MPs risk damage in vote to save Owen Paterson, writes CHRIS BRYANT

Breaking the rules is wrong. MPs risk terrible damage if they vote down sanctions for Owen Paterson, writes Commons Standards Committee chairman CHRIS BRYANT

Never have I known a time like it in Parliament – and I’ve been here for 20 years. It’s as if a shadow has been cast over the place. 

In the past month I’ve seen MPs openly crying in the Chamber, in the library, in the tearoom and in committee. 

We mourn the death of our charming, sweet and funny fellow MP, James Brokenshire, who died of lung cancer last month. Many of us who have got through late-stage cancer have survivor’s guilt. 

The brutal murder of decent, twinkling Sir David Amess shocked us all to the core.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, pictured in the House of Commons, described the turmoil among colleagues after the deaths of two MPs within the last month

It left some of us fearful for our own lives, as vicious trolls took to social media to say we are all despicable compared to him. 

Sometimes it’s hard not to take all that hatred to heart. Covid hasn’t helped either. 

Speak to any MP and they will tell you the emails, letters and phone calls from constituents have quadrupled during the pandemic. 

We strive to do our best, but the sheer volume means we’re answering emails from 6am to 11.30pm. No wonder many MPs are thinking of standing down. 

The vast majority of us – of whatever hue – are decent people trying to change the world for the better. Which is why it is so important that we have a robust set of rules – and that we enforce them. 

Today the House will consider a report from my committee on the conduct of Owen Paterson, the former cabinet minister and Tory MP for North Shropshire. 

We gave him every chance to put his case to us, in writing and in person. We read and published all his witness statements. He had a fair hearing. 

But he is damned by the evidence he gave us, which shows unambiguously that he used his privileged position as an MP to lobby officials and ministers for two clients who were paying him more than £9,000 a month between them. He did so on 14 occasions. 

That is why we have recommended that he be suspended for 30 days, a proportionate measure in line with every other member who has been found guilty of the same breach of the rules. 

If carried, Mr Paterson’s constituents could rightly decide whether he should return to the House. Normally, a report of this kind is carried without a vote. 

But some of Mr Paterson’s supporters have said they intend to vote down this report or try to reduce the suspension, claiming that the system is unfair. That would do terrible damage to the reputation of Parliament. 

North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson used his ‘privileged position’ as an MP to lobby officials and ministers for two clients who were paying him more than £9,000 a month between them

The Commons would effectively be endorsing Mr Paterson’s catalogue of bad behaviour. It would also drive a coach and horses through the whole Standards system. 

We are confident we give everyone a fair hearing, but accept that things can always be improved, so we are reviewing the operation of the code of conduct. 

We would welcome suggestions on how we can do better. But today’s vote is a critical moment for the House. 

Emotions are raw, but we cannot shy away from the fact that paid lobbying by MPs is not just wrong – but one of the most serious offences in Parliament.

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