Paterson: PM faces public inquiry calls after accusations he awarded peerages to donors

8 November 2021, 06:27 | Updated: 8 November 2021, 06:30

An emergency debate on the Owen Paterson row will take place on Monday, but the Lib Dems are calling for a wider public inquiry
An emergency debate on the Owen Paterson row will take place on Monday, but the Lib Dems are calling for a wider public inquiry. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson will today face calls for a public inquiry into allegations of Tory sleaze as MPs consider how to clean up Westminster in the wake of the Owen Paterson row.

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The Commons will spend three hours hearing an emergency debate on the situation, despite ministers seeking to dismiss the row as a "storm in a teacup".

However Boris Johnson himself is not expected to attend - whilst Labour will be led by Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson is expected to leave the job of representing the Government to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It comes after an investigation indicated that Tory donors would be awarded a seat in the House of Lords if they increased their donations to more than £3m and took on the temporary role of treasurer.

The investigation by The Sunday Times and Open Democracy found that all 16 of the party's main treasurers - with the exception of the most recent one, who stood down two months ago - have been offered a seat in the Upper Chamber.

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Sir Keir said the Prime Minister should attend the debate and apologise to the nation, and "clean out the filthy Augean stable he has created".

"Boris Johnson needs to attend this debate, answer for his mistakes, apologise to the country and take action to undo the damage he has done," said the Labour leader.

"The country is yet to hear a word of contrition over his attempts to create one rule for him and his friends and another for everyone else.

"He must now come to the House and say sorry."

The Liberal Democrats, who secured the debate, have called for a statutory public inquiry into sleaze and corruption allegations.

Such an inquiry would have the power to summon witnesses and take evidence under oath.

It would look beyond the Paterson row, looking as well at the awarding of coronavirus contracts, whether Mr Johnson's holidays in villas provided by friends were properly declared, and how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was funded.

The Liberal Democrats have also pushed for a change to the rules to prevent any MPs who being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from voting in, or proposing amendments to, motions related to disciplinary issues.

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Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said it was "the equivalent of defendants in a court case also taking part in the jury".

She added: "Time and again Government ministers have refused to properly investigate allegations of sleaze, failed to declare relevant meetings and donations and tried to rig the system to cover their own backs.

"We need an independent public inquiry, with the powers and resources to get to the bottom of this Conservative sleaze scandal."

Ahead of the emergency debate, Sir Keir said the Prime Minister must publicly confirm that Mr Paterson - who resigned last week - will not be nominated for a peerage.

Downing Street sources have indicated there is no intention for the former MP to be given a seat in the Upper Chamber, but it would not be the first time the Prime Minister has nominated a politician for a peerage after they lost their job in the House of Commons.

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The debate was granted last week by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle following Tory attempts to block an immediate 30-day suspension for Mr Paterson over an "egregious" breach of lobbying rules.

Conservative MPs were ordered instead to back the creation of a Tory-led committee to look again at Mr Paterson's case and the whole standards system.

But after a backlash the Government performed a U-turn and Mr Paterson subsequently quit as an MP, leaving what he called the "cruel world of politics".

Reports at the weekend suggested the Speaker may put forward his own proposals for reform of the standards process in an effort to take some of the increasingly bitter politics out of the row.

Tory MPs, who have been contacted by furious constituents about the situation, remain angry at the handling of the Paterson case and relations have not been helped by Environment Secretary George Eustice's claim that it was a "Westminster storm in a teacup".

One Tory MP, elected in 2019, told the PA news agency that Mr Eustice's comments were "complete nonsense".

"They need to get a grip and understand that this isn't the way the world works any more," said the MP.

"It might have been 20 years ago or something like that, but people expect - rightly so - the highest standards."