Owen Paterson: MPs vote not to suspend Tory who broke lobbying rules

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Owen Paterson: MPs vote not to suspend Tory who broke lobbying rules
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MPs have voted against immediately suspending Owen Paterson from the House of Commons after an inquiry found he had “repeatedly” broken lobbying rules.

In an unprecedented move, they chose not to endorse the cross-party standards committee's call for a 30 day ban for the former cabinet minister.

Shouts of "shame" came from the opposition benches as the result was read out on Wednesday afternoon.

The standards watchdog had recommended that Mr Paterson receive a six week suspension after he used his position as an MP to benefit two companies who paid him £100,000 a year as a consultant.

Mr Paterson, the MP for North Shropshire, could have faced recall proceedings that may have triggered a by-election if the suspension was approved.

The amendment, put forward by Dame Andrea Leadsom, sets up a new select committee which will examine the parliamentary standards system and recommend whether to review the case.

Mr Paterson said the move would allow him to clear his name after "two years of hell", but anti-corruption campaigners, unions, political observers and Opposition MPs condemned the decision, with the Tories accused of "wallowing in sleaze".

Ministers had placed Tories under a three-line whip to support the amendment. The House voted 250 to 232, majority 18, to approve it

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the Tories of being "rotten to the core" after the "absolute disgrace".

She said the party will "not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee", with the SNP also saying it would boycott the overhaul.

Ms Leadsom said she had "grave concerns" about the current process and that it was not about whether her fellow Conservative was "innocent or guilty under that report."

"It's not about letting anyone off, stitching anything up or any of the other accusations flying around the chamber," she said.

"Today's amendment is about the process of investigations into members and the question over whether this process must now be reviewed by a politically balanced select committee that will consider some exceedingly serious questions."

Conservative MP Aaron Bell said he could not support the amendment and described it as looking "like we're moving the goalposts".

Labour MP Jess Phillips said the amendment could make it difficult for anyone, including victims of sexual harassment or assault, to come forward with complaints about MPs.

She told the Commons: "Two of the people who went through that process contacted me to say that what is happening in Parliament, these are victims of sexual harassment or assault, that what is happening is very unedifying and makes them certain that victims will find it very difficult to understand that we won't just overturn things and make it very hard for anyone to come forward about anything."

Mr Paterson has rejected the findings of the committee and said he was acting as a whistleblower over milk and food safety.

He said “a fair process would exonerate me” and described the investigation as “a major contributory factor” in the death of his wife, Rose, who took her own life last year.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Paterson's wife's suicide "is a greater punishment than any House of Commons committee could inflict".

He said: "Members must act when we see a situation arise that we do not believe to be compatible with the principles of natural justice. This is about the process and not the individual case."

But, how can one not consider the great sorrow my right honourable friend has suffered when considering this report. The suicide of his wife is a greater punishment than any House of Commons committee could inflict."

Daniel Bruce, chief executive of anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International UK, said: “With this vote MPs have sent a clear signal that they believe there should be one set of rules for them, and another set for everyone else.

“This is hugely damaging for trust in our democracy and the rule of law.”

A Number 10 spokesman said: “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.

“This isn’t about one case but providing Members of Parliament from all political parties with the right to a fair hearing.”

Read More

What the papers say – November 4

Tories accused of ‘corruption’ after vote to protect MP from suspension

Tories accused of ‘wallowing in sleaze’ as Paterson spared immediate suspension

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