Politics

MP Standards Committee review explained: How will new system work? Why is it angering MPs?

Owen Paterson: MPs vote to overturn suspension

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MPs voted in support of an amendment which would prevent the immediate suspension of former Conservative Party minister Owen Paterson. The 18 vote majority for the amendment, tabled by Dame Andrea Leadsom, has sparked the reformation of the House of Commons standards system. Opposition MPs have slammed the proposed new standards committee, claiming it paves the way for corruption and bias.

Former environment minister Owen Paterson has evaded punishment after the UK Government ordered its MPs to back a review of standards investigations.

Mr Paterson was facing a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for breaching lobbying rules.

But his Conservative Party colleagues backed an amendment this week which will see a new committee set up to examine the standards system.

This new committee will be in charge of looking into the case against him and deciding the punishments if any.

A two-year investigation was launched into Mr Paterson, who served under David Cameron, after he was paid more than £110,000 per year to act as a consultant for two separate companies.

The investigation found the former environment secretary had “repeatedly” breached paid lobbying rules.

On Wednesday, Andrea Leadsom’s amendment was backed by 250 votes to 232, meaning a decision on whether to suspend Owen Paterson will be put on hold whilst the system for investigating MPs is reviewed.

Several Opposition MPs were heard shouting “shame” in response to the vote result.

Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the plans, along with 13 Tory MPs – but the motion was passed with an 18 vote majority.

In response to the vote, Mr Paterson said: “All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case through a fair process.

“After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name.”

What will the new review system look like?

Now the amendment has been passed, a nine-person committee with a Conservative majority and led by former Tory cabinet minister John Whittingdale will review the current standards system.

Mr Whittingdale and the other eight committee members will then reconsider the cases against Mr Paterson.

The committee would be made up of four Tories, three Labour and one SNP MP.

The chair of the committee would have the casting vote in the event of any tied votes.

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The Leadsom amendment recommends “the current standards system should give Members of Parliament the same or similar rights as apply to those subject to investigations of alleged misconduct in other workplaces and professions”.

This would include the “right of representation, examination of witness and appeal”, the amendment said.

Furthermore, nominations for the new posts must be made by November 15 and the committee will be allowed to appoint legal advisers to assist with its review.

The findings will then be reported by February 3.

How is this different from the current system?

Membership in most parliamentary committees is made up of a range of cross-party MPs, with the chairs coming from a variety of parties.

The existing Standards Committee is chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant.

In addition to one other Labour MP, there are also four Tory MPs, one SNP MP and seven lay members.

Most members of the new committee will be nominated by the Government, which is likely to redraw the rules on MPs’ conduct.

The proposed new committee has already faced a lot of backlash with some MPs claiming it is open to corruption.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is also chair of parliament’s standards committee, said it would allow MPs to “mark their own homework”.

Mr Bryant also claimed Mr Paterson had “brought the House into disrepute”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also criticised the new committee and the vote outcome.

She said: “Today the Tories voted to give a green light to corruption.

“Labour will not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee.

“The Prime Minister, Conservative Ministers and MPs have brought shame on our democracy.”

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