Harrogate MP Andrew Jones: Why I didn't support the Government in Owen Paterson vote over standards

As the Government rows back on its plans to overhaul the policing of MPs' conduct and Tory MP Owen Paterson resigns, Harrogate's MP has written to constituents to clear up any possible confusion on his position.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:58 pm
In a letter to constituents Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones explained why he could not support the Government on the issue of parliamentary standards procedures.

In a letter to constituents who have contacted him about the matter which has led to the revival of sleaze headlines in the national press, a Government U-turn and the resignation of the MP concerned, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones explained why he could not and did not support the Government on the issue of parliamentary standards procedures.

Yesterday's vote saw the bulk of Tory MPs - with the encouragement of the Government - reject the Standards Committee’s call for a six-week parliament ban for Owen Paterson, after it ruled the Conservative MP for North Shropshire had repeatedly lobbied ministers for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson had backed calls to deal with the crisis by replacing the standards watchdog with a new system.

But today saw the Government backtrack on the idea and the story took an additional twist when the Tory MP at the centre of the row, Owen Paterson, Tory MP and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced his resignation, claiming the last few days had been "intolerable" for him.

In the meantime, there had been some confusion over Mr Jones' stance on the issue, caused partly by the fact Hansard records absentees in the House of Commons voting record in the same way it reports abstainers.

But, in is letter to constituents, the Harrogate MP makes it clear he did abstain and he spell out exactly what happened from his point of view.

A letter to constituents by Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones on Owen Paterson vote

Yesterday I could not support the Government on the issue of parliamentary standards procedures.

I was present in the Chamber for the whole debate but felt I had no option but to abstain and I wanted to explain why and outline what has happened since that.

Before I was elected to Parliament we had the expenses scandal. I supported setting up an independent body to manage and monitor MP’s expenses and pay – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). I think, by and large, it has worked well and is certainly very open to public scrutiny.

I supported, too, an independently chaired panel with MPs from all parties and lay-members to scrutinise MP’s behaviour. We should not be the judge, jury and executioner of our own pay, expenses and standards.

I do think though the standards system for MPs has flaws.

The most serious of these is that there is no appeal mechanism.

In every other walk of life there is such a mechanism including in our democracy.

If a councillor is found to have breached the local government Code of Conduct they can appeal against the decision.

If anyone in any other employment position is found to have breached their organisation’s disciplinary rules they have a right of appeal. Such rights are enshrined in employment law.

MPs should be no different. That is why I think the parliamentary standards procedure should change, and MPs from all sides have indicated support for that principle.

That is not the same thing as the report on one individual. To conflate this with the issue over whether an individual judgment was right or wrong was not acceptable.

Ditching the whole system and causing party political schism while doing so to allow one person with whom some have sympathy to have a re-hearing is a wrong-headed approach.

MPs think there should be change, but you don’t change a years-old system either in part or whole in such a way.

Now we are left with a new standards system where the opposition parties are refusing to take part; a standards system weakened in the eyes of the public.

I think those are all real problems which could have been avoided by separating out this case from the reform of the process. It was a mistake and that is why I could not support it.

I made my view clear to Government before the vote and I am pleased that this morning there is movement from the Government to re-establish a bi-partisan approach and to separate the issue of Mr Patterson’s case from the general point of how the standards system operates.

That should, of course, have been the starting position and I am sure lessons will have been learned.

- Andrew Jones MP

How the saga began

Wednesday's controversial vote in the House of Commons was promoted by the conclusion by Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, that Owen Paterson's lobbying of officials and quangos on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods – was “an egregious case of paid advocacy” that brought the Commons “into disrepute” between October 2016 and February 2020