Conservative MP Owen Paterson faces suspension from the House of Commons after a watchdog found he broke lobbying rules in an “egregious case of paid advocacy”.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone said the Tory backbencher had breached the code of conduct after investigating his lobbying efforts on behalf of two companies he was a consultant for.
The committee for standards said Mr Paterson had “brought the House into disrepute” by using his “privileged position to benefit two companies” – recommending he now be suspended for 30 days.
The report said: “The committee found that Mr Paterson’s actions were an egregious case of paid advocacy, that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the House into disrepute.”
But in an angry statement, Mr Paterson rejected the commissioner’s findings – accusing her of making up her mind before she had even spoken to him. “This is a biased process and not fair,” he said.
The Tory MP added: “It offends against the basic standard of procedural fairness that no-one should be found guilty until they have had a chance to be heard and to present their evidence including their witnesses.”
The parliamentary watchdog opened the investigation in October 2019 following allegations that Mr Paterson had improperly lobbied for clinical diagnostics company Randox and meat processor Lynn’s Country Foods.
The commissioner found the North Shropshire MP had breached a rule prohibiting paid advocacy in the MPs’ code of conduct by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk in November 2016 and 2017.
Mr Paterson was also found to have breached the rule over making seven approaches to the same agency for Lynn’s Country Foods between November 2017 and July 2018 – and four approaches to ministers in the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology in 2016 and 2017.
The MP was also found to have breached the rules over declarations of interest by failing to declare his role as a paid consultant to Lynn’s in four emails to the Food Standards Agency.
And he breached the code of conduct over facilities by using his parliamentary office for business meetings with clients on 25 occasions, and by sending two letters relating to business interests on Commons notepaper.
The Committee on Standards acknowledged there were mitigating factors around the investigation into Mr Paterson – including the death of his wife Rose in June 2020.
The report said: “Mr Paterson’s wife took her own life in June 2020. The committee consider it very possible that grief and distress caused by this event has affected the way in which Mr Paterson approached the commissioner’s investigation thereafter.”
Relating to the breach of use of his office, the committee also acknowledged Mr Paterson had been suffering from ill health which “made him less able easily to leave the parliamentary estate”.
The committee also praised Mr Paterson’s “passion and expertise” in food and farming matters, saying his work was “admirable, as long as it is channelled within the rules of the House”.
However, the committee noted that the allegations against Mr Paterson related to his conduct between October 2016 and February 2020 – before his wife’s death.
The concluding report stated that “it is these allegations on which we are required to adjudicate, impartially, without fear or favour, and with a sole eye to the rules of the House and the requirements of natural justice”.