Boris Johnson to face grilling over lobbying and sleaze from Standards chair Chris Bryant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to be grilled over the Owen Paterson lobbying row by the chair of the Standards Committee at the heart of the row.

Mr Johnson is to give evidence to the Liaison Committee - made of up MPs which chair select committees - on Wednesday afternoon.

It has been announced that the first set of questions will focus on ‘propriety and ethics in Government’, with Committee on Standards chair and Labour MP Chris Bryant scheduled to ask questions on the issue alongside Conservative William Wragg, who is chair of Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

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The Prime Minister’s appearance follows a series of sleaze allegations coming to light in the wake of the Government’s botched attempt to overhaul the Parliamentary standards system in response to a case involving North Shropshire MP Mr Paterson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to visit a coronavirus vaccination centre at a pharmacy in Sidcup, during a visit to the Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency head of a by-election next month following the death of the sitting member, James Brokenshire. Picture: PA

The Standards Committee had recommended former Conservative minister Mr Paterson should be suspended from Parliament for 30 days after committing an “egregious” breach of a ban on paid lobbying by MPs.

After a botched Government bid to delay the suspension while also overhauling the standards system, Mr Paterson announced his resignation as MP for the constituency.

The situation has led to a renewed interest into the conduct of MPs.

Senior Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale has said it is “plain wrong” for colleagues to be earning money as landlords of properties they own in London, while also taking taxpayers’ cash to pay their own rent.

The Times reported that 14 MPs - including Yorkshire’s Philip Davies - were taking advantage of a loophole in the Parliamentary expenses scheme which means they can let their homes to tenants, and then claim for rent paid on a London rental property to live in.

The arrangement is permitted under Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) rules and many of those who claim are also critical of the system, claiming it ultimately costs taxpayers more, but that they are pushed into the arrangement as MPs are not allowed to claim mortgage interest payments as expenses.

Former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox is one of those who claims for rental income while owning a London home.

As an MP with a constituency outside London, he is entitled to claim accommodation costs for staying in the capital.

Until 2017 he was claiming between £8,000 and £9,000 a year in “associated costs”, such as utility bills and service charges on a property he owned.

But from 2018 his claims rose to £22,000 a year after he moved into a rented property.

At the same time, his declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests showed that from November 2017 he was collecting more than £10,000 a year renting out a residential property in London.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger was asked about the set-up on Times Radio.

He said: “Well, I think the situation that you’ve described if it is correct, is plain wrong. It’s wholly maybe within the regulations, but it’s wholly against the spirit of what is happening.

“The intention was not that you should rent one place and hire let out another. The intention was that you have to have – and you do have to have – a second base. If you’re a Member of Parliament, there’s no doubt about that. You’ve got to go and sleep somewhere.

“We don’t sit late at night as we used to, that’s certainly true. But nevertheless, most members of Parliament from most parts of the country can’t get home at night. So you have to have somewhere to stay.

“I rent a room at a friend’s flat for about a quarter of the allowance that I’m allowed to spend because it’s congenial. And it’s value for money, as far as I’m concerned it’s value for taxpayers’ money because it is taxpayers’ money. And we need to remember that.”

An Ipsa document in 2017 acknowledged that such arrangements could be controversial but advised against any change to the rules.

“We recognise that there can be a perception of personal gain if an MP receives rental income from their own property while living in an Ipsa-funded flat,” it said.

“However, our view has not changed that an MP’s personal financial situation is not a relevant ‘test’ for whether they should receive support from Ipsa.

“We do not want to judge an MP’s private arrangements and whether or not they should live in a property they own.

“Our concern is to ensure that MPs have the appropriate support they need to carry out their parliamentary roles, including suitable accommodation in two locations.”

Wednesday’s hearing will also see the Prime Minister face questions on violence against women and girls, the COP26 summit and the recent Budget from MPs including Yorkshire’s Yvette Cooper and Sarah Champion.

PM denies row will effect by-election

Boris Johnson has denied during a visit to a local pharmacy that the sleaze scandal could lose the Tories their seat in Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election.

In a reply to a question from the press on the issue, he said: “No, because Louie French is running a great campaign on the big issues that matter to people.

“He is building on the legacy of James Brokenshire, ensuring that Queen Mary Hospital has ever better faculties and making sure that we have ever safer streets in Greater London.”

The vote is taking place on December 2.

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