Conservative MPs will attempt to save a colleague who was found to have breached lobbying rules from suspension from the Commons, citing concerns about the investigation procedures for alleged misconduct.
North Shropshire Tory 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.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone recommended he be banned from the Commons for six weeks, which represents 30 sitting days.
But amendments tabled ahead of a planned vote on the case on Wednesday looked to delay or completely quash any sanctions, as The Telegraph reported Tory MPs and ministers will be told by Government whips to back attempts to reform the standards procedures.
One amendment put forward by former leader of the Commons Dame Andrea Leadsom would see the creation of a new committee that 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 as of Tuesday evening.
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.
And he has angrily disputed the findings of the report, claiming the investigation was unfairly conducted.
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.
“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?’”
As part of Dame Andrea’s proposals, MPs on a Conservative-majority committee led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale would examine whether the standards system should mirror that of investigations of misconduct in other workplaces, including the right of representation, the examination of witnesses, and the right of appeal.
It would also look into whether Mr Paterson’s case specifically should be reviewed.
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”.
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 any amendment lies with Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
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.
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”.
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.
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