Allies of Conservative MP seek to review or quash potential suspension

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Tory MP Owen Paterson was found to have breached Commons lobbying rules (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Tory MP Owen Paterson was found to have breached Commons lobbying rules (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Allies of a Tory MP found to have breached Commons lobbying rules will seek to have his recommended suspension reviewed or dropped, in a move the Commons leader suggested has not been taken for more than 70 years.

Two amendments are understood to have been tabled after North Shropshire 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.

It was recommended he be banned from the Commons for six weeks – or 30 sitting days – as punishment, but Mr Paterson has angrily disputed the findings by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster (Tim Ireland/PA) (PA Wire)
The Houses of Parliament in Westminster (Tim Ireland/PA) (PA Wire)

MPs are due to vote on whether to approve his suspension on Wednesday, but an amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister and South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom suggests the Commons should instead set up a committee which would examine – among other issues – whether the case against Mr Paterson should be reviewed.

A separate amendment proposed by New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis said no further action should be taken “on compassionate grounds” and this has been supported by fellow Conservatives William Wragg and Peter Bone, with a total of 13 MPs backing it so far.

Mr Paterson has said 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.

But Labour warned against turning “the clock back to the era of Neil Hamilton, cash for questions and no independent standards process”.

Thangam Debbonaire shadow Commons leader, 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”.

On Tuesday, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed sympathy for the MP’s claim that the commissioner did not speak to 17 witnesses who came forward to support him, describing that decision as “interesting”.

Mr Rees-Mogg told his ConservativeHome podcast: “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.

“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.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg (PA). (PA Wire)
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg (PA). (PA Wire)

“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?’”

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

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

Ms Leadsom’s 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 Mr Paterson’s case specifically should be reviewed.

Sir Lindsay’s spokeswoman did not deny a report in the Times that suggested he believes overturning the suspension would bring the House into disrepute.

It is always very important that systems appear to be fair

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Ms Stone’s investigation found Mr Paterson repeatedly lobbied on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods.

But the MP struck back, saying the investigation finding he breached rules on paid advocacy by MPs was a “biased process and not fair”.

Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether Boris Johnson viewed the report as flawed, as Mr Paterson and his allies have claimed.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “The standards regime is a matter for the House of Commons.”

It was unclear whether Conservative MPs will be whipped to vote a certain way over the suspension, or whether they will be given a free vote.

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.

Labour MP Chris Bryant outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Labour MP Chris Bryant outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

“We reviewed and published all the witness statements in detail and gave Mr Paterson every opportunity to make his case. The facts however speak for themselves,” he added.

“This was a unanimous and cross-party report. No standards committee report in our history has been voted down.

“Voting or watering down the sanction would do serious reputational damage to Parliament and would open politics up to a new scandal of paid lobbying by MPs.”

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