What is the sleaze row? Tory corruption debate explained, what did Owen Paterson do - how Johnson responded
Opposition parties have called for a statutory public inquiry into sleaze and corruption allegations - but why?
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It comes after Tory MPs were ordered on Wednesday (3 November) to vote for a new committee to consider an altered system of appeals after former environment secretary Paterson was sanctioned, only for ministers to backtrack after the opposition parties refused to cooperate.
Johnson is facing calls for a public inquiry into allegations of Tory sleaze as MPs consider how to clean up Westminster following the row.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister should apologise to the nation and “clean out the filthy Augean stable he has created”.
The Liberal Democrats, who secured a three-hour emergency Commons debate on the matter on 8 November, have called for a statutory public inquiry into sleaze and corruption allegations.
But what is the ‘Tory sleaze’ row, and what Owen Paterson got to do with it?
Here is everything you need to know about it.
What did Owen Paterson do?
Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone found after an investigation that Paterson had lobbied on behalf of two companies which had paid him more than £100,000 a year – Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods.
In serious breaches such as this, the Commissioner refers cases to the Commons Standards Committee, a crossbench group of MPs and members of the public, who can then decide on a sanction.
He has insisted throughout that he did nothing wrong, and when Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire, he blamed the “cruel world of politics”.
What was Paterson’s punishment?
The Commons Standards Committee said Paterson’s actions were an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs and recommended that he should be suspended for 30 sitting days, or six weeks.
But Paterson rejected the Commissioner’s findings, accusing her of making up her mind before she had even spoken to him and that the investigation had been a contributing factor in the suicide of his wife, Rose.
Although the committee recommends the sanction, this must be approved by MPs, and alies tabled an amendment to the motion which would have approved his suspension to say that instead, a new committee should be set up to overhaul the whole standards process.
The current chairman of the committee, Labour MP Chris Bryant, warned against voting the committee’s report – and therefore the sanction – down in what would be an unprecedented move in the committee’s roughly 36-year history.
But Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg had said there was “precedence” for amending a motion to suspend an MP, saying it was last done in 1947.
Tory MPs were whipped to vote for the amendment, which was put down by Dame Andrea Leadsom, but it still only passed with a slim majority of 18 as many Conservatives abstained.
The Prime Minister was insistent that the rule changes were not about Paterson’s individual case – despite the amendment specifically including his name and being put forward on a motion concerning him.
Less than 24 hours after the vote, Rees-Mogg announced a U-turn, and No 10 said there would be a fresh vote on Paterson’s suspension and then they would separately look into introducing appeal mechanisms.
Why do ministers want to change the appeals system?
Ministers were accused of seeking to rewrite the Commons standards rule book.
While ministers have acknowledged it was a mistake to conflate his case with efforts to change the system, they argue that there is still a need for reform.
In particular they have pointed to concern among some MPs about the need for a more robust system of appeals when they are found to have breached the rules.
Why are opposition parties against changing the rules?
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party Commons Standards Committee which found Paterson guilty of an “egregious” breach of the ban on paid lobbying by MPs, said the Government should not become involved in Commons disciplinary procedures, which were a matter for MPs.
“I don’t think we should leap into making sudden changes. One of my principles is that the Government should stay clear of independent disciplinary processes,” he told Sky News.
“We agreed that he (Mr Paterson) had broken the rules, not just once but on 14 occasions, and it saddened me that the Government got this completely and utterly wrong.”
A Tory member of the committee, Alberto Costa, said that change was needed and that MPs should not be sitting in judgement on other MPs.
He said the findings of the standards commissioner should go to an independent expert panel, including members of the judiciary, to consider what action to take.
“I don’t think MPs should be adjudicating on issues against other MPs. Let the commissioner present her face to judges and let them be the ultimate arbiters,” he told Sky News.
“We need to change the rules, make it more transparent, bring in members of the judiciary.”
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