comes out, the more interesting it becomes.

  4. subrosa
    April 26, 2009

    What I cannot understand is why MPs say they work hard and ‘deserve’ the salary of £64,000 if not a lot more. An army colonel earns just slightly more than that and they have no time to do any other job. Where do MP’s get the time?

    I’ve been self employed for years now and to earn a reasonable living I need to work long hours, weekends included. Please don’t think I’m complaining because I enjoy the freedom being self employed offers, but how MPs (of all parties) can complain their pay is not enough or, if they work the hours some say they do, they must be Superman/woman.

    Back to work.

  5. Ian Jones
    April 26, 2009

    Maybe we should ask what jobs ministers did before they became politicians that would qualify them to do it. Labour might be a bit stumped and the public might realise why the country is in such a mess as no minister has a clue on running a business never mind the country!

    1. Cliff.
      April 26, 2009

      I agree!!
      Imagine the scene; You set up a new country, you want someone to be in charge of the prisons, the police,national security, the courts etc etc. You look for a suitably qualified person to take on that role; Who will it be?
      An ex senior copper? No!
      A former judge or barrister? No!
      A retired prison governor? No!
      A retired army general? No!
      A former head of MI5? No!
      A home economics teacher? Of course you do!!

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    April 26, 2009

    This is Brown exploiting the politics of envy and trying to divert attention from the main issue which is the abuse by many MPs of parliamentary expenses. Can you confirm ,as reported in the press, that when the accounts are published in July it is expected that charges may be brought against some MPs and they will have to resign and by-elections be held? This is said to be the reason why Brown has issued his panic measures.

    Reply: I have no knowledge of any such outcome

  7. Denis Cooper
    April 26, 2009

    Rather than cutting the number of MPs – which would be punishing the electorate for the sins of the political parties, the purveyors of the generally sub-standard official candidates who become MPs – it would be far better to cut the number of ministerial, and therefore also shadow ministerial, positions.

    Apart from anything else, with so many positions to fill even the majority party will inevitably start to run out of MPs who can satisfactorily fill them, before fresh talent can be made available through the next general election.

    I also particularly object to party whips being awarded extra salaries at taxpayers’, ie electors’, expense.

    Why should I, as a taxpayer and elector, pay some MP extra to tell my MP how to vote, and if necessary bully her into doing so, commonly using methods which outside of Parliament would get the bully hauled before either an employment tribunal, or a criminal court?

  8. Steve Pearl
    April 26, 2009

    Isn’t there a more fundamental point at work here, namely the role and relationship of The Legislature and The Executive?

    The arguments have been well debated and discussed over years (as recently as by David Starkey on Question Time), but to make the point again, is it not time to give The Legislature a real and independent function in our system of Government by properly, once again, separating the legislative and executive power?

    Perhaps, as the country faces meltdown, now is not the time to focus on Constitutional Reform, but perhaps it is. After all if we had a Legislature with real powers which could scrutinise and hold The Executive to account we might not be in the state we are.

    And to the specific point of MPs’ outside interests and expenses, if an MP had real power and responsibility (voting and legislative oversight, committee scrutiny, constituency work etc) then the whole ‘proper job, what do they do, snouts in the trough’ debate might slowly fade.

    And the accusation of powerless MPs is only one side of it.

    It is beyond my understanding how a Government Minister can be a good and proper MP. He or she is neither able to fulfill the function of properly scrutinising Government legislation, nor perform the role of constituency and constituent champion.

    We talk all the time, and hold our hands up in horror about “conflict of interest”in many walks of life; surely our so called Parliamentary system of Government is the worst culprit of all.

    Now I know the whole argument is probably irrelevant because of our subservience to Brussels…but that’s another matter altogether!!!

    1. Sir Graphus
      April 27, 2009

      Second jobs are actually very important to the ability of MPs to hold government to account, as it gives a Prime Minister a great deal more control over the earnings of his MPs. An MP doesn’t earn a particularly great salary. If his only means of earning more (we all aspire to promotion) is to be a government minister, then he is very unlikely to speak up against a government proposal, join a rebellion or otherwise exercise any degree of scrutiny that is part of his job. To illustrate I only need point to the vast amount of ill-considered, illiberal and incompetent legislation that has been waved past in the last 10 years. Secondly, the loss of income is a considerable deterrent to a minister considering resigning on a matter of principal. Why would anyone of talent would be attracted to Parliament on this basis?

      Some MPs have undoubtedly abused the system. It’s a distasteful sight. But not as bad as the alternative.

      1. Steve Pearl
        April 27, 2009

        Sir Graphus, I agree with your point entirely as long as the current system holds. My point is that what we really need is a Constitutional revision (or really reversion) where the Legislature (ie MPs) have real independence over the Executive and can scrutinise and hold it in check properly.
        Then the job of MP becomes worthwhile and important in its own right, not merely seen as a sinecure or stepping stone. And, to use your phrase some of that ill-considered, illiberal, incompetent legioslation might not survive real legislative scrutiny.

  9. chris southern
    April 26, 2009

    MP’s need experience of the real world, too many go from education into the public sector and then into the house of commons.
    A second job in the private sector ensures that not only do they have that experience (if they didn’t have it before) but that they are also still connected with how the real world works.

    The gravy train needs to stop, before the people being forced to fuel it remove their supply of fuel in protest.

  10. Paul Embery
    April 26, 2009

    I do chuckle when I hear (usually Tory) MPs vociferously protesting whenever they come under attack for having second jobs.

    ‘We need to do these jobs to help us stay in touch with the real world,’ they argue.

    Now, invariably these jobs involve sitting on the board of some blue chip company, and being paid a ludicrous amount of money. So please tell me, how can this be considered ‘staying in touch with the real world’? How many ordinary members of the public can lay claim to ever having been employed in such a capacity? Hardly any.

    The day a Tory MP walks into the House of Commons chamber and says, ‘I’m sorry I arrived late for this debate, but the dustcart suffered a puncture,’ I shall perhaps feel some sympathy.

    Until then, stop complaining about being criticised for lining your own pockets when you should be working flat-out for your constituents.

  11. mikestallard
    April 26, 2009

    First there is the fact that well over 4 bills out of 5 never reach the parliament at all because they are made into law straight from the Commission without discussion.
    Then, on top of all that, there is the fact that parliament never seems to be sitting. And I thought schoolteachers had long holidays!
    Interesting article by Iain Martin in the Telegraph about getting rid of the current (Labour) Speaker whose job is really is to sort out this sort of thing.
    Damien Green is arrested and his house ransacked. This is outrageous. Even Mr Mugabe has not sunk that low.
    The Home Secretary, of all people, claims for porn and a bath plug on top of what, to us down here, the voters, see as a huge emolument.
    Ms Gould, as the Mail corrrectly showed, is the real face of New Labour: Corruption, party before country, privileges which are denied indignantly to other people.
    Meanwhile we are, against our will, plunged into a sort of John Law situation by an unelected government. That led, eventually, to the French Revolution.

    All I ask is this: can you see why I am so fed up?
    And then I hear that Jack Jones and Eddie George, very different people indeed, were both straight as a die. We never seemed to get all this malarky from the Conservatives, however hard Labour tried to smear them and cry “sleaze”.

  12. Fox in sox
    April 26, 2009

    Dear mr Redwood,

    Does the EWTD not apply? As a surgeon I am not allowed more than 48 hours per week, as of august.

    I should be grateful for the next MP interviewed by Paxman or Humphries on the subject to turn the tables. Why are BBC workers allowed to cash in on their fame with second jobs as writers and speakers? Why can they not give newsnight or Today their full attention?

    They don’t like it up them!

  13. savonarola
    April 27, 2009

    Putting aside your analysis of the reality of ‘second jobs’ the point behind Brown’s focus on the subject is typical of his perverted approach to his job as Prime Minister.

    Every thought and act of his has as its motivation ‘what political capital can I gain?’

    This is his psychological flaw. The inability to distinguish between what is the right thing to do and the advancement of his own narrow political interests. Very sad for him and for us.

  14. Sidskitchen
    May 4, 2009

    That’s all very lovely, but surely the best way to solve this dilemmna is to let the public judge for themselves?

    An MP should be able to hold however many second jobs he wants as long as he discloses what they are, how many hours he spends on them, and what he’s paid for it. His constituents can then judge if they believe his actions are in their best interests.

  15. john silvester
    May 20, 2009

    I’m afraid MP’s cannot have their cake and eat it!
    You are either a full time MP or not.Let’s face it the only reason you are offered a paid second job is because of your MP statusand the influence it brings.
    And can you say hand on heart that you NEVER use any resources claimed for by allowances or expenses from the Taxpayer on your private work?
    My contract of Employment states that I have to have my Employers express permission if I want to take on any extra paid work with the emphasis on the answer being NO unless I can make a very good case – and my salary is £20k p.a so not exactly a high flyer!
    Can Mr Redwood assure me that he is dealing personally with any of my issues rather than passing to an aide ( for which I as a taxpayer will foot the bill ) whilst he is earning his corporate dollar?

    Any answers would be gratefully received!

    Reply: As I set out, the whole system is based on MPs having second jobs. Those who are Ministers have the most onerous and time consuming ones.
    I do all my own research/speeches etc and have low staff costs by Parliamentary standards. I work from home or elsewhere if I am doing something other than my Parliamentary work.

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