Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has defended the vote to block the immediate suspension of a senior Tory who breached lobbying rules, saying: “I don’t feel shame at all.”
Kwarteng, who was in Glasgow for the Cop 26 climate summit at the time of the vote, said it represented the “express will of parliament” and was “not about the rights and wrongs of what Owen Paterson said or did or how he was paid”.
In an unprecedented move, MPs voted not to back the cross-party Standards Committee’s call for a six-week ban from parliament for Paterson, a former cabinet minister, after it found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.
MPs backed an amendment by former leader of the House Andrea Leadsom, which called for a review of his case after Conservatives were ordered to support the bid.
Boris Johnson questioned whether the investigation into Paterson was fair, claiming he did not have a right to appeal, and ordered his MPs to back the amendment through a three-line whip.
Had the suspension been approved, the North Shropshire MP could have faced a by-election in his ultra-safe seat.
There were shouts of “shame” and “what have you done to this place” from Opposition MPs as the House voted by a narrow majority of 18 to approve the amendment.
The division list showed 13 Tories voted against the Leadsom amendment, while no vote was recorded by 98 others.
Some 246 Conservatives were listed among the 250 MPs who backed the motion, as was Rob Roberts, who lost the Tory whip after he was found to have sexually harassed a member of staff.
The case has prompted an outcry from opposition MPs and members of the public, with the Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner claiming the Tories were “rotten to the core”.
“If it was a police officer, a teacher or a doctor, we would expect the independent process to be followed and not changed after the verdict,” she said during prime minister’s questions.
“It is one rule for Conservative Members and another rule for the rest of us.”
However, Kwarteng insisted on Sky News that the vote was “all about the process” and not Paterson’s conduct.
“I think the process is something that we want to look at, the fact is he had no right of appeal, and we feel that in terms of parliament people should have a right of appeal as they do in most employments throughout this country,” he said.
“The vote was about getting a system of fairness back into almost what might be a kind of employment tribunal.
“I’m not here to comment on what he did, or how much money he was making or anything like that. I think there was an issue with the process. I think the system had broken down, and we want to reform it.”
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone had recommended a ban from the Commons of 30 sitting days for Paterson in a report approved by the Standards Committee.
Paterson has always furiously contested the investigation into his conduct, which found that he breached rules on lobbying on behalf of Randox by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency about the testing of antibiotics in milk in 2016 and 2017.
The Tory MP claimed the investigation was unfairly conducted and argued the manner in which it was carried out had played a “major role” in his wife Rose’s suicide last year.
And last night he remained unrepentant over his lobbying on behalf of the two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.
When asked if he would do the same again, Paterson told Sky News on Wednesday night: “No, I wouldn’t hesitate tomorrow. Absolutely.”
As well as reviewing Paterson’s case, the amendment called for a Conservative-majority committee led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale to examine the standards system.
The committee was intended to include four other Tory MPs, three Labour MPs and one SNP MP, but Rayner said Labour will “not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee”, with the SNP and Lib Dems also saying they would boycott it.
Asked whether Stone should resign, Kwasi Kwarteng said it was “up to the commissioner to decide her position”.
“I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is, given the fact that we’re reviewing the process, and we’re overturning and trying to reform this whole process, but it’s up to the commissioner to decide her position,” the business secretary told Sky News.
Pushed on what he meant by “decide her position”, Kwarteng replied: “It’s up to her to do that. I mean, it’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgment and people have sought to change that, to consider their position, that’s a natural thing, but I’m not saying she should resign.”