UK PM’s party slammed for backing overhaul of system that polices lawmakers

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Parliament’s standards watchdog had determined Conservative Owen Paterson had committed an “egregious case of paid advocacy” by repeatedly using his position https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-lawmaker-should-be-suspended-over-egregious-paid-lobbying-watchdog-2021-10-26 to promote two companies, who together paid him nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary.

It had recommended he should be suspended for 30 days.

But when parliament was asked to endorse the suspension, a group of Conservatives, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s support, put forward a proposal to delay it and instead set up a new committee to review his case and the wider process of investigating lawmakers.

That proposal was passed by 250 votes to 232, despite considerable anger from opposition parties that the government was changing the rules because it did not like the result, a move that they said would damage public trust in parliament.

There were shouts of “shame” from opposition lawmakers as the result was read out. There was also disquiet among some on the governing benches; of the 361 Conservative lawmakers in parliament, more than 100 either voted against or abstained.

“This is corruption,” opposition Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter. “Owen Paterson was found guilty of breaking the rules by an independent committee. He took money from a private company and then lobbied Ministers on their behalf.”

“MARKING OUR OWN HOMEWORK”

The government, which media reported had told its lawmakers to back the proposal, said it was about improving the process.

“Paid advocacy in this House (of Commons) is wrong,” Johnson, who himself voted for the move, told lawmakers.

“The issue in this case … 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.”

Paterson, who says the stress of the investigation played a major role in his wife’s suicide last year, disputes the committee’s findings and said witnesses who came forward to support him were not spoken to.

Conservative lawmaker Peter Bottomley, parliament’s longest serving member, said he opposed the change and it should have been done separately from the decision on Paterson’s suspension.

“We chose the system we are now using. If we want to consider changing it we should do it in a proper way. I don’t regard this as appropriate,” he said.

The Committee on Standards is made up of seven lawmakers from several parties including four Conservatives, as well as seven lay members. The new committee will have a majority of Conservatives and be led by a former Conservative minister.

Opposition parties indicated they would boycott the new body. Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards, said changing the rules retrospectively was immoral.

“If the public believe that we are marking our own homework, our reputation individually and collectively will be tarnished,” he said.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Michael Holden, William Maclean)



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