The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has found that the rules whereby members of Parliament in public sector employment can be released from work to attend parliamentary activities are being abused.
The Commissioner came to this conclusion after considering a complaint against opposition MPs who work in the public sector and who allegedly were not turning up for work on a regular basis.
The Commissioner found that according to the rules for public employees, members of Parliament who work in the public sector are entitled to attend parliamentary activities that take place during office hours. However, he found that the system is being abused due to MPs absenting themselves from work without proper control, even to attend political and constituency activities. MPs are not entitled to attend such activities during office hours.
The Commissioner concluded that the fact that this is being tolerated by government entities represents a lack of good governance that should be addressed. The Commissioner recommended that it should be made clear which activities can be attended by MPs during office hours, and that MPs should not be allowed to absent themselves from work to attend other types of activity.
The Commissioner concluded that this practice, which has been in effect for many years,
i. constitutes a misuse of public funds;
ii. amounts to an abuse, intentional or otherwise, of individuals’ positions as members of Parliament;
iii. undermines the trust the electorate should have in its political representatives;
iv. places the heads of public entities in a difficult position by expecting them to shoulder responsibility for a practice that gives rise to irregularities; and
v. compromises the independence of MPs who are public employees by making them less prone to proper oversight of the government for fear of losing an implicit advantage of their employment.
The Commissioner also concluded that in practice, this system discriminates against MPs who work in the private sector and who have to keep up with their day job (outside Parliament) in order to earn a living.
The Commissioner also proposed that MPs who work in the public sector should not serve as opposition spokespersons for the sectors within which they work since this would place them in a conflict of interests.
The Commissioner recalled that the role of Parliament and its backbenchers is to keep the government under scrutiny, so backbench MPs, whether they are on the government or the opposition side, should not be dependent on the government for their livelihood.
As a solution the Commissioner therefore reiterated his proposal that all backbench MPs should be given the choice of working full-time as MPs, and those who opt to become full-time MPs should be given a higher pay than those who opt to remain under current parliamentary arrangements as part-time MPs. If such a system is introduced, the law that permits MPs to continue to work as government employees should be repealed, save that these MPs should have the right to return to their jobs when their term in Parliament ends.
In this way the scope for abuse would be eliminated and at the same time MPs would no longer be dependent on the government of the day.
The Commissioner’s report on this case is available from here.