Parliament’s sleaze watchdog chief should quit, says unrepentant Owen Paterson

Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng also calls on Kathryn Stone to ‘consider her position’

Adam Forrest
Thursday 04 November 2021 08:49
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Angela Rayner accuses Tory party of 'wallowing in sleaze'

Conservative MP Owen Paterson has called on the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to quit after his party saved him from suspension over the watchdog’s ruling that he broke lobbying rules.

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of “corruption” after protecting Mr Paterson from a 30-day suspension and establish a new, Tory-led committee to review the standards system.

The unrepentant MP at the centre of the sleaze row said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to act in the same manner again and that he continues to work with private companies as a paid adviser.

Mr Paterson also said it was time for commissioner Kathryn Stone and members of the standards committee to resign. “Sadly they have not done a good job and come up with a rotten report which is full of inaccuracies ... [they] all have to go,” he told The Telegraph.

But the existing standards committee was quick to confirm that it will continue its work, and Ms Stone’s office told The Independent that she intends to remain in post until the end of her term in December 2022.

Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng appeared to back Mr Paterson’s call for Ms Stone to “consider her position” on Wednesday – making it clear the government planned to “overhaul” the standards system.

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.”

The minister 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.”

Challenged on why the government wanted to change the system on the very same day a Tory MP was facing punishment, Mr Kwarteng claimed the government had wanted to bring in reforms for “years”.

The minister said: “We’ve been talking about this for years. We’ve been talking about holding MPs to account, having the highest standards in public life, ways in which we can improve those standards.”

Dozens of Tories abstained and 13 rebelled after being told to vote instead for an amendment to establish a new, Conservative-led, committee to reconsider both Mr Paterson’s case and whether a new standards system is needed.

But the plan to establish the new committee, to be led by former Tory minister John Whittingdale, was thrown into chaos as Labour, the SNP and Liberal Democrats vowed to boycott it – depriving the panel of any real cross-party authority.

Anti-corruption campaigners, government experts and unions have also condemned the government’s actions, with the Tories being accused of “wallowing in sleaze” by Labour.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government’s audacious move was “corruption”, adding: “There is no other word for it.”

The row was triggered when Ms Stone’s investigation found he had repeatedly lobbied on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.

Mr 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.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, chair of the standards committee, insisted its work would continue. “Nobody’s abolished the standards committee – it still exists,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Bryant said: “Some people yesterday decided – and this is the definition of injustice – that at the very last minute, for a named individual, they would change the rules. That is not what we do in this country.

He added: “It’s what they do in Russia when a friend or a foe is suddenly under the cosh in the courts. It’s a perversion of justice.”

On the plan for a new committee, the influential MP said: “We never set up a committee without cross-party agreement. How could you possibly change the rules without cross-party agreement? … The government has created a rod for its own back here. This will not end well.”

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