MPs do not a sign a contract
A Junior Doctor will be expected to sign an 81-page contract with hundreds of pages of attachments setting out their duties and responsibilities, pay structure, hours of work, legal liability, pension and a myriad of other matters.
An MP is classified as an ‘officeholder ’as they do not sign any contract. An ‘officeholder’ is defined as a person who has been appointed to a position by a company or an organisation but does not have a contract or receive regular payment (see gov.uk). This is despite the fact that MPs and Ministers are paid every month an annual salary by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Officeholders are neither employees nor workers, but you can be an officeholder and an employee or a director at the same time. MPs are not classified as self-employed either, on the basis that they manage their own time and do not report to the House of Commons.
No exclusivity for the work of an MP
Exclusivity does not apply to MPs and Ministers and they may have many outside business interests. There should be much stronger contractual restrictions over their ability to act at the same time for third parties whether as a paid consultant or for free including non-executive directorships; being appointed a director of a company; and being interviewed, filmed or delivering speeches or facilitating access to government officials.
The existing landscape derives from the historic background of the Magna Carta 1297 and the Bill of Rights 1688 ‘Freedome of Election of Members to serve in Parlymente.’
There are 650 MPs and yet they continue to be able to regulate their own hours of work and engage in a broad range of commercial and consultancy work and directorships both during and outside of their appointment. There are no clauses in a contract which they are obliged to sign which prohibits any work. There is only guidance in the House of Commons Code of Conduct. How is it that a government minister can serve in a department which has awarded a franchise and then be employed on a commercial basis by that company at a later date?
The Register of Members Interests where MPs and Ministers must declare both monetary and non-financial benefits that might reasonably be thought by others to influence their actions, speeches or votes in Parliament and action taken is not an effective method of control. You need to be able to point at a clause in a contract upon which you can rely which has consequences which are stipulated.
The remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who reports to the Committee on Standards is limited and merely a process to try to ensure adherence to the Code based on 8 paragraphs of what they can investigate. The Ministerial Code consists of 36 pages regarding ‘standards of conduct expected from the Cabinet Office’. There are no detailed legal obligations which are binding upon which anyone can rely.
No job description, attendance record or direct ban on any work
There is no statutory job description for an MP nor any contract which defines their duties and liabilities. MPs determine their own work schedule, attendance in their constituency and the House of Commons. They do not answer to anyone and may arrange holidays and work as they think fit.
There are no records of attendance as to how many times an MP visits the House of Commons. Attendance is considered a party political matter. MPs are not in fact obliged by Parliamentary rules to attend the House of Commons at any time and no records are kept of MPs attendance. There are only voting records in the Official Hansard and records such as Minutes of Committees which include attendance lists.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created in 2009 as a statutory body – an independent administrator and regulator which is separate from Parliament and government. Their aim is to be ‘transparent about what MPs have claimed’.
The IPSA regulates MPs business costs and expenses and processes payments and determines pay and pensions. It also provides financial support to MPs and ensures that MPs are reimbursed for costs necessarily incurred in the performance of their parliamentary functions. The IPSA does not fund MPs pension contributions which are arranged through the Civil Service and paid by the House of Commons.
Costs and Expenses
MPs costs and expenses are extensive, including claiming for many items in their second rental homes. When the House of Commons sits until after 10pm an MP is entitled to claim a taxi home. If their constituency is outside London, they can also claim a hotel stay at up to £175 per night. There is no cost cap on taxi fares that may be incurred. In contrast a Junior Doctor has to claim mileage after work as a locum and receives no transport costs if their shift ends late in the evening.
A Junior Doctor will contribute to a monthly fund to have pizza and coffee in their staff room. MPs alcohol and food is heavily subsidised for themselves and their guests and this should cease.
Rail and air travel are paid direct via the House of Commons travel provider the IPSA. Rental agreements are also paid direct and deposit loans provided. A government procurement card is also supplied which covers payment of’ any expenses allowable under the scheme with a per transaction limit of £2,000 and a monthly limit of £4,000. The list of benefits is enormous yet there is no contract which states their obligations, duties and restrictions on their work. Such a contract can exist without effecting their ability to vote independently.
We need to move on from the honourable approach and treat this as you would any vast business and to create documents which are binding which set out the responsibilities, clause by clause so that it is not a free for all. A new more stringent and demanding organisation needs to be created to deals with the MPs, Ministers and their staff which ensures that there is value for money and that there is a legal obligation to focus on the reason they have been elected.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.