Cries of ‘shame’ as Northants MP sparks anger in the Commons

Andrea Leadsom's amendment blocks suspension of MP in cash for access row

By Natalie Bloomer

There were furious scenes in the Commons yesterday over an amendment put forward by South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom which will block the suspension of Tory MP Owen Paterson.

Leadsom’s proposals to review the process around wrongdoing in parliament came as fellow Conservative MP Paterson was facing a 30 day suspension and possible by-election after the standards committee watchdog found he had breached rules around lobbying. 

A report by the committee found he repeatedly lobbied ministers for two companies which he is a paid consultant for. The companies, Randox and Lynn's Country Foods pay the former minister a combined amount of more than £9,000 a month.

The move by Leadsom was seen by many as an attempt to rewrite the rules to avoid Paterson’s suspension. Speaking at PMQs yesterday deputy leader of the Labour party Angela Rayner said:

“If it was a police officer, a teacher, a doctor, we would expect the independent process to be followed and not changed after the verdict. It’s one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.”

In response Boris Johnson accused the opposition of ‘playing politics’.

Chair of the standards committee Labour MP Chris Bryant told the House that Paterson had repeatedly pursued the companies’ interests.

“When they couldn’t get meetings with ministers he used his position to secure them. It is paid lobbying,” he said. 

“He lobbied ministers time and again in a way that conferred a direct benefit on his paying clients. That is expressly forbidden. It is a corrupt process.”

Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg gave a long speech about why he was supporting the amendment in which he said many members of the House had expressed concerns about whether Paterson had been treated fairly. He said it was about process rather than individual cases.

Chris Bryant said he had spoken to lots of Conservative MPs who accepted that Paterson had broken the rules.

“One Conservative member described it as ‘a catalogue of bad behaviour’,” he said. 

“I have yet to meet a Conservative MP who has not said to me that he has clearly broken the rules, that includes, I think, the leader of the House.”

Leadsom said her amendment was not about whether the committee’s findings were correct or not.

“This is not about whether the report findings are correct, or if Owen Paterson is innocent or guilty. It’s not about stitching anyone up or letting anyone’s amendment is about the process of investigations into members.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper stood up to ask why if this was the case, it was only happening now that a Conservative MP had been found to have breached the rules. She said Leadsom had plenty of time to change the rules when she was leader of the House if she had been concerned about them.

Leadsom responded by saying she had been working flat out at the time on the Independence Complaints and Grievance Scheme and that if she had been in the post longer she would have looked at this issue. She asked colleagues to ‘search their hearts’ when voting on the amendment. 

There were cries of ‘shame’ when her amendment was passed by 250-232 with 13 Tory MPs rebelling including Mark Harper and Aaron Bell. Earlier in the debate Bell told Leadsom that the amendment looked like the government was ‘moving the goalposts.’  

Six of the seven elected members of parliament for Northamptonshire voted for the amendment. Andrew Lewer, MP for Northampton South was attending a funeral so was not present.

The amendment stops the suspension of Paterson until a new cross-party committee is set up to examine the standards rules. Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP have said they will boycott this. Tweeting about it last night Angela Rayner said:

“Today the Tories voted to give a green light to corruption. Labour will not be taking part in this sham process or any corrupt committee. The prime minister, Conservative ministers and MPs have brought shame on our democracy.”

SNP MP, Peter Wishart told the BBC:

“It was a dark day for parliament and for democracy. It looks like we’re legitimising the return of grubby brown envelopes and cash for questions. To overturn a decision by our standards committee who spent two years looking at all the evidence and to give it to a kangaroo court which has a majority of Conservative members is quite astounding. I think there are a lot of embarrassed Conservative colleagues there today. They know what they’ve done.”