'Wallowing in sleaze': MPs save Tory from suspension in lobbying scandal

3 November 2021, 15:46 | Updated: 3 November 2021, 18:06

MPs backed an amendment seeking to reform the Commons standards system meaning a decision on whether to suspend Mr Paterson will be put on hold
MPs backed an amendment seeking to reform the Commons standards system meaning a decision on whether to suspend Mr Paterson will be put on hold. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

MPs have voted to pause a recommended six-week suspension of MP Owen Paterson, amid a breach of lobbying rules.

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The Commons Standards Committee (CSC) had previously recommended the North Shropshire MP be suspended for 30-days after an investigation found Mr Paterson repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

The suspension would have triggered a recall petition, potentially leading to a by-election if 10 per cent of eligible voters in his North Shropshire constituency signed it. 

But after a vote in the House of Commons today, Conservative MPs backed an amendment seeking to reform the Commons standards system by 250 votes to 232, meaning a decision on whether to suspend Owen Paterson will be put on hold whilst the system for investigating MPs is reviewed.

Mr Paterson voted himself in favour of the amendment after "two years of hell" claiming he was subject an unfair investigation.

Speaking about the amendment, Mr Paterson said: "The process I was subjected to did not comply with natural justice.  No proper investigation was undertaken by the commissioner or committee. 

"The Standards Commissioner has admitted making up her mind before speaking to me or any witnesses.  All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case through a fair process. 

"The decision today in Parliament means that I will now have that opportunity.  After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name. 

"I am extremely grateful to the PM, the Leader of the House and my colleagues for ensuring that fundamental changes will be made to internal Parliamentary systems of justice. 

"I hope that no other MP will ever again be subject to this shockingly inadequate process."

MPs later voted 248 to 221, majority 27, to approve the motion as amended - therefore confirming the proposal to consider reforming the House of Commons standards system and prevent the immediate suspension of Conservative former minister Owen Paterson.

The move was met with criticism with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner describing the result as a "disgrace".

She tweeted: "Tory Ministers and MPs just voted to over-rule an independent cross-party committee which found that a Conservative MP repeatedly breached the rules by pocketing over £100,000 a year to lobby Ministers on behalf of his paymasters.

"An absolute disgrace. Rotten to the core."

Ms Rayner, standing in for Sir Keir Starmer after he had a positive coronavirus test, accused the Conservatives of "wallowing in sleaze".

"If it was a police officer, a teacher, a doctor, we would expect the independent process to be followed and not changed after the verdict - it's one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us," she added.

Mr Paterson has previously disputed the CSC findings, claiming the investigation was unfairly conducted, and he argued that 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.

The Commons Standards Committee backed the findings and said that the MP's actions were "an egregious case of paid advocacy".

Committee chair Chris Bryant said: "The definition of injustice is you change the rules in the midst of the process. This would create a special system for one person and is completely unfair."

Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, raising a point of order in the Commons, said of the newly created committee: "I don't believe any honourable member is truly honourable if they serve on this new committee.

"I want my constituents to know that no Member of Parliament serves on this corrupt committee in my name."