Labor attack ‘Tory dirty stuff’ as MPs prepare to vote on ban on paid consultancy work

MPs will vote on new rules to curb their outside business interests amid a new row over the Tories’ so-called ‘dirty tricks’ and the Westminster’ sleaze ‘.

In a surprise move, Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced his support for a ban on paid consultancy work demanded by Labor.

The government effectively resumed the Labor opposition day debate on Wednesday, tabling an amendment with its own proposals.

The move sparked a furious backlash from Labor who accused ministers of “watering down” their original motion, effectively rendering it non-binding.

The Labor text calls for a ban on “all paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.

Importantly, it also includes provisions requiring the Commons Standards Committee to bring forward proposals to implement the ban and ensuring time on the House floor for MPs to debate and vote on.

In contrast, the looser-worded government amendment simply describes the ban on consultants as “the basis of a viable approach” and supports the work of the Standards Committee to update the code of conduct for MPs.

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Shadow Commons chief Thangam Debbonaire said: “The Labor Party has put forward a binding motion to start cleaning up our politics after the Tory scandal. The Conservatives are trying to dilute that.

“Boris Johnson has been put in a corner and one minute accepts our motion in a letter to the President, but then presents an amendment that will remove the central part which ensures that action will be taken.

“This is typical Conservative dirty stuff.”

A second Labor motion will try to force the government to release the minutes of meetings between ministers, civil servants and Randox.

Randox is the diagnostics company that employed Owen Paterson, the former Cabinet minister who started the storm, as a consultant.

Ministers hope their amendment will appease Conservative MPs still angry at the government’s handling of the issue by sparing them the prospect of having to vote against the ban on paid consultants.

However, the move has infuriated some top Tories, upset that they will have to forgo lucrative consulting contracts, although it seems unlikely that there will be enough rebels to overthrow the government majority.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, will come under closer scrutiny when faced with detailed questions from senior members of the Commons Liaison Committee on “decorum and ethics in government.”

The Prime Minister set out his reform proposals in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, including two key recommendations from the 2018 Committee on Standards in Public Life report on the external interests of MPs.

This included amending the code of conduct so that all outside work is done “within reasonable limits” and “does not prevent them from fully discharging” their duties. Those who do not comply should be “investigated and punished appropriately”.

Its proposed changes would also prohibit MPs from accepting paid work as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, and from accepting payment or job offers to act as political consultants.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had “caved in” after Labor tabled its binding opposition day motion.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

“He’s a prime minister who has to be dragged around, kicking and screaming, to do anything about the standards of public life,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, MPs finally voted to approve the investigation which found Mr Paterson had violated the Commons code of conduct by putting pressure on ministers and officials at two companies paying him more than £ 100,000 per year.

The motion, which was passed unanimously, also rolled back proposed changes to protect it from a 30-day suspension, which the prime minister ordered Tory MPs to back just two weeks ago.

While many Tories are still sore after facing accusations of “sleazy” reluctantly voting for the original plan, former Prime Minister Theresa May said the attempt to save Mr Paterson was “misplaced, wrong. judged and quite simply wrong ”.

She warned the Commons that the U-turn to approve Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone’s investigation “would not repair the damage that has been done” to all MPs.

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