Boris Johnson called for a review of MPs’ outside work last year after a number of high-profile controversies.
At the time, the prime minister backed proposals to place “reasonable limits” on hours spent on other jobs.
But Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay has now said the measure would not work and also cast doubt on a proposed cap on outside earnings.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of “breaking his promise” to tackle “a scandal of his own making” over second jobs.
The issue of MPs’ second jobs came to the fore in 2021 when the then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson was found to have broken lobbying rules.
t caused chaos in government and accusations of sleaze after No 10 attempted an overhaul of the standards system, which would have stopped Mr Paterson from being suspended from the Commons. He later resigned as an MP.
The furore led to increased scrutiny of the work MPs do outside of Parliament, with a lot of focus on former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox, who earned around £900,000 in 2020 through his work as a lawyer.
MPs later backed government plans to prevent them taking on certain jobs, with No 10 saying any outside role, paid or unpaid, should be “within reasonable limits” and not stop MPs fully serving their constituents.
A definition of what that meant was not given, but International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan suggested 15 hours a week as a reasonable limit.
However, in the letter from Mr Barclay, the government now appears to have moved away from that pledge.
The minister reiterated the government’s desire for a ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy, or strategy services.
But while he acknowledged a time limit was considered “necessary” by some, he said it would be “impractical”.
In a submission to the Commons standards committee, first reported by the Guardian, Mr Barclay wrote: “It is the government’s initial view that the imposition of fixed constraints such as time limits on the amount of time that members can spend on outside work would be impractical.
“The imposition of time limits would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns over paid advocacy and the primary duty of MPs to serve their constituents.”
When it came to a cap on earnings, Mr Barclay also had his doubts, writing that such a rule “could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system”, such as writing books.
He said a long-serving MP “could inadvertently reach the ‘ceiling’ through earnings accrued over time”, and he questioned “whether it would be fair to subject that member to a standards investigation”.
He added: “To avoid this issue would require a substantive earning threshold to be set such that it would not serve to prevent MPs from taking on outside work for which they were properly remunerated in line with salaries in that sector.
“The introduction of such an arbitrary cap therefore may not have the intended effect of ensuring that members prioritise their parliamentary duties and the needs of their constituents.”
But Labour’s Sir Keir hit out at the PM for failing to deliver on his promise to tackle the issue.
“[Mr Johnson] said he was going to deal with second jobs and there was going to be this cap,” he told reporters.
“That was his proposal at the height of this scandal of his own making.
“Now, as soon as he gets the opportunity, he is breaking his promise yet again.”
He added: “It goes to the heart of the problem with this prime minister, which is this problem of trust and moral authority.”