MP in money for access sting, says it's 'unrealistic' to live on £67k a year
Former Tory Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has defended his alleged offer to use his influence to help a private company by saying it is "unrealistic" to expect some MPs to live on their £67,000 basic salary.
He has denied any wrongdoing after being filmed meeting undercover reporters from the 'Daily Telegraph' and Channel 4's 'Dispatches' posing as a fictitious Hong Kong-based communications agency called PMR.
Nonetheless, Mr Rifkind and another former foreign secretary, Jack Straw of Labour, found themselves suspended from their parliamentary parties yesterday, after apparently offering their services to a private company for cash.
Both Mr Rifkind and Mr Straw insist that they have broken no rules.
The MPs have referred themselves to the UK Parliament's standards watchdog. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Rifkind said: "If you're trying to attract people of a business or a professional background to serve in the House of Commons, and if they're 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.
"That sounds a lot to a lot of people earning less than that, but the vast majority of people of a business or professional background earn far, far more than that."
Labour leader Ed Miliband has written to David Cameron calling for a ban on MPs having second jobs.
It is claimed Mr Straw was recorded describing how he operated "under the radar" and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year. On the subject of payment, Mr Straw is heard saying: "So normally, if I'm doing a speech or something, it's £5,000 a day, that's what I charge."
Mr Rifkind is reported to have claimed he could arrange "useful access" to every British ambassador in the world. The MP for Kensington and chairman of the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee was recorded saying: "I am self-employed - so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income." He said his usual fee for half a day's work was "somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000". After being questioned on his claim that he has no salary on Radio 4's 'Today' programme, Mr Rifkind admitted it was a "silly thing to say".
"Of course, I receive a salary as a member of Parliament," he added.
"I was referring to my business interests, from none of which I receive a salary - I receive payments for the services I provide. It could have been misleading if you read it out of context," he said.
The Tory MP, who is also the head of the highly influential Intelligence and Security Select Committee, emphasised that it was not against parliamentary rules for MPs to have other employment as long as it was declared on a public register of interests.
"There are probably 200 MPs who have various business interests on top of their MPs' salary," he claimed.
"If they're told they have to choose one or the other they won't come to the House of Commons at all and Parliament will lose their skills."
The Commons has the least transparent lobbying rules in the UK.
The basic annual salary for an MP is £67,060 but they also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, homes in London and their constituency and travel.
Anyone who becomes a government minister is also paid an extra salary. (© Independent News Service)