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Owen Paterson vote ‘very serious and damaging moment’ for politics, warns sleaze watchdog chief

Boris Johnson’s move to overhaul MPs’ disciplinary processes and block Conservative MP Owen Paterson’s suspension has been condemned as a “very…

By admin , in UK , at November 4, 2021 Tags:

Boris Johnson’s move to overhaul MPs’ disciplinary processes and block Conservative MP Owen Paterson’s suspension has been condemned as a “very serious and damaging moment” for parliament and public standards in Britain.

Lords Evans, the former head of Mi5 and chair of the committee on standards in public life, an independent body which advises the prime minister, hit out at the proposal to create a Tory-dominated committee to investigate sleaze.

It comes after the government secured an 18-vote majority to prevent Mr Paterson’s 30-day suspension — for breaching parliament’s code of conduct — and create a new body to dictate changes to the way standards allegations are investigated.

“This extraordinary proposal is deeply at odds with the best traditions with the best traditions of British democracy,” Lord Evans said during a keynote speech at the Institute for Government (IfG) on Thursday.

In scathing remarks, he said the vote was a “very serious and damaging moment for parliament and for public standards in this country”.

“It cannot be right that MPs should reject after one short debate the conclusions of the independent commissioner for standards and the House of Commons committee on standards — conclusions from an investigation last two years.

“It 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 paid lobbying by an MP.

He went on: “It cannot be right this was accompanied by repeated attempts to question the integrity for commissioner on standards herself.

“It cannot be right to propose that the standards system in the House of Commons should be reviewed a select committee chaired by a member of the ruling party and a majority of members of that same party.

“The seven principles of public life that all governments have espoused for over 25 years require that ministers and MPs should show leadership in upholding ethical standards in public life. I find it hard to see how yesterday’s actions in any way meet that test.”

During the vote last night, more than 100 Tories did not vote and 13 defied a three-line whip to oppose the move, including Nigel Mills, who told The Independent it was “a dark day for integrity in our political system”.

The Conservative MP Angela Richardson was sacked as a parliamentary private secretary to the cabinet minister Michael Gove after she abstained.

Opposition parties, including the SNP and Labour, have already vowed not to engage with the committee they labelled a “kangaroo court”, while Sir Keir Starmer branded the Tory actions as “corruption”.

During his speech, Lord Evans added the new committee approved by Tory MPs would be an “extraordinarily inappropriate way to look at standards matters”.

Asked whether it was reasonable for opposition parties to boycott the committee, which it is proposed would be chaired by former culture secretary John Whittingdale, Lord Evans said: “I think having a committee which is led by a member of the government party, and which has a majority from one party, is a deeply flawed way of addressing standards issues.

“So I’m not surprised if other parties are not wishing to take part in what would seem to me to be an extraordinarily inappropriate way to look at standards matters.”

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, stoked further outrage by suggesting independent standards commissioner Kathryn Stone should resign after finding Mr Paterson repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

The business secretary told Sky News: “It’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process, that we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process.”

Mr Kwarteng said it was “natural” for Ms Stone to review whether she should continue. “It’s up to the commissioner to decide her position … To consider her position is a natural thing. I’m not saying she should resign.”

Labour’s shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire responded: “Having already ripped up the rules policing MP’s behaviour to protect one of their own, it is appalling that this corrupt government is now trying to bully the standards commissioner out of her job.”