Jacob Rees-Mogg has come to the defence of a Conservative MP who was caught “repeatedly” using his position “to promote the companies by whom he was paid".
Owen Paterson is facing a six-week suspension from parliament and a possible recall by-election, after he was found by Parliament's standards commission to have committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules.
But speaking on his regular podcast Mr Rees-Mogg, who is leader of the Commons, raised concerns about the investigation into the former Cabinet minister.
His comments, which come ahead of a vote on Wednesday on whether Mr Paterson should be suspended, raise the prospect that government could use its parliamentary majority to block action against him.
It comes as Tory MP allies of Mr Paterson tabled two amendments in a bid to block consequences for their colleague.
One of the amendments, tabled by Andrea Leadsom, suggests the case against the MP should be reviewed. The other, put forward by Julian Lewis, says no further action should be taken on "compassionate grounds" given the recent death of his wife.
But Labour said the bid to protect their colleague showed the Conservatives were bringing back “the worst of the 1990s Tory sleaze culture” .
Mr Rees-Mogg meanwhile expressed sympathy with Mr Paterson's complaint that 17 witnesses who wanted to speak in his favour were unable to give oral evidence at the standards commissioner's inquiry.
“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,” he said in a segment on his regular ConservativeHome podcast.
“Many people have been raising with me recently questions about the process that affected Owen Paterson.”
The cross party standards committee, which include Conservative members, said the witnesses had wanted to talk about Mr Paterson’s motivations – which they said did not alter the facts about what rules had been broken.
It added: “We do not see what further relevant information could usefully be gleaned by inviting oral evidence from the witnesses concerned.”
But speaking on his podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “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?’
Boris Johnson's spokesperson declined to say whether the prime minister sympathised with Mr Rees Mogg's criticisms of the process, but added: “This is a detailed report, a 175-page report, with complex issues and evidence which need to be looked at carefully.
"As the commission’s remit doesn’t look at the conduct of government ministers, I can’t comment any further.”
Thangam Debbonaire, Labour’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, said: “It is shocking that government ministers are being encouraged to vote for a return to the worst of the 1990s Tory sleaze culture. A vote for this amendment would turn the clock back to the era of Neil Hamilton, cash for questions and no independent standards process.
"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.
“On Monday the government failed to endorse the anti-sleaze report from Lord Evans of Weardale. Now the Tories want to jettison the systems 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."
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