Labour demands investigation into cabinet minister’s ‘bullying’ comments on sleaze watchdog chief

Business secretary had claimed it was ‘difficult to see future’ for standards commissioner

Adam Forrest
Friday 05 November 2021 10:08
Owen Paterson resigns as MP instead of facing fresh vote on suspension

Labour has demanded an investigation into business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s public speculation about the future of parliament’s standards watchdog.

The cabinet minister suggested that Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone should “consider her position” in the wake of the Owen Paterson debacle.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser calling for an investigation into his comments, claiming they may have breached the ministerial code – as well as being “a rotten way for anybody to behave”.

In a letter to Lord Geidt, Ms Rayner suggested Mr Kwarteng’s comments amounted to bullying. “For the business secretary to use this entirely corrupt process to bully the independent Parliamentary Commissioner is disgusting.”

“This type of behaviour has no place in our democracy. A cabinet minister publicly threatening the position of a member of staff who serves the Houses of Parliament and upholds our democratic processes is a fundamental breach of the ministerial Code.”

She suggested Mr Kwarteng could be in breach of a section of the code which requires ministers to “treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect” and for working relationships to be “proper and appropriate”.

Earlier, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle rebuked Mr Kwarteng. “I do appeal to members - whether they are secretary of state or whoever – please, staff members of this House shouldn’t be named, they’ve not got the right of reply or the ability to defend themselves.”

Asked whether Ms Stone should resign on Thursday morning – hours before an astonishing U-turn in the government’ position – Mr Kwarteng said: “To consider her position is a natural thing.”

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

Asked about Mr Kwarteng’s comments, fellow cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Kathryn Stone works … for parliament. It’s up to parliament how that relationship works.”

The education secretary told BBC Breakfast: “Kwasi [Kwarteng] agrees that Kathryn Stone and her position is up to parliament.”

Meanwhile, Labour has indicated it will put up a candidate in the looming North Shropshire by-election prompted by the resignation of Mr Paterson.

Informal discussions were held between Labour, the Lib Dems and Green Party over whether they could unite behind a single anti-sleaze candidate after the debacle which saw the Tory quit as an MP.

But Sir Keir Starmer’s party is understood to have decided to field a candidate in the West Midlands constituency, in which Mr Paterson had a comfortable majority of almost 23,000.

Mr Paterson quit as an MP rather than face the prospect of being suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days for an alleged breach of lobbying rules.

The senior Tory announced his resignation after Boris Johnson was forced to abandon a plan to prevent Mr Paterson’s immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system.

The farcical series of events have led to some Tories pointing the finger of blame at chief whip Mark Spencer, although Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson had confidence in him and the “excellent job” he was doing.

Labour also condemned claims Tory MPs were threatened with the loss of money for their area if they failed to back the government. Potential rebels were told they would “lose funding for their constituency” if they did not voted the right way on Wednesday, according to the Financial Times.

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said: “Threatening to hold money back from voters and their communities, all to protect a Tory MP who broke the rules. If true this marks a new low for Johnson’s scandal-ridden Conservatives.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in