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Owen Paterson has said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to work as lobbyist again despite the uproar over his breach of rules and Tory MPs voting against his immediate parliamentary suspension.
In an unheard of move, MPs voted not to back the cross-party Standards Committee’s call for a six-week ban from parliament for the former cabinet minister after it found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.
MPs backed an amendment calling for a review of his case after Conservatives were ordered to sustain the bid and Boris Johnson questioned whether the investigation into Paterson was fair.
Anti-corruption campaigners, unions, political observers and Opposition MPs condemned the decision, with the Tories accused of “wallowing in sleaze”.
But Paterson was unrepentant over his lobbying on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.
Paterson was found to have breached rules on lobbying on behalf of Randox by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency about the testing of antibiotics in milk in 2016 and 2017.
On Wednesday night, Paterson told Sky News when asked if he would do the same again: “No, I wouldn’t hesitate tomorrow. Absolutely.
“When we found out about the milk I realised it was absolute dynamite. First of all it was very obvious that lives were at risk, and secondly, if it had been mishandled and had been leaked to keen media agents like you, we could have absolutely blown the UK dairy industry apart.
“So I had absolutely no hesitation in any case in calling a meeting very rapidly. And if you look at the observe statements, they are grateful that I did do that.
“As a consequence of those efforts, British milk is now safer. And we did it without disrupting the dairy industry. So I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again tomorrow, absolutely no question.”
Former minister Owen Paterson has admitted that he continues to work with the two firms he was found to have lobbied on behalf of and would “absolutely” do the same thing again after he was reprimanded by the Committee on Standards.
Read more here: https://t.co/rJJJBYeUcApic.twitter.com/PISmSqqkFI
— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 3, 2021
Paterson, the MP for North Shropshire, could have faced a possible by-election if the suspension had been approved.
He said: “All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case by a fair course of action.
“The decision today in parliament method that I will now have that opportunity.”
Johnson had placed Tories under a three-line whip to sustain the amendment tabled by former Commons leader Dame Andrea Leadsom.
There were shouts of “shame” and “what have you done to this place” from Opposition MPs as the House voted by a thin majority of 18 to approve the amendment.
The division list showed 13 Tories voted against the Leadsom amendment, while no vote was recorded by 98 others.
Some 246 Conservatives were listed among the 250 MPs who backed the motion, as was Rob Roberts, who lost the Tory whip after he was found to have sexually harassed a member of staff.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the Tories of being “rotten to the chief”.
in addition as reviewing Paterson’s case, the amendment calls for a Conservative-majority committee led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale to examine the standards system.
The committee was intended to include four other Tory MPs, three Labour MPs and one SNP MP.
But Rayner said Labour will “not be taking any part in this sham course of action or any corrupt committee”, with the SNP and Lib Dems also saying they would boycott it.
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone had recommended a ban from the Commons of 30 sitting days for Paterson in a report approved by the Standards Committee.
Paterson claimed the investigation was unfairly conducted and argued the manner in which it was carried out had played a “major role” in his wife Rose’s suicide last year.
The chief minister, who voted for the amendment, said paid lobbying in the Commons “is wrong” and those “who are found guilty of that should apologise and pay the necessary penalties”.
“But that is not the issue in this case or this vote that is before us,” he additional to MPs.
“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 allurement.”
Rayner accused the Conservatives of “wallowing in sleaze” and claimed they were demonstrating it was “one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us”.
The Father of the House, Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley, refused to sustain the move to consider tearing up the standards system during the middle of Paterson’s case.
“We chose the system we are now using,” he said. “If we want to consider changing it, we do it in a proper way instead of considering it in the way we are now.”
Daniel Bruce, chief executive of anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International UK, said: “With this vote MPs have sent a clear signal that they believe there should be one set of rules for them, and another set for everyone else.
“This is hugely damaging for trust in our democracy and the rule of law.”
Standards Committee chairman Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, had warned that if the Leadsom amendment won then “the public would think that we would be the Parliament that licensed cash for questions”.
There had never been a successful amendment to reduce the suspension of an MP since the Second World War while the House had never voted down a disciplinary sanction since the creation of the modern standards system.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Sometimes to do the right thing one has to accept a degree of opprobrium.”
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