MPs, including former coalition ministers who have since returned to the backbenches, have declared more than £7.1m earnings from second jobs and outside interests, according to parliamentary records.
An analysis by the Guardian shows that 26 MPs declared more earnings from directorships, paid employment or shareholdings than they did from their parliamentary salary, with more than 20 declaring more than £100,000 in outside earnings in the latest register of members’ interests.
One of the top earners is Charles Hendry, who was until September 2012 a minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Hendry says he received an income of £100,000 from three companies working in the energy sector: Forewind, an offshore wind group, Atlantic Superconnection, a proposal to bring energy into the UK from Iceland, and the energy and commodities group Vitol.
The advisory committee on business appointments, which approves outside roles for former ministers, noted Hendry in his ministerial role had had dealings with companies he now works for, and with their competitors.
However, it approved the roles on condition that he did not draw on “privileged information” learned as a minister, and did not “personally lobby” the government for two years from his last day in office – a period that expired last month.
Hendry told the Guardian his private sector roles were preparation for his departure from parliament at the next election.
“As you will be aware, I am leaving parliament at the next election,” he said. “As there is no longer a resettlement payment for MPs who step down voluntarily (quite rightly), I have started the process of developing external interests ahead of that time.”
Andrew Mitchell, whose short tenure as chief whip was ended by the Plebgate row, is another former minister with substantial private sector earnings. Mitchell declared £103,000 in earnings, primarily for consulting for up to £6,000 a day for firms including the banking group Investec and the Montrose Associates consultancy group, which lists “political/security analysis” among its specialisms.
Another former coalition minister with private sector ties is Mark Prisk, minister of state for housing and local government until last October, who now declares an income of between £15,000 and £20,000 a year from Essential Living, a private rental provider.
Requests for comment to Mitchell and Prisk were not returned by the time of publication.
There is no suggestion any of the former ministers breached parliamentary rules or the ministerial code.
However, transparency groups said such roles risked creating the appearance of conflicts of interest, even if no such conflict actually existed.
“The concern is not just that these outside jobs put demands on an MP’s time, but that they shift loyalty and attention away from the public interest to representing the narrow private interests of their other employer,” said Tamasin Cave of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency.
“As their paymasters, the public has the right to know far more about MPs’ jobs on the side. What, for example, is a property developer that pays an MP £10,000 a year getting for its money?
“It’s also valid to question whether the promise of future employment is having an influence on ministerial decisions, as well as what advantages they are bringing to the private sector, like their insider knowledge of how government works.”
Most of Westminster’s highest earners, however, have been backbenchers for the duration of this parliament.
On paper, the top outside earner is former prime minister Gordon Brown, who declared £492,331 from outside activities primarily from public speaking engagements around the world. He also declared a further £583,985 in travel, accommodation and compensation for staff and research contributions.
However, none of the sums declared are received by Brown himself. On his parliamentary declaration, he states: “I am not receiving any money from this engagement personally.
“It is being held by the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to support my ongoing involvement in public life.”
Other top 10 parliamentary earners include George Galloway who, since his election in Bradford West in 2012, is the Respect party’s sole MP. Galloway says that he earned £265,350 – almost four times his parliamentary salary – in outside earnings.
These came primarily from paid weekly appearances for the Iranian state-owned broadcaster Press TV, for which Galloway received £100,650, and a further £96,000 – not including air fares – for fortnightly broadcasts from Beirut for Al Mayadeen, which does not publicly disclose its financial backers.
A spokesman for Galloway accused the Guardian of “attempts to smear” the MP, and said “his media earnings are for a few hours’ work a week”.
“His programmes enable him to reach a far greater audience than would otherwise be the case for his views, both domestically and internationally,” he continued. “No one from these TV stations determines editorial content.”
Galloway’s spokesman made no comment as to the specific figures raised by the Guardian.
Geoffrey Cox, Stephen Phillips and Sir Edward Garnier also graced the top 10, all three from income derived from their work as barristers, which for all three was in excess of £200,000.
Garnier defended the outside roles of himself and other MPs as important in avoiding creating a professional political class.
“The two-jobs stab is a bit lame and unoriginal,” he said. “It is, in my view, essential that the Commons, and thus the frontbench teams in both government and opposition, are not just reserved for professional politicians without experience of the world outside Westminster … Parliament is the better for having MPs who do not spend and have not spent their whole time inside politics.”
The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who declared £187,000 of income, primarily from a software company he founded before becoming an MP, noted that “[i]t happens to be that I pay more in taxes than my net parliamentary salary and hence am value for money as an MP”.
Conservative Nadine Dorries, meanwhile, whose £167,140 comes primarily from novel writing, noted no one ever queried whether she could manage the time pressures of motherhood and a role as an MP.
“My outside earnings are mainly as a result of my writing, which I began when my youngest daughter left home for university and I found myself no longer required as a cook, chauffeur and laundress at the weekends,” she said.
“I find it really interesting that no one ever queried the time I gave to being a mother and an MP. I am however absolutely delighted that my writing, which is in effect my weekend hobby, is so lucrative and I urge anyone who has ever considered writing to not wait as long as I did and to give it a go.”
This article was written by James Ball and Harry Davies, for theguardian.com on Thursday 23rd October 2014 12.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010