Owen Paterson rejects ‘not fair’ findings and claims inquiry played ‘major role’ in wife’s suicide
Conservative MP Owen Paterson faces suspension from the House of Commons after a watchdog found he broke lobbying rules in an “egregious case of paid advocacy”.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone said the Tory backbencher had breached the code of conduct after investigating his lobbying efforts on behalf of two UK companies.
The committee for standards said Mr Paterson had “brought the House into disrepute” by using his “privileged position to benefit two companies” – recommending he now be suspended for 30 days.
But in an angry statement, Mr Paterson rejected the commissioner’s findings – accusing her of making up her mind before she had even spoken to him. “This is a biased process and not fair,” he said.
The Tory MP also partly blamed the investigation for his wife Rose’s suicide last year – saying the manner the probe was carried out was a “major contributory factor”.
He said: “Last summer, in the midst of the investigation, my wife of 40 years, Rose, took her own life. We will never know definitively what drove her to suicide, but the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role.”
The Tory MP for North Shropshire added: “It offends against the basic standard of procedural fairness that no-one should be found guilty until they have had a chance to be heard and to present their evidence including their witnesses.”
The inquiry report stated: “The committee found that Mr Paterson’s actions were an egregious case of paid advocacy, that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the House into disrepute.”
The parliamentary watchdog opened the investigation in October 2019 following allegations that Mr Paterson – a former environment minister – had improperly lobbied for clinical diagnostics company Randox and meat processor Lynn’s Country Foods.
The commissioner found Mr Paterson had breached a rule prohibiting paid advocacy in the MPs’ code of conduct by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk in November 2016 and 2017.
The Tory was also found to have broken the rule over making seven approaches to the same agency for Lynn’s Country Foods between November 2017 and July 2018 – and four approaches to ministers in the international development department relating to Randox and blood testing technology in 2016 and 2017.
Mr Paterson argued that most of his approaches to officials fell within the ‘serious wrong’ exemption in the lobbying rules, which permit an MP to approach a responsible minister or official with evidence of a “serious wrong or substantial injustice”.
But with the exception of one meeting regarding milk testing, the committee did not accept that Mr Paterson’s approaches fell within the exemption.
The MP was also found to have breached the rules over declarations of interest by failing to declare his role as a paid consultant to Lynn’s in four emails to the Food Standards Agency.
And he breached the code of conduct over facilities by using his parliamentary office for business meetings on 25 occasions, and by sending two letters relating to business interests on Commons notepaper.
The Committee on Standards acknowledged there were mitigating factors around the investigation into Mr Paterson – including the death of his wife Rose in June 2020.
The report said: “Mr Paterson’s wife took her own life in June 2020. The committee consider it very possible that grief and distress caused by this event has affected the way in which Mr Paterson approached the commissioner’s investigation thereafter.”
Relating to the breach of use of his office, the committee also acknowledged Mr Paterson had been suffering from ill health which “made him less able easily to leave the parliamentary estate”.
The committee also praised Mr Paterson’s “passion and expertise” in food and farming matters, saying his work was “admirable, as long as it is channelled within the rules of the House”.
However, the committee noted that the allegations against Mr Paterson related to his conduct between October 2016 and February 2020 – before his wife’s death.
Although the Tory MP claimed he had not been given a proper chance to respond, the committee said it had “striven to ensure that Mr Paterson has had every opportunity to represent himself as fully as possible” – saying deadlines had been extended for him.
The concluding report stated that “it is these allegations on which we are required to adjudicate, impartially, without fear or favour, and with a sole eye to the rules of the House and the requirements of natural justice”.
Downing Street has declined to say whether Boris Johnson backs the recommended 30-day suspension of Mr Paterson. The PM’s official spokesman said: “The standards regime is a matter for the House of Commons.”
The No 10 spokesperson added: “The prime minister is mindful of the pain faced by the Paterson family. The suicide of Mrs Paterson was sad and tragic and the prime minister’s sympathies remain with his family following this loss.”