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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Owen Paterson: ‘Farce’ as government fails to complete lobbying row U-turn in Commons

The sleaze row over MPs’ second jobs is set to drag on after the government failed to bring a parliamentary conclusion to its U-turn over the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

Opposition MPs accused ministers of overseeing a “total farce” as government efforts to scrap its controversial attempt to overhaul parliament’s standards rules were blocked late on Monday night.

Nearly two weeks ago, Conservative MPs – encouraged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – voted to save Tory ex-minister Mr Paterson from a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons, as well as create a new Conservative-dominated committee to rethink parliament’s disciplinary processes.

Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson leaves 10 Downing Street after a cabinet meeting, in central London, June 15, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
The government failed to rescind an earlier motion that prompted the row over ex-minister Owen Paterson

Amid a furious backlash at the move, Mr Johnson and the government performed a climbdown and promised a new vote on Mr Paterson being found to have breached lobbying rules as part of his £110,000-per-year work for two private companies.

In a Commons motion on Monday, the government hoped to see MPs rescind the earlier motion passed by Conservatives on 3 November, which had approved the overhaul of parliament’s standards rules, as well as to accept the findings of parliament’s sleaze watchdog against Mr Paterson and note he had since resigned as an MP amid the controversy.

It had been expected the motion would be passed “on the nod” and without the need for a vote.

However, veteran Tory backbencher Sir Christopher Chope was seen to shout “object” in the Commons chamber when the motion was moved late on Monday night, meaning it could not be approved.

Shouts of “wow” and “surprise, surprise” were heard as Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans accepted the objection.

Mr Evans said it would now be “up to the government to re-programme that particular motion”, which is likely to see ministers having to devote more parliamentary time to the row over Mr Paterson.

Labour’s Chris Bryant, the chair of the standards committee that recommended Mr Paterson’s suspension, said there would now be a one-hour debate on Tuesday on rescinding the 3 November motion and to approve the findings against Mr Paterson.

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Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain claimed the government had presided over a “total farce” in the Commons.

“First, the government scheduled this motion so there would be no chance for debate,” she said.

“Now, the motion hasn’t passed. It’s insulting that, after two weeks of this scandal, the government couldn’t even perform their sleaze U-turn successfully.

“This tells you all you need to know about the state of the Conservative Party.

“It’s vital that the Government brings this back before MPs as soon as possible.

“Every day that goes by without this being repealed, the more embarrassing this whole affair becomes. We must move forward.”

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3 November – ‘Shame’: MPs vote against suspension of ex-minister

The SNP’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, Pete Wishart, said Monday night had seen “one of these delicious, farcical comedy moments in the House of Commons where all the best laid plans fall apart”.

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