Owen Paterson MP committed ‘egregious case of paid advocacy’, should be suspended, according to watchdog

The MP denies any wrongdoing and says ‘the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role’ in his wife’s suicide

A Tory MP has been found to have broken the MPs Code of Conduct by acting as a paid advocate on behalf of two firms for which he works as a consultant.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards found that Owen Paterson, the Conservative MP for North Shropshire, committed an “egregious case of paid advocacy” and recommended that he be suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days.

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In a statement, the former cabinet minister described the investigation as “not fair” and said “the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife’s suicide last year.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • A report by the Committee on Standards has found that Owen Paterson MP breached the MPs code of conduct on at least 34 occasions between October 2016 and February 2020, constituting an “egregious case of paid advocacy
  • Owen Paterson MP is employed by two firms, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods, as a paid consultant, earning over £10,000 per month
  • The report states that Paterson made numerous approaches to the Food Standards Agency, relating to both his employers failed to adequately declare his interest with Lynn’s Country Foods in four emails and held 16 business meeting with clients in his parliamentary office
  • The commissioner said Paterson “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the house into disrepute
  • The standards committee ruled Paterson should be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days, meaning he could face a trigger ballot which could lead to a by-election if 10% of the electors in his constituency sign a petition calling for one

What’s been said?

In a report, the Committee on Standards said: “The committee found that Mr Paterson’s actions were an egregious case of paid advocacy, that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the House into disrepute.

“In line with previous cases of similar severity, the Committee recommends that Mr Paterson be suspended from the service of the House for 30 sitting days.

“As the Government Deputy Chief Whip confirmed on 9 September 2021, it is the usual practice for the relevant motions to be tabled by the Government and debated as soon as possible. The Committee recorded its expectation that this should be within five sitting days of the publication of this report.

In a statement, Owen Paterson said: “I am very clear that I acted properly and within the rules, putting my lifetime experience, my many years as an MP and my service as a Cabinet Minister towards ensuring the public good. I am quite clear that I acted properly, honestly and within the Rules.

“I raised serious issues of food contaminated with unlawful carcinogenic substances, to protect the public. I did not gain any benefit, financial or otherwise, either for myself or for either of the two companies that I advise. Neither has any evidence of gain by those companies been suggested.”

“I reject completely the findings of the Committee for Parliamentary Standards. The methods of the investigation do not create a just and fair outcome. Most importantly, not one of my 17 witnesses have been interviewed during the course of the investigation despite the passage of 24 months – not by the Commissioner, and not by the Committee. These highly reputable and reliable witnesses are the very people who say I am not guilty. What court, what workplace investigation, would ignore such evidence and call its procedures fair.

“On a personal level, the cost to me and my three grown-up children from the manner of this investigation has been catastrophic. Last summer, in the midst of the investigation, my wife of 40 years, Rose, took her own life. We will never know definitively what drove her to suicide, but the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role.”

NationalWorld has approached the Leader of the House of Commons’ Office for comment.

The Chief Whip’s office said they were unable to comment on whether the relevant motions would be tabled and debated as soon as possible in line with the Committee’s recommendations.

Background

MPs are allowed to take on extra work outside of parliament, so long as it does not constitute paid advocacy.

Owen Paterson MP has been employed by Randox, a laboratory testing firm, and Lynn’s Country Foods since 2015 and 2016 respectively, earning more than £10,000 per month from the two roles.

Paterson made numerous approaches to the Food Standards Agency on matters which related to both his employers over a number of years, in breach of rules governing MPs outside interests.