Minister expresses 'regret' over vote in Paterson sleaze scandal

9 November 2021, 00:38

Minister Stephen Barclay has admitted he "regrets" his vote.
Minister Stephen Barclay expressed his regret. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Minister Stephen Barclay has expressed his "regret" and admitted it was a mistake to try to change standards rules to prevent Owen Patterson from being suspended.

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Opening his speech in the Commons, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster told MPs: "I would like first and foremost to express my regret, and that of my ministerial colleagues, over the mistake made last week.

"The manner in which the Government approached last week's debate conflated them with the response to an individual case."

However, despite calls from some MPs, Mr Barclay said the government would not hold a second vote on the suspension of Mr Paterson, arguing that the questions was not applicable given his resignation from the House of Commons.

He added: "We recognise there are concerns across the House over the standards system and also the process by which possible breaches of the code of conduct are investigated.

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"Yet whilst sincerely held concerns clearly warrant further attention, the manner in which the Government approached last week's debate conflated them with the response to an individual case."

The emergency debate was called in the wake of the Owen Paterson row, which saw the Conservative quit after outrage at his breach of lobbying rules.

The Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the debate - with some accusing him of "running scared" after deciding to follow through with his visit to an NHS hospital trust in Northumberland on Monday.

Asked earlier if he would apologise to his party and the public about the saga, Boris Johnson said MPs have "got to make sure... that we take all this very, very seriously and that we get it right".

He added: "There's a debate today, unfortunately I can't be there because I had a long-standing engagement."

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The fiery debate on Monday also saw former chief whip Mark Harper call on Mr Johnson to apologise for his handling of the sleaze row which has engulfed the Conservative Party over the past week, with more recently elected Tories expressing their dissatisfaction with Downing Street's attitude.

It comes after Tory MPs were ordered on Wednesday to vote for a new committee to consider an altered system of appeals after former environment secretary Owen Paterson was sanctioned, only for ministers to backtrack hours later after opposition parties refused to co-operate.

In the bitter aftermath of the row, Mr Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire after 24 years, blaming the "cruel world of politics".

It followed a recommendation by the Commons Standards Committee that he should be suspended from Parliament for six weeks after committing an "egregious" breach of the centuries-old ban on paid lobbying by MPs.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of failing to have the "decency" to address the Commons in person. "Rather than repairing the damage that he's done, the Prime Minister is running scared," said Sir Keir.

Calls to apologise also came from his own backbenches, as Mr Harper pressed Mr Johnson to own up to his errors.

The former Cabinet minister said: "If on occasion, as on this occasion... the team captain gets it wrong, then I think he should come and apologise to the public and to this House.

"That's the right thing to do in terms of demonstrating leadership."