Senior Tory MP Admits Bid To Overturn Owen Paterson's Suspension 'Looks Terrible'

Labour accused them of returning to the "dark days of Tory sleaze".
Owen Paterson MP in October, 2019
Owen Paterson MP in October, 2019
NurPhoto via Getty Images

A senior Tory has admitted that a bid by MPs to reform Commons disciplinary rules and potentially spare a colleague from suspension “looks terrible”.

The Conservatives have been accused of undermining public trust after allies of MP Owen Paterson - found to have breached Commons lobbying rules - are seeking a rule change that could overturn his suspension.

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

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

Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin, who is backing the bid to overhaul MPs’ standards rules, insisted there was “no alternative”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This looks terrible, we’ve had a bad system for years and years and years. I just see this as an opportunity to fix it.

“We’re not letting Owen Paterson off, we’re not exonerating him, we’re not condoning him, we’re going to put his case in front of a proper judicial-style panel where there can be proper hearing and proper cross-examination of witnesses and natural justice.”

MPs are due to vote on whether to approve Paterson’s suspension on Wednesday, but an amendment tabled by former cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom suggests instead they should set up a committee that would examine issues - including whether the case against Paterson should be reviewed.

The Telegraph reported 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.

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.

Reports suggest prime minister Boris Johnson will support the effort by backbenchers in a likely Commons vote on Wednesday afternoon.

But the decision whether to accept an amendment lies with the speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

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: “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.”

A No.10 spokesperson said: "It is essential that all in parliament uphold the highest standards in public life. There must be tough and robust checks against lobbying for profit. There must be a proper process to scrutinise and – if necessary – discipline those who do not follow the rules.

“As in any normal workplace and all walks of life, people should be entitled to the right to appeal. This is sacrosanct in providing fairness and natural justice, and ensuring there is an opportunity to check due process and that the right procedures were followed.

“This isn’t about one case but providing Members of Parliament from all political parties with the right to a fair hearing.

“Therefore the Commons should seek cross-party agreement on a new appeals process whereby the conclusions of the standards committee and the Commissioner can be looked at. This could include judicial and lay member representation on the appeals panel.”

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