Tories bid to overturn result of Owen Paterson lobbying inquiry

3 November 2021, 08:39 | Updated: 3 November 2021, 11:57

MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to suspend Owen Paterson - but a number of amendments could see his suspension overturned
MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to suspend Owen Paterson - but a number of amendments could see his suspension overturned. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Tory MPs will today attempt to save a colleague who was found to have breached lobbying rules from a 30-day Commons suspension, citing concerns about the processes in the investigation.

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North Shropshire Tory 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.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone recommended he should be banned from the Commons for six weeks - representing 30 sitting days.

MPs will vote on Wednesday to decide whether he should be suspended as recommended.

Read more: Tory MP faces 30 day suspension from Parliament after lobbying investigation

However, amendments tabled ahead of the planned vote look to delay or completely quash any sanctions as Tory MPs and ministers will be told by Government whips to back attempts to reform the standards procedures.

When asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari whether he would support the amendments, Treasury minister John Glen said: "I think there are legitimate questions about the process that the investigation took and I think it is appropriate that those are examined carefully by my colleagues in the House of Commons."

He added: "In all these matters, when there is a report from the Standards Committee, it comes before the House of Commons to vote on its recommendations and, in the course of that discussion, amendments can be tabled."

Downing Street has backed an overhaul of the standards process, saying: "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."

One amendment - put forward by former Commons leader Dame Andrea Leadsom - would see the creation of a new committee that would examine a number of things including whether the case against Mr Paterson should be reviewed.

The proposals would also see the Conservative-majority committee, led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale, examine whether the standards system should mirror that of misconduct investigations in other work places, including the right to representation, the examination of witnesses, and the right of appeal.

A separate amendment, proposed by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis, said no further action should be taken on "compassionate grounds" after Mr Paterson said the manner in which the investigation had been carried out had "undoubtedly" played a "major role" in the decision of his wife Rose to take her own life last year.

This amendment has been supported by fellow Conservatives William Wragg and Peter Bone, with a total of 13 MPs backing it as of Tuesday evening.

The decision on whether to accept any amendment lies with Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, whose spokesperson said he had indicted he would select Dame Andrea's amendment, but not Mr Lewis'.

There is also a three-line Conservative whip to support her amendment.

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Mr Paterson hit out at the report when it was published last week, claiming the investigation had not been conducted fairly.

Among other things, he accused the Commissioner of not speaking to 17 witnesses who came forward to support him - something that Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg described on Tuesday as "interesting".

"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," said Mr Rees-Mogg on his ConservativeHome podcast.

"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?'"

Labour have hit out at the proposals, warning against turning "the clock back to the era of Neil Hamilton, cash for questions and no independent standards process".

Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire 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."

She 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".

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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.

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

Sir Lindsay reportedly said that overturning Mr Paterson's suspension would bring the House into disrepute.

His spokeswoman did not deny a report in the Times that suggested he was against the amendments.