Tories Plot To Overturn MP Owen Paterson's Suspension For Breaking Lobbying Rules

Conservatives have been accused of reverting to "the dark days of sleaze".
Owen Paterson faces being suspended for 30 days over an "egregious case of paid advocacy".
Owen Paterson faces being suspended for 30 days over an "egregious case of paid advocacy".
Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images

The Conservatives have been accused of undermining public trust in politics as allies of a Tory MP found to have breached Commons lobbying rules seek to overturn his suspension.

North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson was found to have committed an “egregious” breach of standards rules as he lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

It was recommended he be banned from the Commons for six weeks as punishment, but Paterson has angrily disputed the findings by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.

MPs are due to vote on whether to approve his suspension on Wednesday, but an amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister and South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom instead suggests the Commons should instead set up a committee which would examine – among other issues – whether the case against Paterson should be reviewed.

The Telegraph reported on Tuesday night that Tory MPs and ministers will be ordered by the government’s whips to support the motion, meaning it would pass if there is no Conservative rebellion.

Thangam Debbonaire, Labour’s shadow leader of the Commons, warned against turning “the clock back to the era of Neil Hamilton, cash for questions and no independent standards process”.

She said: “Let’s not forget that the cross-party standards committee, including three Tory MPs, endorsed the commissioner’s 30-day sanction for a breach of the rule around paid advocacy.”

The Labour MP said that “the Tories want to jettison the system that has served us well and which has been a vital part of rebuilding public trust after the dark days of Tory sleaze this government seems determined to return to”.

The amendment would see a new select committee chaired by former culture minister John Whittingdale look into the standards system. It would also look into whether Paterson’s case specifically should be reviewed.

But the decision whether to accept an amendment lies with Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle. His spokesperson did not deny a report in the Times that suggested he believes overturning the suspension would bring the House into disrepute.

A separate amendment proposed by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis said no further action should be taken “on compassionate grounds” and this has been supported by fellow Conservatives William Wragg and Peter Bone, with a total of 13 MPs backing it so far.

Paterson has said the manner in which the investigation was carried out had “undoubtedly” played a “major role” in the decision of his wife Rose to take her own life last year.

On Tuesday, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed sympathy for the MP’s claim that the commissioner did not speak to 17 witnesses who came forward to support him, describing that decision as “interesting”.

Rees-Mogg told his ConservativeHome podcast: “It is always very important that systems appear to be fair, and therefore if somebody has witnesses, it would normally appear to be fair that those witnesses should be heard.

“The commissioner in her report that was adopted… said the witnesses weren’t needed because their evidence they gave wasn’t relevant to the inquiry.

“And that is an interesting view to come to, because other people might say: ‘How do you know whether it was relevant to the inquiry until you’ve taken their evidence and have found out the precise context of how things were done?’”

Rees-Mogg said there was “precedence” for amending a motion to suspend an MP, saying it was last done in 1947.

Stone’s investigation found Paterson repeatedly lobbied on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods.

But the MP struck back, saying the investigation finding he breached rules on paid advocacy by MPs was a “biased process and not fair”.

Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether Boris Johnson viewed the report as flawed, as Paterson and his allies have claimed.

The prime minister’s press secretary said: “The standards regime is a matter for the House of Commons.”

It was unclear whether Conservative MPs will be whipped to vote a certain way over the suspension, or whether they will be given a free vote.

Committee on Standards chairman Chris Bryant urged MPs to “read the report in full, with a fair and open mind” and warned against voting it down in what would be an unprecedented move in the committee’s roughly 36-year history.

“We reviewed and published all the witness statements in detail and gave Mr Paterson every opportunity to make his case. The facts however speak for themselves,” he added.

“This was a unanimous and cross-party report. No standards committee report in our history has been voted down.

“Voting or watering down the sanction would do serious reputational damage to Parliament and would open politics up to a new scandal of paid lobbying by MPs.”


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