MPs financial interests
The other day I happened to stumble across Edward Betts' attempt to explore MPs' shareholdings . Edward takes the House of Commons Register of Members' Financial Interests , looks for company registration numbers, and then tries to find the nature of each MP's interest in the company from Companies House . Taking the most prominent MP, Edward lets you quickly see that the PM has the right to appoint and remove directors at THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY FOUNDATION LIMITED and has significant influence or control of C&UCO PROPERTIES LIMITED . This mash-up of data is great but I then started wondering about the other types of financial interest that MPs have.
Interests stay on the Register for 12 months after the interest has ended and interests are broken down into 9 sections:
- Employment and earnings
- Donations and other support
- Gifts, benefits and hospitality from UK sources (if related to membership of the House or to political activities)
- Visits outside the UK (if related to membership of the House or to political activities)
- Gifts and benefits from sources outside the UK (if related to membership of the House or to political activities)
- Land and property (excluding any used only for the personal residential purposes of the MP or their close family)
- Family members employed and remunerated through parliamentary expenses
The Register is basically published roughly every two weeks as a big PDF (e.g. 19 April 2022 ) and as equivalent webpages. I wondered if it was possible to do something interesting with it like Edward had to bring a bit more transparency to the Register.
Parsing the Register
I didn't use the actual source partly because it either meant dealing with a PDF or hundreds of HTML pages and partly because the Parliament website is now behind CloudFlare - that can make it hard to scrape pages automatically. Instead I used TheyWorkForYou's version (mySociety) which was all on one page and scrapable.
The first problem is that entries to the Register have very limited structure. The section headings for each MP are well defined but the content for each item looks hand-written by MPs (or their aides). Generally, there is some commonality in the way things are phrased but there are many examples of MPs writing free-form text that doesn't match the pattern of others. In section 1 (employment and earnings) I noticed that many MPs list the value of the earning, a description, and the number of hours they worked e.g.
£583.78 from the Local Government Association, 18 Smith Square, Westminster, London SW1P 3HZ... Hours: 32 hrs.
which has a value (£583.78) and a fairly defined way of describing the number of hours (Hours: 32 hrs). Sometimes MPs give time in other units ("days" or "hours and minutes") and that can be dealt with. But sometimes they write much more complex statements such as:
£4,500 every three months for a quarterly commitment of 12 hours
That requires spotting that they do 12 hours each quarter (48 hours a year) and that they get paid a total of £18,000 per year. Not quite so easy to extract in free-form text where you can't rely on wording. There are also more complicated statements that involve limiting an earning to certain date ranges. It is all very complicated and it'd be good if they always explicitly listed the total value of an earning. Obviously some MPs already do that by themselves but it'd be good if the reporting structure more strongly encouraged them to do so.
In the gifts sections (sections 3 and 5) individual donors are listed. These sections sometimes have a company number. I thought it might be interesting to group donations by donor where the company number is given. It turns out that MPs don't always get the company numbers right. For instance, in the 19 April 2022 edition I spotted that Richard Holden, Paul Howell, Andrea Jenkyns, Karl McCartney, Robbie Moore, Damien Moore, David Mundell, Mary Robinson, and Matt Vickers all claim that IX Wireless Ltd has a registration number of 11008144 (that number seems to be CLEMENTINOX LIMITED) and they probably meant 1100914 . Some also don't provide the leading zeros which are part of the well-formatted registration number. I've reported that mistake and another to the Standards Commissioner so we'll see if it gets fixed in the next edition.
Exploring the Register
With some more structured data extracted (even if not perfectly) it was time to start exploring it . The first thing I could do is add up values in the different sections for MPs. Obviously, as mentioned above, this relies on correctly parsing out total values so will be off in some cases (something easily fixed if MPs are explicit about totals in the future). Being able to automatically calculate totals of different things across all MPs means we can start to compare them. To do this I've created some "top 10" tables that look at different aspects of the data.
This top 10 adds up an MPs earnings in section 1 and then ranks MPs. The highest earning MP is currently Geoffrey Cox who works as a legal Counsel. In second place is ex-PM Theresa May who gets paid extremely large amounts of money for speaking engagements. Note that it seems to have been common for former PMs to get paid large amounts for speaking engagements (see Tony Blair , Gordon Brown , and David Cameron ) after leaving office.
Highest hourly earnings
Topping the list of who earned the most per hour for any specific engagement/job is Theresa May. She was paid £160,370 for 4 and a half hours of speaking at JP Morgan Chase which works out at £35,637.78 per hour. Good work if you can get it.
As MPs list hours (or minutes, or days etc) in section 1, I thought it'd be interesting to see who is doing the most work outside of their capacity as an MP. Topping that list is Tahir Ali who is also a local Councillor in Birmingham. Unfairly, his total hours add up to 1800 because his listing actually covers two years worth of employment. Second on the list is Douglas Ross who is also a Member of the Scottish Parliament and also serves as an assistant football referee.
Most to MP's party orgs
This covers section 2 which lists support linked to an MP but received by a local party organisation or indirectly via a central party organisation. Top of the list is Tim Farron who received support amounting to £174,053 for the services of policy advisors (at least 2 but possibly more), an intern (possibly more than one), and a public relations company (possibly more than one).
This takes data from section 4 covering funded trips outside the UK. This top 10 is to see who is going on the most overseas trips and that turns out to be Liam Fox - by quite a way.
Most money on trips
This also uses section 4 but adds up the monetary value of the trips. Theresa May is way out in front of all the other MPs having received a value of £69,300 for two trips.
Biggest total gifts
Theresa May takes the top spot for total gifts (sections 3 and 5) at £35,010. A large chunk of this comes from Heathrow Airport letting her use their Windsor Suite. Second on the list is Clive Lewis but looking at his actual entry hints that he may have listed the same loan twice for some reason. Either that or he got two identical loans.
As well as the total of all gifts I thought we should see individual gifts. Top of that list is Clive Lewis with one of his loans. Second was Anna Firth who got free use of a house for several months.
Most gifts (by source)
Next I look at who is giving the gifts. At the moment this only takes into account companies with registration numbers given. The top 10 includes bookmakers, music organisations, sporting organisations, a beer manufacturer and Heathrow Airport (see Theresa May, above). When you look at the entries many of these gifts are tickets to matches, concerts, shows, and horse races.
Gift value (by source)
This top 10 is very similar to the previous one but includes a bank and an educational establishment.
Section 6 describes land and property. That means we can identify which MPs are landlords (at least those who earn over £10k per year in rent). I've added a search box to filter the list of MPs and that shows that there are at least 116 landlords in the House of Commons. That largely matches with what FactCheck/Channel 4 reported in 2017 .
MPs sometimes get fees for appearing on TV or radio. Of the MPs who've appeared on Radio 4's 'Any Questions' during the past 12 months: three donated their fee to charity (David Davis, Jake Berry, Selaine Saxby), two used it for staffing or their local party (Stella Creasy, Claire Hanna), and eight (Michael Fabricant, Edward Leigh, Hilary Benn, Chris Bryant, Robert Buckland, Andrea Jenkyns, Darren Jones, Bob Seely) didn't mention giving the fee away.
As mentioned, we encountered formatting challenges, plus some regular human error with mistyped company numbers, missing commas, etc. We are presenting and quoting things here *as it is seen in the original dataset*.
If you think something doesn't look right in our analysis, you can talk to us about it :) But if you think something doesn't look right in the recording or reporting of this data, you need to reach out to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and/or the Commons Registrar.