Senior Tories are attempting to save the political career of a former Cabinet Minister by overturning Westminster’s antisleaze verdict.

Owen Paterson is being threatened by the MPs with a 30-day suspension by refusing to vote down a damning report he was found guilty of violating lobbying rules.

The Commons Standards Committee said last week that Mr Paterson had committed an ‘egregious case of paid advocacy’ on behalf of two companies – clinical diagnostics firm Randox and meat processor Lynn’s Country Foods. 

He was earning more than £100,000 a year from the firms and repeatedly lobbied Ministers and officials on their behalf.

The former Environment Secretary resolutely protested his innocence, calling the inquiry ‘biased and ‘not fair’ and saying he had been raising serious questions about food contamination. 

MPs threaten Owen Paterson with a 30-day suspension from parliament by voting down a damning review that found him guilty for violating lobbying rules

David Davis, ex-Brexit Secretary, urges MPs not endorse the “wrong-headed” report and calls for an overhaul of MPs’ polices. He claims the current system has seen “innocent people have had their reputations ruined, and comparative villains get away without a trace.”

He claimed that none his 17 witnesses were interviewed and that the two year investigation was also a major contributing factor to Rose’s suicide.

The report will be up for vote by MPs on Wednesday. A 30-day suspension would allow Paterson’s constituents to petition for by-election. According to the Mail on Sunday, Tory whips work this weekend to decide whether they have enough support to either reject the decision of the committee or reduce the punishment that Mr Paterson is facing.

David Davis, ex-Brexit Secretary, urges MPs to reject the “wrong-headed” report in The Mail today. He claims that the current system has allowed ‘innocent people to have their reputations destroyed and comparative villains to get away scot free’.

The threat to overturn that verdict was last night called an outrage worthy the MPs’ expenses scandal. Chris Bryant, chairman Labour committee, said that it would be the first instance of such an action in “our history”.

It is also understood that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle refused to allow a private appeal by senior Tories for intervention.

DAVID DAVIS – Owen Paterson, a man of integrity, has lost his wife, and is now in political ruin due to an absurdly flawed Commons investigation

By David DavisFormer Brexit Secretary 

The drama and personal tragedy surrounding the case of Owen Paterson, Conservative MP, has been intense.

A former Cabinet Minister and MP for over 20 years, Mr Paterson is now in danger of political ruin due to an amateurish investigation by the Standards Commission into the House of Commons.

Mr Paterson has already lost his wife Rose, who committed suicide last year – a death that he firmly believes was linked to the stress of the investigation. The wrong-headed report’s conclusions will be up for vote by MPs this week. If they endorse it Mr Paterson could be out of work.

It is a troubling story that has brought to light the shortcomings of the system that Parliament has established to enforce its standards. These flaws are unacceptable in any system that deals with justice, and especially one that is so central to the functioning of our democracy.

It is also a system that, according to many Conservative colleagues, seems to be stacked against Tories as well as Brexiteers.

A case involving Ken Livingstone, a Tory colleague, brought me to my first worry years ago. The former Left-wing hero was forced to address the House of Commons, apologizing for his inadequacy in declaring his outside earnings.

Tragedy: Owen Paterson with his wife Rose, whose suicide he linked to the lobbying investigation

Tragedy: Owen Paterson and Rose, Rose’s suicide which he linked to the lobbying investigation

It felt to me that he was being publicly humiliated because of something that was not his fault. The House authorities ignored this critical point.

Although the standards system has seen many changes over the years it has remained inconsistent. I have witnessed innocent people get their reputations ruined and comparable villains get away with it.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is a system that has one person as chief investigator and prosecutor and does not allow MPs to have an effective right of appeal.

The allegations against Mr Paterson as Shropshire North MP seem serious. He has been accused of paid lobbying – contacting the Government on behalf of companies that were his clients – which is forbidden under House of Commons rules unless there is an overriding public interest.

David Davis: It is a troubling saga that has thrown into stark relief the failings of the system that Parliament has put in place to police its standards of conduct

David Davis: It is a troubling saga that has thrown into stark relief the failings of the system that Parliament has put in place to police its standards of conduct

It might seem odd, however, that the first contact between the Commissioner and Mr Paterson was via email. The process ended with a memorandum being sent to him last December.

Stranger still, Kathryn Stone, the Commissioner, admitted to the Clerk of the Standards Committee that her decision about the substance of the case was made before she sent him the memorandum. She even admitted ‘the dispute is one of interpretation’ – not one of fact.

You might think it’s a weak process, but Mr Paterson’s reputation, and his future career, are at stake.

An impartial investigator would have checked every aspect of the case, especially where interpretation is involved. Ms. Stone failed to interview any witnesses that Mr Paterson had presented, including the Chief of Veterinary Officer and various heads from Government departments. Rory Stewart (the former International Development Minister), was also included. This is the man that Mr Paterson is said to have lobbied for. Mr. Stewart is a staunch Remainer and is not an ally for Mr. Paterson.

Her committee should have instructed Ms Stone to interview the witnesses or given her instructions when she refused to see them. They did not. This failure alone would have resulted in the case being dismissed if it had been referred to the courts for review. Unfortunately, parliamentary laws prevent such recourse to justice.

Owen Paterson is pictured outside the Cabinet Office in London, February 4, 2019

Owen Paterson is pictured in front of the Cabinet Office, London, February 4, 2019.

The defense of Mr Paterson was dismissed with unusual severity. This was partly due to compelling evidence that he was trying alarm the public about serious threats to the public’s health. To alert Ministers to the dangers of carcinogenic products in milk or ham, he wrote to them. The Standards Committee accepted that his account was correct – that Mr Paterson had been calling for action that, among other things, would have led to the removal of risks from antibiotics in milk and from nitrites used as preservatives in ham. It would have saved lives.

The Committee confirmed that no one has made any immediate profit from Mr Paterson’s intervention. It is therefore strange that the committee refuses to accept this public benefit argument, taking such a narrow view of rules as to render this very important defense virtually worthless.

The judgement against Mr Paterson was not the only instance of judgements that went against Tories and Brexiteers. For example, take the 2018 Standards investigation into Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, which found that Mackinlay failed to declare a company’s shareholding.

Although the company was originally set up to create a low cost airline, it was abandoned following the 2001 terrorist attacks of September 11. There were no employees nor assets. The company did not have a bank account or capital of 2p. It was in short, moribund. Mackinlay had only committed a technical error by failing to declare his shareholding. It had zero real meaning.

The proper response of the Standards Commissioner should, at most, have been a correction in the Register of Interests with – possibly – a letter of apology from the MP. Instead, Ms Stone demanded a public apology from Mr Mackinlay at the Commons.

The same Commissioner had a different approach when she looked into the case of a Labour MP trying to get a vulnerable constituent diazepam. It is illegal to purchase tranquillisers without a prescription. Criminal offenses are automatically considered violations of the parliamentary Code of Conduct.

The Commissioner decided that the Labour MP had not violated the rules.

British law has a strict adversarial and thorough process. The case is investigated by the police, presented to the court by a prosecution lawyer and challenged by a defence lawyer – all following strict rules of evidence. In serious cases, the jury decides the verdict. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge decides the punishment. The entire process is open to appeal.

This is what MPs would insist upon for their constituents. However, none of these protections apply to how MPs are treated. Instead, we have the inquisition in which the Commissioner acts as an investigating officer, prosecutor, and judge.

True, the House of Commons Standards and Privileges committee might review her decision. This is not the right method for delivering justice. It is past time that we replace this amateurism in the courtroom with a quasi-judicial process, and a proper appeals system. There is no reason to not appoint three retired judges from the Lords. A panel like this could have serious punishment powers, including the disqualification of the Commons.

It is appropriate that MPs are subject to severe penalties for abusing their positions, including the loss or removal of their MP status. You need a functioning system of justice to achieve this. Palpably, this is not what MPs have today – as Owen Paterson has found to his very great cost.