Owen Paterson suspension: ‘When they break the rules, they just remake the rules’
Written by Hitmix News on 4 November 2021
Boris Johnson has been accused of delivering “one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us” ahead of a Conservative bid to save a Tory ex-minister from an immediate House of Commons suspension.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner attacked the prime minister over his support for an overhaul of MPs’ standards rules after it was recommended that former environment secretary Owen Paterson be given a 30-day suspension for breaching lobbying regulations.
MPs are later on Wednesday due to vote on whether to approve the punishment for Mr Paterson. But the North Shropshire MP could be saved after Mr Johnson lent his support to a bid by his Conservative colleagues to have the case against him reconsidered.
Image: Parliament’s sleaze investigator recommended Owen Paterson serve a 30-day suspension
Quizzing Mr Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions, ahead of the Commons vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension, Ms Rayner accused the Tories of attempting to “change the rules to allow cash for access”.
“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,” she said as she deputised for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
“It’s one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.”
Ms Rayner referred to the case of Delyn MP Rob Roberts, who was found by an independent panel earlier this year to have sexually harassed a member of his staff.
“When a Conservative member was found guilty of sexual harassment but let off on a loophole, they said the rules couldn’t be changed after the event,” she added.
“So they can’t change the rules to stop sexual harassment, but they can change the rules to allow cash for access. Why is the prime minister making it up as he goes along?”
Ms Rayner claimed that when Conservatives “break the rules, they just remake the rules” and urged Mr Johnson to “learn the lessons” from his “hero” Donald Trump as she accused his government of “wallowing in sleaze”.
“If you keep cheating the public it catches up with you in the end,” she said.
In response to Ms Rayner, the prime minister told MPs that “paid lobbying, paid advocacy in this House is wrong – let me make absolutely no bones about that”.
“Members who are found guilty of that should apologise and pay the necessary penalties,” Mr Johnson said.
“The issue in this case, which involved a serious family tragedy, is whether a member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case.
“And, whether as a matter of natural justice, our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal. That is something that I think that should be of interest to members across this House.”
The prime minister added that “all the professions” mentioned by Ms Rayner “have a right to appeal” in disciplinary cases.
“That is what the House needs to consider,” he continued. “May I respectfully say to her, instead of playing politics on this issue – which is what they are doing – I think that she needs to consider the procedures of this House in a spirit of fairness.”
After PMQs, the prime minister’s press secretary said that Mr Johnson’s support for an overhaul of MPs’ disciplinary process was “absolutely not a case of MPs marking their own homework”.
Sky News has seen a letter from cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, urging all Conservative MPs to support an amendment on Wednesday tabled by senior Tory Andrea Leadsom.
“Many members do not believe the current standards system follows natural justice. It is vital that a reformed standards system commands the confidence of the House and the wider public,” Mr Rees-Mogg wrote.
“It is on that basis I believe we should support the backbench amendment today.”
In a debate on Ms Leadsom’s amendment later on Wednesday, Labour’s Jess Phillips asked Mr Rees-Mogg: “Does he think he would be standing here today making these changes if it were a Labour MP involved?”
He replied: “I think she knows me well enough to know that the answer is yes, I would have no hesitation if I thought an honourable member opposite had not had a proper process.”
Ms Leadsom’s amendment seeks to pause Mr Paterson’s suspension and instead create a new Commons committee, with a Conservative majority, to review the current standards system and consider whether the case against Mr Paterson should be rethought.
Mr Paterson earns more than £110,000 per year in total for his consultancy roles with two companies.
Last month, the 65-year-old was found to have “repeatedly used his privileged position” to benefit Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.
But he has declared himself “not guilty” and said he was raising serious issues about food contamination in his contact with officials.
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Mr Paterson has accused parliament’s sleaze investigator of coming to a conclusion before the allegations were put to him and claimed none of his 17 witnesses were interviewed.
He has also said the investigation “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.
Earlier this year, Mr Roberts was suspended from the Commons but a legal loophole meant he was not subject to a recall petition – which could have led to a by-election being held in Delyn.
Angered by the matter, MPs last month voted to change the rules so members suspended for offences including sexual harassment or bullying can now face a recall petition.
However, MPs voted against Labour’s proposal to make the rule changes retrospective, meaning they cannot be applied to Mr Roberts.
If MPs were to approve the 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson, he would be subject to a recall petition. This could see a by-election be triggered in his constituency if more than 10% of local voters sign the petition.
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