Owen Paterson: Boris Johnson accused of “returning to 1990s Tory sleaze” as he supports bid to rescue ex-minister from Commons suspension | Politics news

Boris Johnson will support an attempt to save a conservative former minister from an immediate suspension as part of a revision of MPs’ standard rules, Sky News understands.

Former Secretary of State Owen Paterson faces a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for violating lobbying rules because of his paid consulting work on behalf of two companies.

But Mr Paterson vehemently denies the allegations, and a group of his Tory colleagues are seeking to set up a new Commons committee to reconsider his case.

Sky News understands that the Prime Minister will support the efforts of the Conservatives on the back table in a likely vote in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

Ex-Cabinet Minister Andrea Leadsom, a former leader of the House of Commons, had already secured the support of more than 50 Tory MPs for an amendment to a Commons proposal on Mr Paterson’s suspension, which will now also be supported by the government.

The group of Tory MPs who support Mrs Leadsom’s amendment was probably already large enough to win a Commons vote to put Mr Paterson’s suspension on hold, even without government support.

A government source said concerns about the standard system had “bubbled away for a while” and that Mr Paterson’s case was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

“The fact that this amendment has been tabled by a former leader of Parliament and has attached as many signatures as it has shows the amount of concern over the standard process,” they added.

“It must be taken seriously.”

Mrs Leadsom’s amendment, if approved by a Commons vote later on Wednesday, would lead to the creation of a new Commons Committee.

The nine-member committee, with a Conservative majority and chaired by Tory’s former minister John Whittingdale, would then review the current standard system and consider whether the case against Mr Paterson should be reconsidered.

Last month, it emerged that Mr Paterson had “repeatedly used his privileged position” for the benefit of Randox, a clinical diagnostics firm, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.

The charges against North Shropshire MP, who was Environment Minister from 2012 to 2014, relate to his behavior between October 2016 and February 2020.

After a two-year inquiry, Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone said Mr Paterson had violated the rules banning paid advocacy by addressing government departments and ministers of the two companies.

A Commons committee, including four Tory MPs, supported Stone’s findings and recommended that Mr Paterson be suspended from Commons for one month.

This is a punishment that must be approved by MEPs in a vote on Wednesday’s proposal, which Mrs Leadsom and her colleagues are now seeking to change.

Sir. Paterson has accused Mrs Stone of admitting to him that she “decided” before the allegations were made to him and that none of his 17 witnesses were questioned.

He has also claimed that the investigation “undoubtedly played a big role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life last June.

Finance Minister John Glen told Sky News on Wednesday that there was “a concern about the procedure that led to the report coming up with these conclusions”.

“I think most people will agree that when there is a dispute about someone’s behavior, there has to be a fair and just process before a result and a decision on the consequences is made,” he said.

“I think this is the area that the House of Commons across all parties will want to look at today.”

Labor’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, accused Mr Johnson of encouraging government ministers to “vote for a return to the worst of the Tory sleaze culture of the 1990s”.

She said: “A vote on this amendment would turn the clock back to the Neil Hamilton era, cash for questions and no independent standard process.

“Let us not forget that the standard cross-party committee, including three Tory MPs, approved the Commissioner’s 30-day sanction for a breach of the rule of paid advocacy.”

Her fellow Labor shadow minister, Jess Phillips, said: “The government is not meant to whip MPs on such issues. Every MP makes their decision alone and they should be held accountable for it.

“One notices that they were fine with the standard system until their friend was in trouble.”

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