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MPs must be paid more to prevent lobbying scandals, says Tory MP

MPs must be paid more to prevent lobbying scandals, says Tory MP
Father of the House says current levels of pay might fail to attract top talent

MPs should be paid more to prevent further lobbying scandals in future, a Tory MP has suggested less than 24 hours after former government minister Owen Paterson resigned amid a huge backlash over his “egregious breach” of standards.

Sir Peter Bottomley suggested the basic salary for MPs of £81,932 per year is not a fair level of remuneration for the amount of work they must undertake.

His comments come as Boris Johnson’s government is again marred by accusations of sleaze after a botched attempt to rip up standards rules to prevent the suspension of Mr Paterson, the MP for North Shropshire, who last night quit, triggering a by-election in the ultra-safe Conservative seat.

Mr Paterson, the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, was found by a cross-party parliamentary standards committee to have breached the MPs’ code of conduct.

Kathyrn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, last week recommended a Commons ban of 30 sitting days for Mr Paterson, after an inquiry concluded that he used his position to repeatedly lobby on behalf of two companies – Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods – who paid him more than £100,000 per year.

Resigning last night, Mr Paterson continued to maintain his innocence, insisting that he had done nothing wrong.

The row exploded on Wednesday, when the prime minister gave his backing to an amendment by Tories MPs’ to prevent Mr Paterson’s suspension and a move to re-write disciplinary processes. No 10 said that the system is not fit for purpose and needs reforming.

Writing for Times Red Box after Mr Paterson resigned, Sir Peter, MP for Worthing West and father of the house, said: “Thick skin, a raincoat and a sense of proportion are what I recommend to prospective members of parliament.

“Who can serve? Someone on a low income may find the financial adjustment welcome, while the well-off will not be particularly bothered by the pay level. The interesting questions come for the reasonably successful.”

Sir Peter, who has spoken out about MPs pay on several occasions in the past, said that parliament will fail to attract top talent if MPs did not get paid more.

He cited the salaries of top judges, teachers, trade union officials and doctors, suggesting that they should not be forced to what he said would amount to a pay cut if they decided to stand for elected office.

“MPs do not ask for a life that is easy, comfortable or risk-free. We can expect the terms to encourage people as good if not better than us to try to join or to replace us. A reasonably successful professional should be rewarded fairly, neither excessively nor meanly,” Sir Peter added.

Downing Street declined to comment on Sir Peter’s comments.

The explosive fallout over Mr Paterson’s case rumbles on today, with the PM facing a fierce backlash from those within his own party as well as the Opposition.

Senior Conservatives are said to be questioning Mr Johnson’s judgement following another dramatic and humiliating climbdown that has put another huge dent in the government’s reputation for fairness.

One former minister branded No 10’s handling of the situation “incoherent”, while ex-chief whip Mark Harper said that the three-line whip ordered by Mr Johnson amounted to “one of the most unedifying episodes I have seen in my 16 years as a member of parliament”.

Another ex-minister told The Independent that MPs – particularly the younger 2019 intake in marginal red wall seats in the Midlands and the north – were “apoplectic with rage” at being ordered to vote in a way that gave the impression they were bending the rules to save their colleague.

Supporters of Mr Paterson say he was blindsided by the abrupt move by No 10 to ditch plans for a new Tory-dominated committee to rewrite Commons standards procedures, which would have granted him a stay of execution after he was found guilty of paid lobbying.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has previously accused the government of “corruption” on the case, which it denies. Meanwhile, deputy leader Angela Rayner has demanded an investigation into business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s public speculation about the future of parliament’s standards watchdog.

He suggested that Ms Stone should “consider her position” in the wake of the scandal.

Mr Paterson’s resignation from parliament has been officially announced.

In a statement, the Treasury said: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer has this day appointed the Rt Hon Owen William Paterson to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.”

A by-election will now take place in Mr Paterson North Shropshire constituency, although no date has yet been set as to when the vote will take place.

Labour has confirmed it will contest the seat after initial talks with the Lib Dems and Green about supporting an independent “anti-sleaze” candidate.