Is it right for an MP to have a second job? It's part of the fabric at Westminster
PUBLISHED: 05:59 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:06 25 October 2018
The question of whether MPs should have a second job has reared its head again after it was revealed that Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter was working more than 25 hours a week in a London hospital.
This revelation has fuelled some soul-searching and has again raised the question of whether it is right that public servants who are paid £77,000 a year should be able to hold down a second job.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Dr Poulter doing a second job. So long as he declares his earnings and the amount of time he is working then he is playing firmly by the rules.
His local Conservative Association doesn’t seem to mind. He has been given a ringing endorsement by his local chairman – and the Association has recently re-adopted him to fight the next general election.
But still there are questions about whether it is right for an MP to spend 112 hours a month doing a second job.
Historically, of course, almost all MPs had another job – for a start it was only in the first half of the last century that they were paid anything at all for the privilege of sitting in the House of Commons.
The concept of an MP doing outside work persists – and some of it is eye-wateringly well-paid. Any MP who is not a minister or a Parliamentary Private Secretary or a member of the Speaker’s Panel is allowed to earn extra money.
And some earn eye-watering sums that knock the £41,000 that Dr Poulter may get from his hospital work into a cocked hat!
The day after he quit as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson was re-signed as a columnist by The Daily Telegraph for £275,000 a year (oh, that all political columnists were so well remunerated!).
Even this salary isn’t that excessive by Parliamentary standards – before he became Attorney General in the wake of Mr Johnson’s resignation, Geoffrey Cox QC MP earned between £400,000 and £600,000 a year as a barrister on top of his earnings as an MP.
However in Dr Poulter’s case it wasn’t the amount he earned that raised eyebrows – it was the number of hours he worked away from the Palace of Westminster.
Dr Poulter has made it clear that his medical work takes place when the House of Commons isn’t actually sitting. He works in a London hospital on Monday mornings (Parliament sits from 2.30pm on Mondays) and at other times when there are no debates.
He also does some night shifts when he is on call.
I’m not sure I’d want to go into a Parliamentary debate after having worked a night shift in a hospital, but I know these medics are a breed apart (I do watch “Casualty”) so I can believe he is able to juggle this work.
And the fact is that even when Parliament is sitting, most MPs don’t spend much time in the Chamber. They have to be within the environs of the Palace ready for the Division Bell to ring – but they don’t spend all their time sitting on the Green Benches listening to every word (unless their name happens to be Dennis Skinner).
I’ve known some MPs who have used this “dead time” to settle themselves in one of the many bars in the Palace and stay there until they staggered through the division lobbies.
But increasingly MPs use this time to work in their offices on constituency issues. They can’t be away from the House – but they can work on problems while parliamentary business is carrying on in the Chamber.
And with all MPs employing two or three researchers or caseworkers, when constituents write in with individual problems it will be one of these who does all the legwork to find out about the issue – even though it will be the MP who signs the letter of reply.
When the letters are written they still need to be read and signed by the MPs – and the times when they are hanging around in the Palace waiting for an evening vote is the ideal time for them to catch up on this work.
I don’t know if that is how Dr Poulter organises his time. What I do know is that there hasn’t been a great clamour for him to spend more time on Parliamentary business from his own constituents.
His political opponents would, of course, jump at any chance they could to discredit him – but the fact that he has been readopted suggests his fellow Tories are not worried at all.
And as a whole MPs today are far more accessible to their constituents, to the media and to anyone who wants to speak to them than they have been in the past – whether they have second jobs or not.