PM turns back on controversial review of Owen Paterson lobbying suspension
Boris Johnson has made an extraordinary turnaround on controversial plans to overhaul the disciplinary process for MPs and examine a high-ranking Tory’s alleged violation of lobbying rules after widespread outrage.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would now seek “cross-party” changes to the system after Labor and other opposition parties refused to participate in a Conservative-led committee ” corrupt âresponsible for the review.
And he suggested any changes might not “apply in retrospect” after the government came under heavy criticism for blocking Owen Paterson’s immediate suspension after it was discovered he had done so. repeated pressure on ministers and officials of two companies paying him over Â£ 100,000 a year.
Government sources have indicated that Mr Paterson, who represents North Shropshire, will face a new vote on his recommended suspension of the Commons for 30 sitting days, but could not say when that would take place.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s announcement to MPs came as an ethics adviser to the prime minister called Wednesday’s votes “a very serious and damaging moment for Parliament”.
Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said plans for a Conservative-led review of MPs’ disciplinary process were “deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy”.
The Commons leader acknowledged that “some controversy” had been created by this decision and that standards should be reformed on a multi-party basis, which he acknowledged “this is clearly not the case” with the proposals. of the government.
“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeal process, there is also a strong feeling that it should not be based on a single case. or apply retrospectively, âMr. Rees-Mogg said. .
âI fear that last night’s debate has confused an individual case with general concern. This link must be broken.
âTherefore, I and others will seek to work on a multi-stakeholder basis to improve our system for future cases. We will present more detailed proposals once there have been discussions between the parties. “
Mr Rees-Mogg did not say what would happen to the Paterson affair, after the government avoided a vote on his six-week suspension on Wednesday.
He did not respond directly to a request from Chris Bryant, the chair of the standards committee that approved Mr Paterson’s report, for the House of Commons to deal with the matter next week.
The government on Wednesday ordered Tory MPs to back the controversial plans, but they were quickly left in disarray when Labor, SNP and Liberals vowed to boycott what Labor Vice President Angela Rayner called the ” corrupt committee “.
Mark Harper, who was one of 13 Tories to rebel to vote against the plans, said the affair was “one of the most uninspiring episodes” he had seen in his 16 years at the helm. Parliament.
“My colleagues should not have been instructed from the top to vote for this,” said the former chief whip. âThis must not happen again. “
Shortly before the fall of Mr Rees-Mogg, Lord Evans issued an extraordinary critique of the plans.
The former MI5 chief told an Institute for Government event: âIt cannot be right to propose an overhaul of the entire regulatory system in order to postpone or prevent sanctions in a very serious case of lobbying paid by a deputy.
âAnd it may not be fair to suggest that the standards system in the House of Commons be reviewed by a select committee chaired by a member of the ruling party and with a majority of members of that same party.
âThis extraordinary proposal is deeply at odds with the best traditions of British democracy.
“The political system in this country is not owned by a party or even a government, it is a common good that we all inherited from our ancestors and that we all have a responsibility to preserve and improve.”
Lord Evans went on to suggest that Mr Johnson and others may have violated Nolan’s principles on public life, which are contained in the ministerial code.
“The seven principles of public life that all governments have espoused for over 25 years require ministers and members of Parliament to show leadership in upholding ethical standards in public life,” he said.
“I find it hard to see how yesterday’s stocks respond in any way to this test.”
Meanwhile, ministers have been accused of attempting to “intimidate” Independent Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, who led the investigation into Mr Paterson, into resigning after the business secretary suggested that she should consider her position.
Just hours before the U-turn, Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News: âI think it’s hard to see what the future of the commissioner is, given that we are looking at the process and overturning and trying to reform that’s the whole process, but it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position.
Pushed on what he meant by ‘deciding her position’, Mr Kwarteng said, ‘It’s up to her to do it. I mean, it’s up to whoever has passed judgment and people have sought to change that, to look at their position, it’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should quit.
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire called on the Prime Minister to “immediately distance himself from these latest attempts to poison British politics”.
“Having already torn up the rules governing the behavior of MPs to protect one of their own, it is appalling that this corrupt government is now trying to intimidate the Commissioner for Labor Standards,” added the Labor MP.
Mr Kwarteng said the government’s decision to order its MPs to change the rules to spare a colleague did not sound “fishy” as he rejected growing criticism.
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain accused the Tories of “governing like the Mafia” by “targeting those who play by the rules rather than those who break them.”
“These shameful attempts to drag the Standards Commissioner through the mud must be denounced for what they really are – an attack on our democracy,” she added.
It wasn’t just opposition MPs who were outraged by the move, dozens of Tories abstained and 13 rebelled against orders to vote for a new committee headed by former minister John Whittingdale, who would review Mr. Paterson’s case and determine whether a new system of standards is needed.