Owen Paterson: Ben Shephard grills Kwarteng over MPs vote
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The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone ruled that Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, had misused his powers in Whitehall to benefit two firms he worked for, describing his conduct as “egregious” paid advocacy. The Commons Standards Committee decreed Mr Paterson be banned from Parliament for 30 days, but on Wednesday the Government voted through a motion to overturn this decision.
With the Prime Minister’s backing, Tory MPs voted for the creation of a new Conservative-majority committee to look into a complete overhaul of parliament’s standards rules and to reconsider Mr Paterson’s case.
Labour, the SNP, and Lib Dems all voted against the motion, alongside 13 rebel Conservatives – but their resistance was not enough.
Cries of “shame” were heard from the benches as speaker Lindsay Hoyle read out the result.
In the 24 hours that ensued, there has been public outcry and press ridicule, alongside MP’s scorn, forcing Boris Johnson to announce a U-turn on the vote.
It is expected that a new vote on Owen Paterson’s suspension will be held before Wednesday.
Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told MPs this morning that a link “needs to be broken” between Mr Paterson’s case and a wider overhaul of parliament’s disciplinary processes.
He said: “I am aware that last night’s vote has created a certain amount of controversy.
“It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis.
“The House voted very clearly yesterday to show that it is worried about the process of handling these complaints and that we would like an appeals system.
“But that change would need to be on a cross-party basis and that is clearly not the case.
“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or applied retrospectively.
“I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern.
“This link needs to be broken.”
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MPs are not allowed to use their power in government to advocate for companies they are receiving cash from.
But Mr Paterson has been a paid consultant for clinical diagnostics company Randox since 2015 and to meat distributer Lynn’s Country Foods since 2016, receiving £100,000 per year from Randox and £12,000 per year from Lynn’s on top of his £81,000 parliamentary salary.
The Commons Standards Committee found that Mr Paterson had breached this rule on paid advocacy by:
• Making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk.
• Making seven approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Lynn’s Country Foods.
• Making four approaches to Ministers at the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology.
• Failing to declare his interest as a paid consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods in four emails to officials at the Food Standards Agency.
• Using his parliamentary office on 26 occasions for business meetings with his clients.
• Sending two letters relating to his business interests, on House of Commons headed notepaper.
If MPs were to approve a 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson, he would be subject to a recall petition, and if more than 10 percent of local voters sign the petition, a by-election could be triggered in his North Shropshire constituency and the Tories could lose a seat in parliament.
Do you think a 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson is enough considering his paid advocacy? Or should he be struck off completely? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
Three of the Tory MPs who voted in favour of a rethink of the current standards rules are currently under investigation themselves.
Shadow leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, said: “All decent people of all political beliefs must stand against these naked attempts by Tory MPs to avoid scrutiny of their behaviour.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Tory MPs had voted “to let off one of their own”, a decision which he argues will “further undermine public faith in politics at a time when we should be trying to restore decency and honesty”.
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Lord Evans, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life – advising the PM over the conduct of his ministers – said it was “a very serious and damaging moment for parliament and for public standards in this country”.
Some MPs even compared the Tory decision to overhaul regulations as a motion that would only be passed in Russia.
But Business Secretary Mr Kwarteng rejected those comparisons, telling the Today Programme that MPs had been talking about changing the process “for a long time”.
He said the vote was about “bringing back a sense of fairness”, and Mr Paterson’s case “heightened and brought attention to this fact”.
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