A Conservative MP earning an extra £90,000 a year as a consultant to companies in the space industry used a parliamentary question to urge the government to give the sector additional support and financing.
Mark Garnier, who has been the MP for Wyre Forest in Worcestershire since 2010, is a member of the advisory board at Laser Light Communications and chairman of the advisory board of the Shetland Space Centre – working 20 hours a month across both space sector jobs alongside his full-time role as a parliamentarian.
Mr Garnier has spoken in the Commons less than two dozen times since November 2019, and in three of these appearances, called on the government to further support the space sector – including by enacting a “three-point strategy” that would enable the UK to have a “cohesive and coherent space policy”.
The Conservative MP has also used business departmental questions to urge the space sector to be “designated and treated as part of the UK’s critical infrastructure” and to receive “extra support and potential financing”.
Former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, told Sky News that while Mr Garnier has not broken any rules – including providing a financial or material benefit to anyone he works for – his conduct calls into questions his priorities.
“The Committee on Standards has produced a report on these sorts of matters, second jobs, and has said there should be fairly severe restrictions – that they can’t be consultants or strategic advisers and I very much support that line,” Sir Alistair said.
“He knows – as long as he stays elected – that he is going to get his £80,000 salary,” Sir Alistair added.
“So what are his priorities – is it his job as an MP or his job in safeguarding the space sector?”
There are no rules against MPs being paid for advising external private organisations – provided they record it in their register of interests as Mr Garnier has done – but the MPs’ Code of Conduct states they must not lobby the government on behalf of those businesses.
The Code of Conduct states that the rules on lobbying “prevent a member initiating proceedings or approaches to ministers, other members or public officials which would confer a financial or material benefit on such a person or organisation”.
It adds: “These rules are intended to provide the right balance between enabling members to bring to bear their experience outside the House on matters of public policy while avoiding any suggestion that the parliamentary or policy agenda can be set by an outside individual or organisation making payments to a member.”
Mr Garnier has criticised the conduct of his former colleague Owen Paterson who resigned as MP for North Shropshire amid a row after he was found to have breached lobbying rules over his £110,000-a-year private sector work.
Speaking to BBC Radio Hereford and Worcestershire on Tuesday, Mr Garnier said: “What you can and can’t do is you cannot under any circumstances – and this is what Owen Paterson has done, and this is why there is such an argument over this, and by the way, we are all furious about the government’s position on this – but you cannot under any circumstances, and the rules could not be clearer, ever use your position as an MP to benefit somebody from whom you are being paid cash.
“And that is what Owen Paterson has done and that is not what other people are being accused of. It is a difficult area.”
Mr Garnier added that he took up the secondary posts as he has “a particular interest in the space sector” and “like anybody else, I have got a mortgage – ultimately, I’d quite like to pay off my mortgage before I retire”.
As with other backbench MPs, Mr Garnier earns a base salary of £81,932. He is also currently vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on space.
Making a speech during the SNP’s backbench debate on the space industry on 4 February 2021, he said: “We need to develop a strategy that will make all of this work – we need to have a proper secretariat that is empowered to deliver a cohesive and coherent space policy and that can be effective across government, we need to create the opportunity in other areas that will be able to support our commercial space industry, and we need to do well in academia.”
He continued: “We need to come up with a three-point strategy: create a proper strategic goal that embodies our true global Britain vision in space; build a structure with a clear delivery organisation at its head; and incentivise other brilliant sectors of the economy, especially financial services, to become a world leader in supporting our space sector.”
In an earlier contribution on 8 January 2019, Mr Garnier asked during business questions whether the minister agreed “that elements of the space sector should be designated and treated as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, thus receiving the extra support and potential financing that such designation would provide”.
Almost exactly a year to the day later, Mr Garnier asked business ministers – again at departmental questions – for an update on “the status of funding for innovation in the sector and of plans for the proposed UK space strategy”.
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Mr Garnier does not refer MPs’ to the register of members’ financial interest when asking a question in the Commons, however parliamentary procedure states that parliamentarians are “not expected to declare an interest when asking an oral question or a supplementary question in the chamber” as it would “unduly delay the business of the House”.
He does refer to his register entry when making a longer speech.
The Conservative MP has also not spoken in the Commons since 4 March 2021, six days before he was appointed to his third space sector-related role as unpaid director of Satellite Finance Network – a job which his register entry states requires “one day per month commitment”.
Sky News has contacted Mr Garnier for a comment.
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