Committee on Standards

– in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 3rd November 2021.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 99
    A majority of MPs voted to amend a motion approving the Third Report of the Committee on Standards and suspending Owen Paterson for thirty sitting days, to instead note the report, note concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore decline to consider the report at this time, and resolve to set up a new Select Commitee to consider and make recommendations on the current standards system, the case against Owen Paterson, and connected matters.
  • Division number 100
    A majority of MPs voted to note the Third Report of the Committee on Standards, note concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore decline to consider the report at this time, and resolve to set up a new Select Committee to consider and make recommendations on the current standards system, the case against Owen Paterson, and connected matters.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission 12:49 pm, 3rd November 2021

Before the debate begins, I think it would be helpful if I set out the procedure to be followed. The Leader of the House will move the motion. I will also allow enough time at the end of the debate to ensure that the Chair of the Committee on Standards has the opportunity to respond.

Members are, of course, free to consider and, if they wish, criticise the process that the House has set in place to consider Members’ conduct. However, there is a long tradition of not attacking individuals, such as Officers of the House, who are not here to defend themselves and do not have the ability to do so. They are doing the job that the House itself has set them to do. I remind the House that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Please let us keep calm, keep sensible and make sure the House has a debate in which we are respectful and tolerant to each other.

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Dame Andrea Leadsom. Under the terms of the business motion agreed yesterday, the amendment will be moved formally at the end of the debate, but of course she will speak sooner.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 2:01 pm, 3rd November 2021

I beg to move,

That this House–

(1) approves the Third Report of the Committee on Standards (HC 797);

(2) endorses the recommendation in paragraph 212; and

(3) accordingly suspends Mr Owen Paterson from the service of the House for a period of thirty sitting days.

As Leader of the House of Commons, it is important that I move this motion to facilitate debate on the report by the Committee on Standards. I have said before that Members of Parliament must uphold the highest standards in public life, which is why the process for this House to consider standards infractions is of the utmost importance. It must be fair and robust, and it must command respect on both sides of the House. There must be tough and robust checks against lobbying for profit, and there must be a proper process to scrutinise and, if necessary, discipline those who do not follow the rules.

However, it is also my role as Leader of the House to listen to the concerns and thoughts of Members on both sides of the House, which are now too numerous to ignore. Since the publication of this report, many hon. Members have expressed their concern about the way in which it was prepared, as is evident in the amendment to the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom.

Today I come not to defend my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson but to consider the process by which he has been tried. It is not for me to judge him—others have done that—but was the process a fair one? “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” Any disciplinary process concerned, as it is, with people’s jobs and livelihoods must be fair and must respect basic principles of natural justice.

The concerns raised with me in this case and other standards cases by hon. Members from Government and Opposition parties include: the lack of examination of witnesses; the unused mechanism for the appointment of an investigatory panel; the interpretation of the rules relating to whistleblowing; the length of time taken and the lack of continuity in participation and investigations; the application of aggravating factors; and the absence of the right of appeal.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

My right hon. Friend refers to the lack of appeal, which is a point I have heard on a number of occasions. Are not the oversight of the Committee on Standards and, indeed, the judgment of this House both effective appeal processes in this matter?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Committee on Standards is clearly not an appeal process, because it is the Committee’s report, not the commissioner’s report, that comes before us. The commissioner is the adviser to the Committee and is supervised by the Committee.

I wish this Chamber, as my hon. Friend suggests, were the court of appeal, but as this matter has been discussed we have seen how quickly what happens in this Chamber becomes partisan. [Laughter.] Opposition Members cackle and crow, and they have made my point. It is a sadness to me that this Chamber is not, as one would hope it could be, the apolitical court of appeal for standards cases, but the Opposition have absolutely no desire to do that. We therefore need to consider an independent appeals process, as we have with the Independent Expert Panel.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I simply ask the Leader of the House a question that I ask of all Conservative Members. Does he think he would be standing here today and making these changes if it were a Labour MP?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I think the hon. Lady knows me well enough to know that the answer is yes. I would have no hesitation in doing exactly the same if I thought a Labour Member had not had a proper process and had representations of that kind.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am answering Jess Phillips, so have patience.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has raised this point in previous debates, saying that she would have done something regardless of the party. In my view, she said that in good faith and I accepted her good faith. I hope she will do the same for me.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I thank the Leader of the House for giving way.

Today’s debate could be a turning point, and not of the kind that many of us would like to see. Can the Leader of the House tell us how often this House has overturned a report of the Standards Committee with respect to the behaviour of a particular Member?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am afraid the hon. Lady has not troubled to read the amendment, which does not overturn the report of the Standards Committee. The amendment asks whether there should be a form of appeal and sets up a Committee to consider how the standards process is working. As I said, there have been problems with the process.

On the examination, or non-examination, of witnesses, paragraphs (6) to (10) of Standing Order No. 150 allow the commissioner to appoint an investigatory panel to assist in establishing the facts relevant to an investigation. The Standards Committee is also able to request that the commissioner appoints such a panel. Under these provisions, the commissioner chairs the committee with two assessors, who advise the commissioner but have no responsibility for the findings. One would be a legal assessor and the other a senior Member of the House who would advise on parliamentary matters and be appointed by you, Mr Speaker. The commissioner would determine the procedures and could appoint counsel to assist the panel.

The Member against whom the complaint had been made would be entitled to be heard in person and would have the opportunity to call witnesses and examine other witnesses. At the conclusion of proceedings, the commissioner would report as usual. The legal assessor would report to the Standards Committee as to the extent to which the proceedings had been consistent with the principles of natural justice, which of course include the right to a fair trial under a proper and just process, and the Member assessor might report on the extent to which the proceedings had regard to the custom and practice of the House and its Members.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

The Leader of the House started with a quote, and I am often reminded that what is false exists on the same judicial footing as what is right. I make no judgment about those who signed the amendment but, given that six of them have had allegations upheld against them by the Standards Committee in the last year, can he differentiate between how what was good enough for them is not good enough for the right hon. Member we are discussing?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I am grateful to him for doing so. The reason why this has come now is the volume of complaints that have come through and the more widespread feeling of unfairness, across all Benches, that has been brought to my attention and the attention of others. In simplistic, clichéd terms, this is the famous straw that has broken the long-suffering camel’s back.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That is the point I made earlier about the unfortunate state of affairs whereby this House does not work as a court of appeal, but, regrettably, becomes partisan, which reinforces the need to have an independent body.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I am certainly getting up, as I know many Opposition Members are, not in a partisan way but because I care about the integrity and reputation of the House and our democracy. I have a lot of personal empathy with the individual who is subject to our debate today and the terrible personal circumstances he faces. But the matter has been considered twice, in two separate stages, in a procedure well known in this House.

The allegation is incredibly serious. It is that Mr Paterson used his position of trust as a Member of Parliament and abused that for personal gain. I say to the Leader of the House that it would be absolutely terrible for our democracy if we did not take those decisions that have been unanimously agreed and endorse them in this House today. We would bring into danger the real trust in our democracy and the integrity of this House.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Lady says that this has been looked at, and it has, but there has been no form of appeal and many of the aspects of it have been contested.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall

I am a member of the 2019 intake. December will mark two years since I have been here so I confess that I do not know the rules and regulations inside out. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that under the rules paid advocacy has been banned from this House since 1695? Why do this Government appear to be bending the rules when it suits them?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Because the rules are not being treated in that way. The exemption exists for whistleblowing, which I will come to.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

We need to widen this out. People out there believe that the Government’s attempt to rewrite the rules is dodgy, and the reason for that is because it is dodgy. It is a plan to cover up the kind of corruption we have seen throughout the covid crisis. Polls show that the population believe that the Government are corrupt, and I am afraid that they are correct. This is the most corrupt Government in modern history. Unless they change their behaviour, will they not be doing further permanent damage to our democracy and people’s belief in it?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am, as always, grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as he proves my point. The pieties espoused from the other side about being non-partisan are always undermined by the hon. Gentleman, who is the epitome—the very acme—of partisanship.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Is the plain truth not that if the amendment passes today, my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson could actually find himself in an even worse position? He could be further condemned by an appeals process, which could find against him.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

My right hon. Friend was interrupted in the course of his speech by an intervention; he was about to say something regarding the question of contested cases, which is at the heart of this issue. Report after report, including by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, has said that in such cases criteria for fairness have to be applied. As he has so adequately stated, this investigatory panel does provide for such a state of affairs but it was not applied by the Committee in this case.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a point that I am going to make in slightly more detail.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Will the Leader of the House also accept that the report itself says, towards its conclusion, that “paid advocacy” and the exceptions are open to interpretation? That being the case, and given that there are two different interpretations here, surely the difference of interpretation should be open to some appeal.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and this is one of the key things that the Committee will be asked to look at, to see whether it can clarify the interpretation on the whistleblowing exemption.

Let me return to Standing Order No. 150, which appears to provide a mechanism for the investigation of contentious cases that respects natural justice, ensures that legal counsel is appointed, is appropriate for what is a quasi-judicial process, and introduces significant checks and balances into the investigation, such as the appointment of a separate member by the Speaker to act as an assessor and the right of the Member being investigated to call witnesses and be able to examine other witnesses, rather than leaving this to the discretion of the Commissioner. In a case where so many witnesses and so many Members have made their concerns known, it is unfortunate that the Commissioner did not appoint such a panel. Indeed, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards have never opted to use this mechanism, despite having had many contentious cases before them.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Some 17 individuals have come forward saying that they wish to give oral evidence, but that was refused. Is not the point that, whether or not someone is guilty of paid advocacy, there must be justice and that justice must be seen to be done? In this case, many right-minded people would say that justice has not been seen to be done.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sure that the Committee we are setting up will want to consider the appearance of witnesses and whether that ought to be a fundamental right of people accused of serious cases—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

If it is all right, I just want to respond directly to the point that has just been made. [Interruption.]

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman can intervene on me, but he cannot intervene on a point made by Michael Fabricant

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I just wanted to make a simple point, which is that we reviewed and read all the witness statements. Nobody asked to make an oral witness statement to us. It is perfectly normal in most workplaces in this country, as a retired High Court judge confirmed to me yesterday, for witness statements to be read and considered, and not necessarily for witnesses to be questioned or cross-examined. We did a perfectly normal, fair hearing for the right hon. Member for North Shropshire. We considered all the witness statements and we published them.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The point is that there was this facility to set up an investigatory panel, which was not used. It would have been able to see all the witnesses that my right hon. Friend wanted.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Is not the point on natural justice in this country about the ability to cross-examine witnesses? Is it not the case that written evidence is not the sort of evidence that can be cross-examined?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection

Once again, we are seeing this become partisan. We are examining the cases of the individual, but for me the key thing that is not right is that even the Commissioner is in an impossible position. Therefore, we desperately need to reform a system that puts the staff in that place.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that helps me to get back to the point about process. The 2015 Committee on Standards report on “The Standards System in the House of Commons” noted that the provisions relating to the panel had “never been invoked”, questioned why the investigatory panel was “necessary” and recommended that the provisions be “reviewed”. However, the House never chose to remove these provisions, so this was an active mechanism open to the Commissioner and the Committee, which they decided not to use. It is the Government’s belief that it is right to allow the House to revisit whether, to ensure natural justice, our procedures should be changed to give Members of Parliament the same or similar rights—including the right of examination of witnesses—as apply to those subject to investigations of alleged misconduct in other workplaces and professions.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons)

Before my right hon. Friend carries on, may I add that anybody who is complaining about the amendment to the motion is complaining about the procedures of this House as they exist in respect of standards cases? All standards cases come to this House for this House to dispose of as it thinks fit. That is what this House is debating now and that is perfectively legitimate. The reason why the mechanism to which my right hon. Friend referred has never been used is that, unlike what was recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the commissioner would chair the panel. For it to be an independent appeals process, it should be chaired independently. It has never been used because it would be so likely to arrive at the same conclusion.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. It is really important to remember that this House can never be and should never be a mere rubber stamp, which is not our purpose; we are a sovereign Parliament.

Let me turn to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire. The proposed Select Committee could consider, for example, whether the Standing Orders should be changed so that a panel was always established in contentious cases, or it could consider a new mechanism to ensure that witnesses were always called and examined.

Let me turn to whistleblowing and its relationship to the rules on lobbying, as raised by Sammy Wilson. The rules related to paid advocacy have been considered many times over the years and rightly place restrictions on Members. In 2012, the House recognised the need for a whistleblowing provision to make it clear that in exceptional cases, if there were some serious wrong, a Member could approach the responsible Minister or public official, even if to do so might incidentally benefit a paying client. Concerns have been expressed about the commissioner and the Committee’s interpretation of the application of this exemption in the case of a serious public policy issue, and about whether the balance was correctly struck. We must therefore think carefully about how we protect the ability of our MPs to raise issues where they see them while ensuring that our system is robust against abuse. The balance is worth examining, and a Select Committee appointed for the purpose of reviewing our standards system would be able to give it due consideration.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

If any Member, regardless of their political affiliation, is involved in paid advocacy to the tune of £100,000 per year, I would expect the House and the Committee to come to the same conclusion—for a Member from any political party and of any affiliation.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That will be a matter for the proposed Select Committee to look at. The purpose of the exemption is for serious wrong and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire pointed out, the problems with milk and with carcinogens in processed food that he pointed out saved lives. If a Member comes into information because of an outside interest, should they really hold it back from Government officials—if it would save life?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I am not without sympathy for the proposition that the rules require reform in this regard, but the Leader of the House knows, as we all do, that when the House requires reform, it can be done effectively only by building consensus. We build the consensus first and then bring it to the Chamber; I am afraid this Chamber is never where we build consensus. Surely it is already apparent to the Leader of the House that even if the House votes today to constitute the proposed Select Committee, the prospects of achieving consensus in that Select Committee are now as remote as they would be of achieving it in the Chamber today. I am afraid the way the Government are going about this is self-defeating.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member and quite rightly points out that consensus is very hard to achieve in this Chamber—indeed, this Chamber is physically designed not to achieve it— but our Select Committee processes do, on occasions, manage to achieve consensus from pretty stiff contention in this Chamber, so I am more optimistic about having a Committee that could come to a consensus.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, then to the right hon. Lady.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Leader of the House is utterly detached from the reality of most working MPs in the House, so let me inform him that most of us do not need to get paid £100,000 to do the job we are already paid for. If we think something is endangering our residents’ lives, we do it for free.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am glad that I saved Yvette Cooper for next, because that point was so fatuous that it is not worth answering.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

A cross-party Committee, including lay members, has already considered this issue and come to a unanimous conclusion. My hon. Friend Mike Amesbury asked the Leader of the House why the House should not just come to a conclusion on paid advocacy, which we are clear is against the rules, and the Leader of the House said that was a matter for the new Committee to consider. The old Committee, including lay members, has already considered it and come to its independent conclusion; why does the Leader of the House think the new Committee will somehow be better than the old Committee? Does he not realise that this just looks to everyone as if he simply does not like the conclusion that the old Committee came to?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Dare I say that the right hon. Lady is modelling herself on the deaf adder and, charm I never so nicely, she is not hearing what I am saying? The new Committee could come to the same conclusion, but the point at issue is that we are discussing the process, the lack of appeal and the failures in the processes as they currently exist.

Let me come to the length and continuity of investigations. Across many standards cases we have seen huge differentials among the lengths of time taken for investigations. There appears to be no consistency. For example, the case of the Chair of the Standards Committee himself, Chris Bryant, was completed within a week using the rectification procedure, after he had failed to declare something after two years. That is contrasted by the lengthy investigation into the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire, which took just over two years from the start of the inquiry to the publication of the Committee’s report.

It is equally concerning—this is an important point for those who have been speaking up for the Committee—that the current processes do not ensure continuity of attendance at the Committee, with different Members present at the Standards Committee’s three formal meetings on the report. By the final meeting, only 50% of the membership had attended all three meetings, and four of the 11 members who attended that meeting had not attended the meeting in which the evidence of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire was heard. Although we all understand the pressures on Select Committee members, that seems to be in sharp contrast to the expectations in a judicial process such as jury service, when people are meant to be there to listen to the evidence, and a good reason to look again at our processes.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

Are the Government asserting, under that premise, that there will be a compulsion for Members to attend not only the proposed Committee but every other Select Committee?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The proposed Committee is very different from other Committees, but that will be a matter for the ad hoc Select Committee to consider.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

That is precisely the case when we serve on a Special Standing Committee for a private Bill: Members are required to be present because it is a quasi-judicial process.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding us of the procedure in private Bill Committees.

The Committee on Standards has itself noted:

“Long investigations are undesirable…place the Member concerned under considerable strain”— and—

“should be conducted as expeditiously as possible, so long as rigour and fairness are not compromised.”

In fact, the Committee is itself examining the length of recent investigations an adjudications, as part of its inquiry into the code of conduct, to see whether further steps can be taken—

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

You’ve taken a third of the time for the debate!

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady chunters that I have taken a third of the debate; that is because people like her have intervened. Either I answer people’s questions or they just get a monologue. It is better to have a proper debate.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, an MP can be found guilty of sexual harassment and retain the Conservative Whip; can be found guilty of bullying and keep the job of Home Secretary, overseeing law and order; can break covid rules and be Health Secretary; can break the law and be Leader of the House; and can endanger the lives of our armed forces and allies and be promoted to Deputy Prime Minister. Why should we be at all surprised by the return of cash for questions and Tory sleaze?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It seems that these admirably non-partisan socialists can talk a lot of nonsense in this House and not have to correct the record later, but we shall see.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

If the House does introduce an appeals process, it is very important that the appeal is heard in good time. If the appeal panel upholds the original ruling, what will happen?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

If the original ruling is upheld, it will come back to this House for a vote on the proposal in the normal way. I agree with my hon. Friend that it should be timely.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

Can I take the Leader of the House back to what he was saying a couple of minutes ago about the whistleblowing exemption? Does he recognise the grave danger that, if the interpretation of that exemption that he appeared to be commending was accepted by the House, there would in effect be no ban at all on paid advocacy?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman is a very distinguished and fair-minded Member of this House. It is fundamentally important that the whistleblowing exemption is an exemption and not a loophole that can be exploited for all purposes. Paid advocacy demeans the House and is not something that Members should be involved in. On the other hand, if people have come across a serious wrong in the course of something they have been paid for, I think most fair-minded Members would think it only right and proper that they should tell Ministers about it. There must be a clear dividing line, which I hope the Select Committee would be able to establish. That is at the heart of the disagreement between my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire and the Committee on Standards, and that matter needs to be clearer.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I think the hon. Gentleman is going to speak at the end, so it may be best if he does that.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend has already intervened. Let me continue, because I am conscious of time.

The Committee noted that the commissioner has, since March 2020, routinely conducted an initiation interview with a Member concerned in investigations that involve serious allegations to assure herself that the Member is fully appraised in detail of the allegations and the process at the earliest possible stage. That postdates this case, but it is worth noting that my right hon. Friend suggested a meeting in his letter to the commissioner on 16 January 2020. These are welcome steps, and a Select Committee appointed by the House could look further at how the system might be approved.

I will now move on to the aggravating factors that the Standards Committee refers to in a number of its reports. A consistent theme has been that Members’ refusal to admit wrongdoing in contentious cases has been considered an aggravating factor leading to greater punishment, but we do not want to encourage a system in which a person has to admit fault in order to receive a reasonable response from the Standards Committee. Members who believe that they are innocent must be able to continue to assert that from the beginning to the end without that being considered an aggravating factor.

Plea bargaining is not part of our system. Expectation of self-denunciation is not where we want to get to. We do not want struggle sessions, though the Opposition may like struggle sessions, in order to receive more lenient sanctions. We saw examples of that recently where a Member was considered to have a higher degree of culpability because he did not accept the judgment of the Committee and commissioner on his correspondence with the judiciary. There was also the case of my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, whose punishment, for the arguably innocuous and legitimate act of writing to Michel Barnier after his request for the views of MPs, was shortened and not brought to the Floor of the House on the condition that he admitted wrongdoing. This is a concerning theme in these investigations that clearly warrants greater review.

Perhaps the most critical point to emerge on concerns expressed by Members is the question of a right to appeal. I consider that right to be fundamental to the provision of justice, which is regrettably not genuinely provided by the matter coming to the Floor of this House—a regrettableness that has been reinforced by the conduct of this debate so far.

I observe that, in the House of Lords, there is an appeal process that provides that the noble lord concerned has a right of appeal to the Conduct Committee against the commissioner’s findings and any recommended sanction. Having considered any appeal, the Conduct Committee, having agreed an appropriate sanction, reports its conclusions to the House, which has the final decision on the sanction. That is why I support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire. It proposes setting up a Select Committee to review the standards process and consider whether Members should be afforded the same or similar rights as apply to those subject to investigations of alleged misconduct in other workplaces and professions, including the right of appeal, and to make recommendations for reform. The Committee will, therefore, be able to recommend setting up an appeals mechanism and recommend other changes to increase confidence. It will also be able to consider whether the case against my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire should be reviewed with the benefit of any new appeals mechanism, or whether the Standards Committee report should be considered by the House. It will be a method by which we can reset a process that has lost the confidence of many Members of this House.

Let me be clear: the new Committee will not be the judge, jury and executioner in this case. It will be time-limited and established for the particular purpose of recommending improvements to the standards system for the House to consider. For example, following the Committee’s work in relation to this report, it is entirely possible that a reformed process, including any new appeal mechanism, may conclude that this initial report and sanction was entirely correct. This complex case still demands proper consideration, and the Select Committee would in no way pre-determine that.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

Can the Leader of the House explain why it is appropriate that this new Select Committee should have an in-built Government majority, while the Standards Committee with its lay members does not. If this is about trying to improve our processes, why is he running the risk of making it look to anybody looking in from the outside that, essentially, this is like someone who has been found guilty of a crime, but instead of serving a sentence, his mates come together to try to change the judicial system? It looks really bad.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Sometimes, to do the right thing, one has to accept a degree of opprobrium, but it is more important to do the right thing to ensure that there is fairness.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Can the Leader of the House explain to the House why, for all other Select Committees, Members of this House vote for the Chair, but on this occasion he has decided to appoint a Chair and still call it a Select Committee?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is not true that all the posts are elected. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, for example, is not elected. The hon. Gentleman, who is on the Procedure Committee, really ought to know better and know the details of the composition of Select Committees of this House.

I shall turn briefly to a letter sent to me yesterday by union representatives about the importance—

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We only have an hour and a half to discuss this. This is the time that the Government gave us to discuss this matter. There is huge interest in this debate. Is there anything that you can do to encourage the Leader of the House to wind up his remarks?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you for your ruling, Mr Speaker. It is always a balance in this House as to whether one tries to answer as many questions as possible, which is, I think, the better way of conducting the debate.

A letter was sent to me yesterday by union representatives about the importance of maintaining independent and impartial investigations into misconduct. The standards system stands in contrast to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which has an appeal panel, chaired by a High Court judge. That is for the very reason that all parties referred to the scheme must have total faith in it. It has been absolutely essential in achieving positive cultural change in this House precisely because of its rigorous, judicial processes, transparency of operation and evident commitment to natural justice and the right to appeal. The House should be proud of the ICGS system, and it owes a debt to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire for its establishment. It is clear that we can learn many lessons from its operation, and I would encourage the Select Committee to look to the ICGS system, with its benefits of judicial experience, as an example of how a process of independent adjudication can be set up effectively.

In summary—I was expecting a “Hear, hear” for that, Mr Speaker, as I am coming to my conclusion—there are numerous problems with the operation of the standards system, a fact that has been highlighted by the concerns of Members across this House in this particular case and others. Given these concerns, I think that it is only right that consideration of this report be paused until our standards system can be reviewed. Therefore, I will support the amendment so that the new Committee can consider whether Members should have

“the same or similar rights as apply to those subject to investigations of alleged misconduct in other workplaces and professions, including the right of representation, examination of witnesses and appeal”,

and whether this case itself should continue through any reformed system recommended by the new Committee.

Members must act when we see a situation arise that we do not believe to be compatible with the principles of natural justice. This is about the process and not the individual case, but when considering this report how can one not consider the great sorrow that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire has suffered? The suicide of his wife is a greater punishment than any House of Commons Committee could inflict. As we all know:

“The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”.

It is in this way that the House should consider this case and standards more widely. The system must provide justice tempered by mercy, for mercy is essential to justice.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House appears to have spent this whole time supporting the amendment and has not actually moved the motion that he was meant to be moving.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:41 pm, 3rd November 2021

It gives me no pleasure to be standing here responding to a standards motion, although I now feel that what I am responding to is the Leader of the House moving the amendment, rather than the motion.

I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to the standards commissioner and her team, not only for their diligent work in carrying out this inquiry, but for all the other work that they do to actively promote high standards across the House. I thank my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who chairs the Standards Committee, and all the other Committee members who contributed to this thorough investigation.

Since 1695, there have been rules on paid advocacy. A motion passed on 2 May 1695 said that

“the offer of money or other advantage to any Member of Parliament for the promoting of any matter whatsoever…in Parliament, is a high crime and misdemeanour”.

If, today, the amendment passes or the motion falls entirely, it sends the message—to paraphrase my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour party ,who said this better than me earlier today—that when we do not like the rules, we just break the rules; and when someone breaks the rules, we just change the rules. It turns the clock back to before 1695. Such actions were not acceptable then and they are not acceptable now.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

Does my hon. Friend agree that the only logical explanation for the action by Government Ministers and Back Benchers today is not necessarily the recommendations of the report that we are considering today, but that there may be many others in line to come forward that will cause even greater embarrassment to those on the Government Benches?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my right hon. Friend, who is a distinguished Member of this House, for raising that point. It is hard to work out why this is happening. In fact, I am going to skip ahead to a later point in my speech. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House stands up in front of us every week. If he wanted a debate on changing the rules and changing the system, he has had that opportunity every single week, but I have yet to hear him mention it until today, when we are considering a live case.

In this case, the Committee concluded:

“This is an egregious case of paid advocacy”.

It said that Mr Paterson

“repeatedly…used his privileged position…to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant”,

and that this

“has brought the House into disrepute.”

A lot has been said in the media about the standards process over the last week, but since 1695 this House has only ever strengthened the system. The Library and the appendix to the code of conduct can provide a timeline and details for any Government Members who are interested. The introduction of a House of Commons Standards Commissioner in 1995 and the Standards Committee in 2013 were key features of strengthening the system. It has worked well and has gone a long way to restoring public trust in the House. It is vital that the integrity of the standards system is maintained. In fact, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended just this week that the system needs to be strengthened, not weakened. But no—Government Members seem to want to rip up the entire system. Our Committees, which are cross-party, carry out their inquiries independently of influence from this House and that must continue to be the case.

Under the code of conduct, all of us are expected to adhere to the ethical standards of the seven principles of public life. It seems that some Government Members need a reminder that those principles are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. That expectation is good for us all. If someone in this place falls short, there has to be a system in place to hold MPs and other public officials to account. That is our standards system. It is a standards system that our Parliament voted on and approved. Just changing the system when somebody does not like a result is not acceptable.

If the Government wish to debate the merits of the standards system, the Leader of the House can get up tomorrow and schedule time to do so. Some Government Members who have signed the amendment are Chairs of House Committees and could have initiated reviews or made proposals, but they did not. I hate to remind the Leader of the House, but today there is a motion before us about a report and its recommendations. It is absolutely in order for Back Benchers to table an amendment, but it is quite astonishing that the Government seem to have endorsed and whipped it.

Shamefully, it seems that Tory MPs have been backed by their Government to hijack this debate, which should have been about endorsing a Committee report. The Government are sending the message that paid advocacy—MPs selling their offices and position as an elected representative—is fine. I am afraid that some, including Government Members from the Dispatch Box today, are claiming that this is a process without an appeal, but the commissioner reviews cases, makes recommendations and refers them to the Standards Committee, which is cross-party, with a majority of members from the Government Benches, as well as lay members with expertise; they decide whether to approve the recommendations, and we debate and vote on them.

Correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire had access to legal representation. His character witness statements are in the report and were duly considered. As some of my colleagues have pointed out to me, if everybody who wanted to give oral evidence to a court of law was just accepted, where would that get us? Is that really what we are saying—that there should be a system whereby if I want to give evidence, I get to say what I like?

The Committee process is, in effect, a process of appeal. The Committee upheld the commissioner’s report and recommendations, and so must this House. For the public to maintain their trust in us, it is crucial that our independent standards procedure is not undermined or, worse still, systematically dismantled all together, as I fear is happening now. Is that what the Leader of the House wants his political legacy to be—undermining Parliament and our MPs even further? Does he fully understand the potential consequences of doing this?

Standards are important; they matter. The commissioner and the Committee took careful consideration of a very large amount of evidence. It took a long time to read, and I strongly suspect that some Members did not read it. The Committee recommended the sanction on the motion before us. It would be extraordinary for this House to overturn that independent, cross-party recommendation.

I hate to remind the Leader of the House, but just last month Government Members said that they could not possibly support retrospective rule change; and yet, here we are. In the middle of a case, Tory MPs—yes, I am going to state that, because it is only Tory MPs who have signed this amendment—are trying to change the rules. It is a serious case of paid advocacy against the rules that are clearly set out. The public rightly expect us to abide by the rules and to be held to account. We must vote to do so today.

We cannot have a return to the Tory sleaze of the 1990s. Members and the public will remember cash for questions and those Tory scandals of the 1990s. This Tory dilution of our standards procedures sends a terrible message to the public and our constituents that it is one rule for certain MPs and another for everyone else. The enduring damage that that would do to Parliament’s reputation is something that none of us should be prepared to consider.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 2:49 pm, 3rd November 2021

I do not think anyone enjoys taking part in this debate. Were the Government’s motion to be considered unamended, I would vote for it. Had the second amendment been selected, I would vote for it. I will not vote for the first amendment.

I was on the Standards Committee up to 2003, when I withdrew on a point of practice, rather than principle, that the House, the Speaker and the then Labour Government had not supported Elizabeth Filkin. I am not going to change my practice now.

I am one of the people, probably like most people in this House, who has read the full report. I have read what the chief vet said about the milk allegation. I have read what my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson has said, and to whom I join in offering sympathy for what has happened in his life. I recognise that the involvement of Randox with Aintree and with him, and his wife’s role at Aintree, meant that he would be close to a business, and I recognise that much of what he said is uncontested by the commissioner and by the Standards Committee.

The issue is whether he would have done better, as I think was possibly indicated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions, to have said that he held one view, the commissioner and the Committee held another, that he now recognises that what they felt was reasonable, and he is sorry to have a had a view that has caused this upset and these difficulties to all of us. I still hope that were I in that situation I would have had the sense, basically, to accept that there are views other than my own and that I should not always see things with my own justification rather than in the way people outside this House, and some inside this House, would see them.

On the decision as to whether the contents of the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom are correct, I do recognise that, as my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin said, the 2003 recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is worth looking at. But that was 18 years ago, and if this is a serious problem, it should have been brought back for consideration by the House or by senior Members of this House during the past 18 years. I am unhappy to bring it forward now as a way of changing what should be the normal process of upholding the Standards Committee’s endorsement of the standards commissioner’s advice to the Committee.

I refer to the debate in 2010 when Jack Straw was the Justice Secretary and Sir George Young, as he then was, contributed for my party, as did I. We chose the system we are now using. If we want to consider changing it, we should do it in a proper way. I do not regard this as appropriate now.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:52 pm, 3rd November 2021

It is a real pleasure to follow the Father of the House, who offers some realistic and sage advice about how we take forward processes and business such as this. It would be good if the Leader of the House was to listen to his very straightforward comments about what is going on today.

When I was first told about this, I thought it was some sort of joke. I thought, “They can’t possibly be serious.” I expected maybe to come to a debate that would be the usual suspects speaking on behalf of one of their pals—but not today. Today we have the full force of the Government whipping operation dragooning Conservative Members of Parliament through this House to overturn the decision of our Standards Committee and to introduce a new way of examining breaches of the rules in this House. It is an almost outrageous suggestion.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on the Government’s approach: seeking to introduce mechanisms to neutralise court rulings of the Supreme Court, seeking to defy the European convention on human rights, seeking to reform the Electoral Commission, and now this. Does he, like me and I am sure many others on the Opposition Benches, agree with the litany of Giovanni Capoccia that this is a dire warning of the pillars of democracy being undermined by the Conservative and Unionist party for its own nefarious needs?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Yes, I do. I say to my hon. Friend and to this House: the public are watching this. The public are examining how we do this type of business, and, I say ever so gently to my Conservative colleagues over there, they are not liking what they are seeing. They are extremely concerned about the way that this House is going when it considers some of these issues.

What the public are observing is a shoddy attempt to turn back the clock to the worst excesses of 1990s Tory sleaze. What they see is the return of the days of brown envelopes and cash for questions—the absolute worst of sleaze and cronyism. What they see is the Conservatives trying to get one of their mates off the hook by ignoring independent due process, and rewriting the rules because they do not suit them, to close down an independent process and replace it with a Committee of this House with a Conservative majority and a Conservative Chair. Let us get rid of all independent process and just have them adjudicate on everything. Why do we not get the executive committee of the 1922 Committee to replace the whole of the judicial system across the UK? If a Conservative supporter is found guilty of any offence, why do we not get a committee set up to reconsider that verdict and have a look at it once again? That is the type of realm of possibility we are getting into with this.

I do not care if this place seems as sleaze-ridden and crony-ridden as it wants to be. In fact, it does me good if people from Scotland are watching and observing this place descending into the midden that we know it can become. It serves my purpose to see it do that. But is that what the Conservatives want to do with this House—to so debase and degrade the way that we do things that the public will start to look on this place with nothing other than utter contempt?

Let us just remind ourselves about what the Standards Committee found. It found that Mr Paterson broke multiple rules when he lobbied the Government on behalf of Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods. The Committee’s report said:

“No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests.”

It quite rightly imposed the maximum sanction available to it. What the Conservatives now want to do is to overthrow that verdict of this independent Committee and to have the matter determined by a Committee with a Conservative Chair and a Conservative majority. That is natural justice Conservative-style for you. Can I say this to you, Mr Speaker? This Committee is supposed to have a Conservative Chair, four other Conservative members, three Labour members and one Scottish National party member, but the Scottish National party will not serve on any kangaroo court designed and determined by the Conservative party in order to do away with an independent process for looking at a breach of the rules.

God know what Kathryn Stone must be making of this. She has every right and every entitlement to walk right away from all this and have nothing further to do with this House that now attempts to change the rules midway through the process. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right. We were only told a couple of weeks ago that we could not change the rules retrospectively, but here we are in the middle of considering a standards report, and that is exactly what we are doing. What a way to do our business. What a shoddy return to the days of Tory sleaze. What a way to reduce this House into the absolute shambles that it is.

Today, Tory MPs are being instructed by their Whips to vote for this. We are doing this without any scrutiny or consideration of how these rules are rewritten. If the Leader of the House wants us to look at how we approach these things in future, he should bring forward a debate, not just 90 minutes where he took up half the time, because nobody has an opportunity to get in and say anything. Do it properly. Why are we doing this when we are considering a standards report? We will not take our place on this Committee; we will have nothing to do with it. I hope that Labour Members do not take their places on it either. If the Conservatives want to be the judge and jury and the arbitrator in all this, that is up to them. Get on and do it; we will have absolutely nothing to do with this process at all.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire 2:58 pm, 3rd November 2021

I am very disappointed in Pete Wishart, because, in effect, he is accusing me, having worked with me over years on achieving justice for this place, of being completely disingenuous. I find that very personally disappointing.

Today is a day for serious consideration by all colleagues across this House. We must address the grave concerns about the way in which we are held to account under our own Standing Orders. My amendment is not about whether the findings of the third report of the Committee on Standards are correct or incorrect. It is not about whether Mr Owen Paterson is innocent or guilty under that report. It is not about letting anyone off, stitching anything up, or any of the other accusations flying around the Chamber. Today’s amendment is about the process of investigations into Members and the question of whether this process must now be reviewed by a politically balanced Select Committee that will consider some exceedingly serious questions. First, there is the question of whether our investigatory process should more closely reflect the laws of natural justice, where an accused Member can expect to have their own evidence taken into account, to put forward witnesses in their defence, to be interviewed early in the process and provide their own explanation and, vitally, to access an independent appeal process.

Secondly, there is the serious question of whether Standing Orders Nos. 149, 149A and 150 are entirely fit for purpose. Those are the Standing Orders that govern the make-up of the Committee on Standards and the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

I worked with Kathryn Stone when I was Leader of the House, and I know she takes her role seriously and strives to take a balanced view. However, the PCS does not have a legal background and is not required to by orders. She works as both sole investigator and judge. The Committee on Standards can change her recommendations, should it choose, but there is no clarity on when or why that would happen. The Committee will perfectly understandably tend to prefer to uphold the system over the individual. The PCS can decide to establish an investigatory panel to help her, and the Committee can even require her to establish such a panel, but again there is no clarity in Standing Orders on when that should be done, and it has never been done to date.

As Leader of the House between 2017 and 2019, a cross-party team of Members worked flat-out under my chairmanship—I pay tribute to them again today—to establish an independent complaints and grievance scheme. I know well that the scheme has its detractors and is still disappointingly slow to dispense justice. However, that cross-party team made great efforts to ensure that it followed the laws of natural justice—specifically that, first, both alleged perpetrator and alleged victim are very clearly able to give their side of the story to an independent case manager; secondly, witnesses can be presented in support of either side; thirdly, legal support can be provided; fourthly, there is a clear hierarchy where the investigator is not also the prosecutor, and fifthly, there is a clear appeals process. Furthermore, until found guilty, the alleged perpetrator is presumed innocent, and the investigation is confidential. Vitally, the whole scheme is reviewed on a regular and timetabled basis to ensure it continues to be fair and impartial.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The right hon. Lady did important work on the independent complaints process, but she will recognise that, as Leader of the House, she had considerable time to propose reforms and amendments to the Committee on Standards process, should she have chosen to do so. Does she not recognise that proposing reforms now, in conjunction with this individual case—where an independent investigation and an independent cross-party Committee have come to very clear conclusions about paid advocacy—undermines the decisions and integrity of this House and any positive purpose to any reforms she might want for the future?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I am incredibly sympathetic to what the right hon. Lady says. In fact, I was about to come on to what many in the Chamber are asking, which is, “Why bring forward this review today, on the day we are being asked to consider one particular case?” She asks why I did not bring forward these changes when I was Leader of the House. The answer is that I was working flat-out, on a cross-party basis, doing 18-hour days—many Members would support that point—on the independent complaints and grievance scheme. Had I stayed in post longer, I absolutely would have looked at this review. I am frustrated that these two systems have not been brought into line with each other. I share her frustration. I would have strongly preferred for this review to have been kicked off on its own merits at a time when the waters would not be muddied by the inevitable party political point scoring.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend was a distinguished Leader of the House. She has set out in her amendment a view about how this system should work, which would be far more judicial and forensic. I am sure that many of us in this House on both sides find these whole processes very unedifying and somewhat embarrassing. We do not vote on our remuneration packages. In the scenario she is setting out, would it be appropriate for the House still to vote on these reports, or, given the beefed-up investigatory powers that she is setting out—looked at by the Standards Committee—should it not come for a vote of this House at all? It should be at the Standards Committee, which should then opine on what it hears.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which came up time and again during consideration of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. It was made very clear that, in a democratically elected system, ultimately, it has to be for elected colleagues to be able to make the final decision. That is an incredibly important point of principle. It was put to me that, if we ever reached a point where unelected people could remove elected people, we would put ourselves into the position of a dictatorship. But I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case for reform, but as Mr Carmichael said, that reform can only work if it comes from all parts of the House. By bringing her amendment today, it looks like we are moving the goalposts. For that reason, I cannot support her. What might she say about that?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

As I just said in response to Yvette Cooper, I share the concern that we are bringing this forward today. I sincerely hope that colleagues from all parts of the Chamber will be prepared to join together to review this system, which is so clearly flawed. I ask all colleagues to search their hearts carefully today. As MPs, there is no doubt we are our own harshest critics and judges. We spend so much of our lives trying to deliver justice to our constituents and fighting against unfairness wherever we see it. Today’s amendment is not about one judgment on one person. It is not about letting anyone off the hook, and it is not about rejecting the report of the Committee on Standards.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

With much respect, and having worked with the right hon. Lady for many months on the ICGS process, it is only fair, in the light of that, that I raise that today two of the people who went through that process have contacted me. They are victims of sexual harassment or assault, and they say that what is happening in Parliament today is very unedifying and makes them certain that victims will find it difficult to understand that we will not just overturn things and make it very hard for anyone to come forward about anything.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We have worked together on this for many years. I must make clear to her that the amendment is not looking at the independent complaints and grievance scheme. As I have set out, that was established under a cross-party review, and it had all the laws of natural justice taken carefully into account in its establishment.

Today’s amendment is an opportunity to review the process for fairness, natural justice and impartiality in the system that oversees Members of Parliament. The review is proposed to take place within three months from today, at which time the specific case can be brought back to the House for reconsideration.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I will just finish, because time is pressing. A colleague texted me today to say:

“Achieving change in this place is tough, but today’s amendment could lead to a standards system that is fairer for all. It is so sad that it takes a tragedy for the House to act.”

There is never a right time to act, but let us please do our best for fairness and support the amendment today.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee) 3:09 pm, 3rd November 2021

I am regretful at rising to speak in this debate. Although we have political adversaries in the House, we are also all colleagues who work together in the same place. I have the utmost sympathy for the family tragedy that hit Mr Paterson and the greatest admiration for how he then took up the campaign for the prevention of suicide to help others. In the more than 20 years that we have been in the House together, he has shown me nothing but kindness and courtesy.

It is very much because we as MPs know and understand each other that the House recognised that we needed a complaints system that involved a strong measure of independence. We all recognise that the public want, and are entitled to, the highest standards from their elected representatives, and we are proud to claim that that is the case. We all recognise that the people who elect us want us to act in their interest and in the public interest, and that they want no conflict of interest to blur the issue of our private financial interest with our role as MPs.

Trust in our democracy is all important, but it is fragile. The reputation of the House is easily damaged and, when damaged, hard to restore, as we discovered not only in the lobbying scandal, but in the expenses scandal. How we deal with this issue will reflect on the House as a whole and on each of us individually. I hope that Members on both sides are clear that this is House business, not Government business, and therefore the vote should not be whipped, much though the Whips will try.

We made these rules on lobbying; we need to enforce them. No one foisted the process on us; we initiated it and decided it. Where there are criticisms about the rules that we decided on, changes can be proposed, but as Mr Carmichael said, they must have an all-party basis to go forward with integrity. That is the way we should do things.

What we must not do is make the rules and then decide to set them aside when we have misgivings about the outcome. I will oppose the amendment and support the motion, and I urge right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to do the same.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 3:12 pm, 3rd November 2021

This case is about the whole House, not just an individual Member. It is about the manner, process and principle whereby the case was conducted by the Committee on Standards, although there has been much discussion about the role of the commissioner.

The responsibility lies with the Committee, which is ultimately a matter for the House as a whole. The amendment addresses a failure by the Committee in a serious contested case, as this was, to call for an investigatory panel as it had the right to do and should have done. Had an investigatory panel been set up, it would have brought into play the rules of natural justice, human rights and the criteria insisted on by a series of reports, including that of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

Under the Committee on Standards Standing Orders, in particular Standing Order 150(5), the commissioner may hold an investigatory panel but

“if so requested by the Committee” is obliged to hold such a panel. Then all the aspects of fairness and justice that I have mentioned, and that have been insisted on in a series of reports, would have come into play. They include establishing disputed facts, the appointment of a legal assessor and counsel, the right for a Member accused of misconduct to be heard before such a panel, the right for such a Member to call and examine witnesses, and the opportunity for the legal assessor to provide an opinion

“as to the extent to which its proceedings have been consistent with the principles of natural justice”.

All that was denied to the Member in this case. In similar serious contested cases, it is as plain as a pikestaff that Members on both sides of the House would want to insist that such rules of fairness were brought into play for them, as would be expected in any walk of life. It would be utterly inconceivable for Parliament—it would be rightly condemned for doing so—to pass legislation denying to the courts, justice systems, statutory tribunals, professional committees or ACAS that a person accused of misconduct be granted such procedures. In a nutshell, although in courts, tribunals or professional disciplinary arrangements, any person in the land could apply for judicial review where there had been a failure to comply with such procedures, that does not apply because of parliamentary privilege and article 9 of the Bill of Rights.

There is a further question about the role of the lay members. In this case, for a variety of reasons, including recusal and the absence of some Members of Parliament on the Committee when the report was finalised, the lay members were left in a majority, which is clearly not the way in which the Committee was intended to operate, despite past warnings.

For all those reasons, and because the House as a whole has overall jurisdiction over all Standing Orders, I believe that the amendment is essential. An investigatory panel should have been set up to ensure that. If the Committee had requested it, which it did not, the commissioner would have been obliged, under the Standing Orders, to ensure it. I therefore strongly urge that the amendment be made.

You wish!

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I think he got the easier job.

I have not done any radio or television interviews on this matter because, as Chair of the Committee, I am a servant of the House. I thank the Commissioner and the Committee. In particular, I wish Allan Dorans well, because he is very ill at the moment. I hope that he will be back with us soon. It is inappropriate for people to comment on absences from the Committee when they do not understand why members might be absent.

I am painfully conscious that Mr Paterson lost his wife in tragic circumstances in June 2020. I wish to express my sincere condolences to him. I have known suicide in my family, as he knows, and I have performed many funerals for suicides. I know the grief, the anguish, and often the guilt that is associated. The last year must have been very distressing for him, and the Committee took those circumstances fully into account when considering his conduct.

I will address the charges, the process, the sanction and the amendment. The charges are very serious. The Member repeatedly, over a sustained period, lobbied officials and Ministers on behalf of his paying clients, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods, from whom he was receiving more than £9,000 a month, as he still is. He pursued their commercial interests. When they could not get meetings with officials and Ministers, he used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure them. Providing privileged access is a valuable service.

The Member promoted what he called “Randox’s superior technology”. He wanted the Government to use Randox’s calibration system. He repeatedly used his taxpayer-funded parliamentary office for commercial meetings. That is paid lobbying. In some shape or form, it has been banned since 1695 and expressly so since cash for questions, which brought this House into terrible disrepute in the 1990s. One Conservative Member described it to me as a “catalogue of bad behaviour”. I have yet to meet a Conservative MP who has not said to me, “He clearly broke the rules.” I think that includes the Leader of the House.

The Member says that he was raising serious wrongs, but he did not say so at the time. If they were truly serious, one might have expected him to write articles or do media interviews, as he was perfectly entitled to do. He did not. He did the one thing that he was banned from doing: lobby Ministers time and again in a way that conferred a direct benefit on his paying clients. That is expressly forbidden. It is a corrupt practice.

On the process, the Member has had a fair hearing. We had legal advice from Speaker’s Counsel throughout. As one former High Court judge said to me yesterday,

“the procedure is consistent with natural justice and similar or identical to workplaces up and down the country.”

We on the Committee spent many hours reviewing the evidence in this case without fear or favour. The Member had prior notice of the charges and the evidence against him at every stage. He had his legal advisers with him. The Committee invited him to make his appeal against the commissioner’s findings in writing and in person, and I hope he would confirm that we gave him every opportunity to make his case to us and that the session was conducted respectfully and fairly. I think he is nodding.

The Member has said that his witnesses should have been interviewed. Natural justice requires that witnesses be heard, but that does not necessarily mean that they must be heard orally or cross-examined. We did what many courts and tribunals do every day of the week: we reviewed all the witness statements, took them into consideration and published them in full.

The Member claims that the commissioner had made up her mind before she sent her memorandum. That is completely to misunderstand the process. As the commissioner has done in every other case, she started an investigation and invited the Member to meet her and/or to submit evidence. Once she had completed her investigation and, by definition, found on a preliminary basis that there had been a breach of the rules, she submitted a memorandum to him for his comments, and then to the Committee. That is when we heard his appeal, in writing and in person.

I turn to the sanction. As the Committee says in the report:

“Each of Mr Paterson’s several instances of paid advocacy would merit a suspension of several days, but the fact that he has repeatedly failed to perceive his conflict of interest and used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, is even more concerning. He has brought the House into disrepute.”

A Conservative colleague whom I respect a great deal said to me on Monday that justice should always be tempered by mercy. I agree. But justice also demands no special favours.

These are the precedents that we considered: Patrick Mercer was suspended for six months; Ian Paisley for 30 days; Jonathan Sayeed for 14 days; and George Galloway for 18 days. When Geoffrey Robinson failed to provide proper responses to the commissioner and Committee, he was suspended for a month. This case is just as serious because it involved at least 14 instances. It was a pattern of behaviour, and the Member has said time and again over the last week that he would do the same again tomorrow. If the House were therefore to vote down or water down the sanction, or to carry the amendment, it would be endorsing his action. We would be dismantling the rule on paid advocacy, which has been around in some shape or form since 1695. I am afraid that the public would think of us as the Parliament that licensed cash for questions.

Let me turn to the amendment. I have worked with Dame Andrea Leadsom on many things; I think she is very wrong today. It is the very definition of injustice that one should change the rules or the process at the very last moment, and to do so for a named individual. That is what the amendment does. Retrospective legislation to favour or damage an individual because they are a friend or a foe is immoral and the polar opposite of the rule of law. That is why, as the Leader of the House knows, I spoke and voted with Conservative Members when we were considering a retrospective motion to subject Rob Roberts to a recall petition. The amendment should fail on that basis alone—it is the opposite of due process.

The amendment purports to set up an appeal process, but an appellate body must be independent and every single member of the body will be parti pris, by definition. They will have been whipped and taken a view today. They will almost certainly have voted. The proposed Chair, by agreeing to have his name put forward, is already not independent. I point out gently to the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire that it was her motion as Leader of the House on 7 January 2019 that set up the Standards Committee in its present form. At that time, she said that

“a greater element of independence was required, and that having seven lay members and seven parliamentary Members on the Standards Committee…provides the right balance—having the memory and the corporate understanding of being in this place, while at the same time ensuring that we can benefit from the experience and knowledge of independent lay members.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 128.]

The body she proposes today will have no independent members—no independence.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I will not take an intervention, if the right hon. Member does not mind. She must know that this is a retrograde step. She also said—I say this strongly to all hon. Members who have said many things about the parliamentary commissioner—that

“ensuring that the PCS can operate independently…is vital and will better enable justice for those seeking recourse.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 127.]

The amendment will drive a coach and horses through our standards system. We will have two rival Select Committees on standards at the same time, charged with the same piece of business. As many hon. Members may know, the Standards Committee is engaged in a review of the code of conduct, which we are required to do in every Parliament, and that will include review of the operation of the system. I am absolutely certain that there are things that we could do better. I am determined to make sure that we will do things better to ensure natural justice.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I will not, if the hon. Member does not mind. I want to conclude my remarks; I am sorry. He has already caught Mr Speaker’s eye.

We are close to agreeing a report on how we can improve the system. I would also say that the suggested process will keep this running for yet more months. I agree with the Leader of the House: I hate investigations that take a long time, but I will point this out gently. The commissioner was, I think, right to suspend her investigation on the right hon. Member for North Shropshire after his wife’s death. It was only once his lawyers said it was okay to restart that she initiated it again. All the delays in the process have been down to his seeking further extensions of deadlines, and we have always sought to meet those. I think it is inappropriate to keep it going any further.

I also draw a distinction between an appeal on the facts, which we have heard, and an appeal on the sanction. It may be right that there should be an appeal process on the sanction. That is not the process that we have adopted with any other Member thus far, and that is why I think it is wrong to confuse changing the process with the case in hand. It is, as I said earlier, by definition wrong to change the process at the very last moment.

The Committee also says in the report:

“A Member is entitled to contest, even vigorously contest, the Commissioner’s interpretation of the rules and her findings. We do not mark down any Member for doing so.”

The aggravating factor in this case was a lack of insight into a conflict of interest, not a lack of acceptance of breach. I will say this to the Member: this could have been very different if you had come to us and said, “I am sorry. I was trying to do the right thing, but I got it wrong. I want the House to uphold the highest standards, and I accept the reprimand and the sanction. I hope my constituents will deal kindly with me.” The danger is that, if the amendment is carried, his name will become a byword for bad behaviour.

Let me end with this. I hope all Members know that I care passionately about Parliament. The vast majority of Members are here to do good. We make significant sacrifices, as our partners know. We make a big difference, often on campaigns that have no party issue in them—indeed, I hope the House will support my Acquired Brain Injury Bill on 3 December. [Interruption.] I think that was unanimous, Mr Speaker. But if the public believe that we are marking our own homework, our reputation, individually and collectively, will be tarnished. Independence is essential to protect us. A Conservative MP said to me yesterday:

“There have been times when I have been ashamed of being a Member of this House, I don’t want to go back to that.”

Of course, as Chairman of the Committee, I remain a servant of the House, but I also have to look at the public. They want the House to uphold the highest possible standards. Nobody can be above the rules. It is the public who should judge this, and I fear they will find us all wanting if the amendment is carried today. I warn colleagues, with all my heart: do not do something today that we will rue in the future.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Can I just say before people vote: please, take your time going into the Lobbies. I am going to extend the vote, just because of the nature of where we are at the moment.

Amendment proposed: (a), leave out from “this House” to the end and insert:

“(1) notes the Third Report of the Committee on Standards (HC 797);

(2) notes concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore declines to consider the report at this time;

(3) and resolves:

(a) that a Select Committee be appointed to consider and make recommendations by 3 February 2022 on the following matters:

(i) whether 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, including the right of representation, examination of witnesses and appeal;

(ii) the extent to which the procedures under Standing Order Nos 149, 149(A) and 150 should be made consistent with the principles of natural justice;

(iii) whether the case against Mr Owen Paterson should be reviewed or whether the Third Report of the Committee on Standards (HC 797) should be reconsidered by the House;

(iv) and such other matters as appear to the Committee to be connected with the matters set out above, and calls on the Government to bring forward a motion to give effect to any recommendations of the Committee within five sitting days of the publication of the Committee’s report;

(b) That the Committee consist of nine Members;

(c) That Mr John Whittingdale be Chair of the Committee and be given a casting vote in the event of a tie;

(d) That the Committee shall consist of eight other backbench members; to be nominated by parties in the proportion of four Conservative, three Labour and one SNP; nominations shall be submitted to the Committee of Selection no later than 15 November, after that date motions for nomination can be made notwithstanding any gaps in membership, and any motion made in the House on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the Chair or another member of the Committee shall be treated as having been made in pursuance of Standing Order No.121(2) for the purposes of Standing Order No.15(1)(c);

(e) That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place, to report from time to time, to appoint legal advisers, and to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee’s order of reference.”—(Dame Andrea Leadsom.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 99 Committee on Standards - Amendment (a)

A majority of MPs voted to amend a motion approving the Third Report of the Committee on Standards and suspending Owen Paterson for thirty sitting days, to instead note the report, note concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore decline to consider the report at this time, and resolve to set up a new Select Commitee to consider and make recommendations on the current standards system, the case against Owen Paterson, and connected matters.

Aye: 249 MPs

No: 232 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 250, Noes 232.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Hon. Members::

Shame!

Division number 100 Committee on Standards - Motion as amended

A majority of MPs voted to note the Third Report of the Committee on Standards, note concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore decline to consider the report at this time, and resolve to set up a new Select Committee to consider and make recommendations on the current standards system, the case against Owen Paterson, and connected matters.

Aye: 245 MPs

No: 223 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 221.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House—

(1) notes the Third Report of the Committee on Standards (HC 797);

(2) notes concerns expressed about potential defects in the standards system and therefore declines to consider the report at this time;

(3) and resolves:

(a) that a Select Committee be appointed to consider and make recommendations by 3 February 2022 on the following matters:

(i) whether 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, including the right of representation, examination of witnesses and appeal;

(ii) the extent to which the procedures under Standing Order Nos 149, 149(A) and 150 should be made consistent with the principles of natural justice;

(iii) whether the case against Mr Owen Paterson should be reviewed or whether the Third Report of the Committee on Standards (HC 797) should be reconsidered by the House;

(iv) and such other matters as appear to the Committee to be connected with the matters set out above,

and calls on the Government to bring forward a motion to give effect to any recommendations of the Committee within five sitting days of the publication of the Committee’s report;

(b) That the Committee consist of nine Members;

(c) That Mr John Whittingdale be Chair of the Committee and be given a casting vote in the event of a tie;

(d) That the Committee shall consist of eight other backbench members; to be nominated by parties in the proportion of four Conservative, three Labour and one SNP; nominations shall be submitted to the Committee of Selection no later than 15 November, after that date motions for nomination can be made notwithstanding any gaps in membership, and any motion made in the House on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the Chair or another member of the Committee shall be treated as having been made in pursuance of Standing Order No. 121(2) for the purposes of Standing Order No. 15(1)(c);

(e) That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place, to report from time to time, to appoint legal advisers, and to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee’s order of reference.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

It is a very simple one, Mr Speaker. I do not want to delay the House. Some people have asked whether the Standards Committee continues to exist. It does, and we will be meeting on Tuesday morning. I will still be its Chair.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe that any hon. Member is truly honourable if they serve on this new Committee. Therefore I want my constituents to know that no Member of Parliament serves on this corrupt Committee in my name.