Former U.K. Cabinet minister Owen Paterson faces a 30-day ban from the House of Commons after its watchdog found he “repeatedly” used his position as an MP “to promote the companies by whom he was paid.”
In a hard-hitting report, the Commons standards committee said the Conservative MP, who has served as Northern Ireland secretary and environment secretary, breached lobbying rules in his role as a paid consultant for clinical firm Randox and meat producer Lynn’s Country Foods.
Paterson — whose wife Rose took her own life last year — strongly pushed back against the watchdog’s findings, saying the investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had gone “against the basic standard of procedural fairness.”
The commissioner launched its investigation into Paterson in 2019 following media reports alleging the MP for North Shropshire had lobbied for the two companies.
Its report found that Paterson made three approaches to the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency relating to Randox and the testing of antibiotics in milk; seven approaches to the same agency concerning Lynn’s Country Foods products; and four approaches to ministers at the Department for International Development relating to Randox and blood testing technology. Those approaches were, it ruled, in breach of a clause in the MP code of conduct prohibiting paid advocacy work.
The probe also found Paterson breached rules on declarations of interest by failing to disclose his interest as a paid consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods in emails to officials at the Food Standards Agency. It admonished him for using his parliamentary office for business meetings with clients 16 times and sending two letters on House of Commons headed notepaper.
The commissioner’s findings were passed to MPs on the standards committee, who today backed its conclusions and said Paterson had “repeatedly used his position as a Member to promote the companies by whom he was paid.”
While it found “no immediate financial benefit” to the two companies because of the approaches, it said Paterson’s contact “could clearly have conferred significant benefits on Randox and Lynn’s in the long term” and called for the MP to be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days.
“No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behavior in failing to separate private and public interests,” the committee said.
The ban will now be subject to approval by the House of Commons. If approved, it meets the threshold for Paterson to face a recall petition from local voters — teeing up the prospect of a by-election in his North Shropshire seat.
‘Denial of justice’
Responding to the findings in a lengthy and emotive statement, Paterson argued he had faced “an absolute denial of justice” and maintained he had acted “properly, honestly and within the rules.”
The MP said he had raised “very serious” safety issues with U.K. agencies in his contact with them, including fears that animal products had been contaminated with carcinogenic substances.
“I reject completely the findings of the Committee for Parliamentary Standards,” Paterson said. “The methods of the investigation do not create a just and fair outcome.”
The former Cabinet minister also said the cost of the investigation to his family had been “catastrophic.”
“Last summer, in the midst of the investigation, my wife of 40 years, Rose, took her own life. We will never know definitively what drove her to suicide, but the manner in which this investigation was conducted undoubtedly played a major role.”
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