MPs’ salary of £67,000 is not enough for the standard of living I’m ENTITLED to, says Tory Sir Malcolm Rifkind as he defends his second jobs after ‘cash for access’ sting
- Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were filmed by undercover journalists
- The pair are both claimed to have been willing to represent a private firm
- Sir Malcolm said he charged between £5,000 and £8,000 for a half-day
- Tory said he had ‘useful access’ to every British ambassador in the world
- He claims it is ‘unrealistic’ for backbenchers to accept £60,000 MP’s salary
- Conservatives have suspended Sir Malcolm and launch investigation
- Labour MP Straw told undercover reporters he would expect £5,000 per day
- Party has suspended him following the ‘disturbing’ allegations
- They have referred themselves to MPs’ standards watchdog over claims
A fresh row erupted over MPs’ pay today as a senior Tory caught in a ‘cash for access’ scandal said he sought extra business deals on top of his £67,000 salary to secure the standard of living he is ‘entitled’ to enjoy.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Select Committee, has been suspended from the Conservative party after bragging that he could see any foreign ambassador in London and has ‘useful access’ to every British ambassador in the world.
But in a series of disastrous media interviews, he claimed today that it was ‘quite unrealistic’ to expect backbench MPs with professional backgrounds to ‘simply accept a salary of £60,000′.
Sir Malcolm and former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw were secretly filmed discussing how they could use their contacts to benefit a private company and both boasted about charging at least £5,000-a-day. Mr Straw has also been suspended by the Labour party over the ‘disturbing’ allegations.
In the conversation with the undercover reporters Sir Malcolm was filmed discussing that his usual fee was ‘somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000′ for half a day’s work. Last night, he referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
But today he has used TV and radio appearances to defend his outside business interests, likening them to David Cameron acting as both an MP and Prime Minister.
MPs earn £67,060-a-year, but Sir Malcolm claimed this was not enough for someone of his professional background. pounds people so double it here in Oz
I do also want to have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have
Challenged about why he does not do voluntary work to provide experience of the world outside politics, Sir Malcolm told BBC Two’s Daily Politics: ‘I have two objectives, I have to have that broader hinterland as you so nicely describe it, but I do also want to have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have.’
He said that £60,000 ‘sounds a lot of money to anyone earning less than that but the reality is that anyone from a professional or business background earns considerably more than that’.
He said banning MPs from having second jobs would exclude ‘very large numbers of very able people who have a lot to contribute to Parliament’.
He added: ‘You could do not, and their families would not allow them, to accept such a substantial reduction their standing of living.’
Defending his position this morning, Sir Malcolm said there were ‘about 200′ MPs who had business interests and insisted many members of the public did not want ‘full-time politicians’.
He said that ‘many ex-ministers, former chancellors, home secretaries, prime ministers, as well as other people, have served on advisory boards’ and insisted it was ‘entirely proper’.
‘This is something which Parliament has said is acceptable,’ he added.
He told BBC Radio 4: ‘If you are trying to attract people of a business or a professional background to serve in the House of Commons, and if they are not ministers, it is quite unrealistic to believe they will go through their parliamentary career being able to simply accept a salary of £60,000.’
Filmed: Former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, pictured, told undercover reporters that he had a usual fee of between £5,000 to £8,000 for a half-day’s work for representing private companies
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND: FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY WHO IS NOW CHAIR OF SECURITY COMMITTEE
Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995-97
Sir Malcolm Rifkind earns £67,000 a year as the Conservative MP for Kensington and is Chair of the highly influential Intelligence and Security Select Committee.
The 67-year-old Scottish QC has held four cabinet positions under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, including Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary.
Sir Malcolm declares five jobs outside parliament, which have earned him over £800,000 in the last five years.
He was first elected as an MP for Edinburgh Pentlands in 1974 and represented the constituency until 1997, when he lost the seat.
During the Thatcher and Major Governments, he served in a succession of ministerial posts.
Sir Malcolm was a junior minister in the Foreign Office from 1983 to 86, then the Scotish Office from 1986 to 1990.
From 1990 to 1992, he was Transport Secretary, then Defence Secretary between 1992 and 1995, and Foreign Secretary from 1995 to 1997.
Sir Malcolm was made Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on his return to Parliament in 2005, when he was elected MP for Kensington and Chelsea.
Since the 2010 election, he has been a member of the National Security Strategy and Intelligence and Security committees, chairing the latter.
He was also a chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges committee in 2009-10.
Mr Straw, one of Labour’s most senior figures, claimed he was ‘mortified’ after footage emerged of him inviting two undercover reporters to a meeting in his Parliamentary office where he claimed to work ‘under the radar’ for private companies.
The Blackburn MP told how he had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a private company he already works for and declares an interest in.
He also claimed to have used ‘charm and menace’ to persuade the Ukrainian prime minister to change laws on behalf of the commodity firm, which pays him £60,000 a year.
Mr Straw, 68, said he would not take on the role while he remained an MP, but could be more helpful if he were to become a peer in the House of Lords after the election.
He was suspended from the Labour Party last night over what the party described as ‘disturbing allegations’ after he referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m mortified by the fact that I fell into this trap set by a very skilful journalist from Channel 4 and it was a very skilful trap but I fell into it.
‘And, inevitably, if you have what you think is a private conversation where you trust the person, or people, you are talking to, you use language not that’s necessarily wrong but could be taken out of context.’
Mr Straw insisted he had been ‘absolutely scrupulous’ in observing all the rules, including on outside interests but admitted he should have put the conversation off until after he had left the Commons.
‘It would have saved a fantastic amount of time and trouble,’ he told Radio 4. His plan for a ‘valedictory’ final few weeks as an MP would now be mired by the allegations.
The revelations are especially embarrassing because in 2010 Mr Straw condemned former Labour Cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon, Patricia Hewitt and Stephen Byers after they were caught in a similar sting.
He claimed the trio had brought the Labour party and Parliament into disrepute ‘because it appears that former Cabinet ministers are more interested in making money than in properly representing their constituents’.
He added: ‘That’s why there is such anger in the parliamentary party as well I may say incredulity about their stupidity in allowing themselves to be suckered in a sting like this.’
Today Mr Straw said he had used ‘rather too strident terms’ to criticise his colleagues.
Mr Straw said he had had ‘five or six approaches’ over the last 18 months about what he would like to do when he has finished.
‘Yes, I’m interested in earning money but above all what I’m interested in is doing things which would engage my brain and use whatever skills and knowledge that I’ve got.’ He said all but one had ‘gone nowhere’.
Senior: Sir Malcolm is the chairman of the highly-influential Intelligence and Security Select Committee while Jack Straw, both pictured today, remains one of Labour’s most influential MPs
JACK STRAW: LABOUR LYNCHPIN WAS ONE OF UK’S LONGEST SERVING FOREIGN SECRETARIES
Former foreign secretary Jack Straw served in the Labour Cabinet from 1997 to 2010 under the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
The 68-year-old Labour MP for Blackburn was brought up on an Essex council estate by his single mother and later went on to read law at the University of Leeds.
Straw is one of only three people to have served continuously in Cabinet under the Labour government from 1997 to 2010.
He served as Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001 and Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006 under Tony Blair.
Under Brown’s premiership, he served as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice between 2007 and 2010.
Following the party’s loss of power in May 2010, he served as Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Justice Secretary,
Mr Straw – a qualified barrister – is to stand down as an MP but has been tipped to go to the Lords later this year.
He declares two advisory roles, one of which earns him £60,000 a year working for a British global commodities trader.
Mr Straw is standing down as an MP in May, but has been tipped to get a place in the Lords.
He told the undercover reporters: ‘I could end up in the House of Lords, so you’re aware – you may have seen that…speculation in the paper at the moment – no one has said anything to me officially.
‘But the rules there are different and plenty of people have commercial interests there.’
He also told the reporters he had helped the commodity firm when EU sugar regulations were hampering its ability to do business. He said: ‘I got in to see the relevant director general and his officials in Brussels and we got the sugar regulations changed.’
After watching the footage, Sir Alistair told Dispatches/the Telegraph: ‘It is worrying that he is using public facilities to try and negotiate contracts for when he’s left Parliament.’
Former prime minister Tony Blair came to the defence of Mr Straw, who served as home secretary, foreign secretary and leader of the Commons in his administrations.
Mr Blair said: ‘I have known Jack for over 30 years. He is a byword for being a hard-working constituency MP and parliamentarian.
‘I can think of no-one who has more dedicated himself to public service.
‘I am really sorry he has been caught up in a sting operation about a job offer after he retires from Parliament.
‘It is typical of Jack that as soon as he was alerted of the sting against him he immediately contacted the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and asked her to investigate the case. I hope that the Commissioner will clear his name as soon as possible.’
Speaking at an event in south London, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the cash-for-access claims felt like ‘Groundhog Day – this keeps coming round’.
He said that ‘whether there is individual wrongdoing or not, the cumulative effect is to deepen public scepticism about how politics operates and that’s a great shame for anyone who believes in the quality of our democracy.
‘My own view is all political parties would be well advised to immediately after the next general election get together and have a look on a cross-party basis whether the rules need to be changed.’
Kensington MP Sir Malcolm had also claimed he could write to a minister on behalf of the company without saying exactly whom he was representing.
Despite being paid £67,000-a-year for his work as an MP, he described himself as ‘self-employed’ and claimed ‘nobody pays me a salary’.
The joint investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches and The Daily Telegraph comes five years after a similar sting by the TV programme, which led to former defence secretary Geoff Hoon being banned from Parliament for five years and former transport minister Stephen Byers banned for two years.
The undercover reporters contacted 12 MPs who already had significant outside interests to invite them to apply for work with a communications agency based in Hong Kong backed by a fictitious Chinese businessman.
Sting: Labour MP Jack Straw, pictured, was filmed by undercover reporters in his House of Commons office where he believed he was meeting a Chinese business, and said he charged £5,000-a-day for his work
Jack Straw secretly filmed in cash for access scandal
They were told the firm had plenty of money and wanted to hire influential British politicians to join its advisory board and get a foothold in the UK and Europe. Six of the MPs responded, including Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw.
Sir Malcolm, 68, who also declares five other jobs outside Parliament that have earned him more than £800,000 in the last five years, talked to the undercover reporters about his ability to obtain information from ministers about Government policy.
He said: ‘If it’s a matter of Government policy then there’s two aspects to Government policy. That which they have announced and which is public knowledge and is something you can find it in various ways of…’
The undercover reporter said: ‘Of Google? Yeah.’ Sir Malcolm replied: ‘Or in my own case I could write to a minister… I wouldn’t name who was asking.’
After seeing the footage, Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the investigation if Sir Malcolm did write to a minister in the way he described it ‘would be a clear breach of the code of conduct’.
He added that it was ‘an example of an experienced Member of Parliament using their privileged position as a public servant in trying to get access to information which would benefit individuals and this company in a way that I think the public would find totally unacceptable’.
Last night Sir Malcolm told the programme makers: ‘I have never undertaken nor would undertake any lobbying as an MP on behalf of any private organisation for which I was receiving remuneration.
‘You suggest I showed myself as ‘willing to act as an MP for hire’. That is untrue…There was no suggestion I was being approached as an MP…Their approach to me was because of my previous experience as a minister.’
Mr Straw said: ‘I made clear from the outset I was not available for any work until after I stood down as an MP. Due to my other parliamentary commitments and to save time for further such work I met the individuals in my parliamentary office.
‘We had a general discussion about work I have done on a consultancy basis for another company. I am confident that I behaved, as I have always done, with integrity and that I did not breach any parliamentary rules in substance or in spirit.’
The investigation comes two decades after the first ‘cash for access’ scandal in 1994 when a lobbyist was accused of paying Tory MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to ask questions in Parliament on behalf of Mohamed Al Fayed.
It will be screened tonight at 8pm on Channel 4.
BLASTED FOR BEING ‘STUPID': JACK STRAW CRITICISED MPS CAUGHT UP IN PREVIOUS ‘CASH FOR ACCESS’ SCANDAL FIVE YEARS AGO
Today’s ‘cash for access’ scandal is the latest in a long line of rows about secondary income for MPs.
In 2010 three former Labour ministers were caught touting themselves to lobbying firms.
Former transport secretary Stephen Byers, right, described himself as a ‘taxi for hire’, requesting £5,000 a day and boasting how he had secured secret deals with ministers over a rail franchise contract and food labelling for private firms.
Ex-defence secretary Geoff Hoon was told to apologise after saying he wanted to turn his government contacts into ‘something that, bluntly, makes money’
Ex-sports minister Richard Caborn was ordered to say sorry after he spoke of a rate of £2,500 plus expenses.
All three were banned from parliament for between six months and five years.
The Standards and Privileges Committee cleared ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt of breaking the code but said she was ‘unwise’ to agree to meet people she thought were lobbyists.
None were prosecuted because no laws were broken.
At the time Jack Straw, caught up in a similar scandal today, accused them of being ‘stupid’.
He said at the time that ‘prima facie (it) does indeed bring the Parliamentary Labour Party, as well as Parliament, into disrepute, because it appears that former cabinet ministers are more interested in making money than in properly representing their constituents.
‘And that’s why there is such anger in the parliamentary party, as well as – I may say – incredulity about their stupidity in allowing themselves to be suckered in a sting like this.’