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How 6 Scottish Conservatives helped save sleaze row MP from suspension

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

A storm of controversy has engulfed Westminster after MPs voted to shake-up conduct rules and block the suspension of a former Conservative minister amid a Tory sleaze row.

Scotland’s Conservative MPs were among those who helped Owen Paterson avoid suspension despite a finding he was guilty of paid lobbying, which is against the rules.

Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross did not show up, neither did Scottish Secretary Alister Jack. The rest sided with Boris Johnson.

Within hours the Tories were preparing for an embarrassing climb-down in the face of fury from the public and opposition.

And in a fresh twist on Thursday afternoon, Mr Paterson announced he was resigning as MP for North Shropshire.

We have taken a look at the background to the row, how the Scottish Tories were left facing a backlash, and what has happened to the MP at the centre of the shambles.

Who is Owen Paterson?

Owen Paterson MP.

The North Shropshire MP was a leading Brexit supporter and served as Northern Ireland secretary and environment secretary when David Cameron was prime minister.

What did he do wrong?

An investigation by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone found he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials on behalf of two companies for which he was acting as a paid consultant – Randox, and Lynn’s Country Foods.

The Commons Standards Committee said his actions were an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs and recommended that he should be suspended for 30 sitting days.

What did Mr Paterson say?

He called the process “biased” and “not fair” and said the Commissioner had refused to hear from 17 witnesses who would have supported him.

Mr Paterson said the manner in which the investigation was carried out had “undoubtedly” played a “major role” in the decision of his wife Rose to take her own life last year.

What did MPs vote on this week?

The proposed suspension for Mr Paterson could have led to a by-election in his seat – a concern since overtaken by his resignation which will trigger one anyway.

The committee’s recommendations are normally rubber-stamped by MPs, but on Wednesday, the Conservative government ordered its MPs to vote for an amendment to halt the case and set up a new structure to change the standards system.

It was carried by 18 votes, despite Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems voting against the proposals, along with 13 Conservative MPs.

Which way did Scottish Tory MPs vote?

Andrew Bowie MP

Four of the six Conservatives north of the border voted for the controversial amendment.

They were:

  • West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie
  • Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid
  • Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont
  • Former Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.

The other two MPs did not vote. They were:

  • Scottish Conservative leader and Moray MP Douglas Ross
  • Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, the MP for Dumfries and Galloway.

What did the Scottish Tories say?

We contacted each Scottish Conservative MP to explain their decision to constituents – but only Mr Ross and Mr Lamont had responded within 24 hours of the vote.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross

Mr Ross did not speak up before the controversial Commons vote, but afterwards he said he “personally couldn’t support changing the rules while an independent process is under way”.

A spokeswoman for Mr Jack, meanwhile, said he had to leave straight after Scottish Questions to get the train to Glasgow for “long-standing COP26 commitments”.

What have the opposition said?

SNP MP Pete Wishart said it had been a pivotal moment in the House of Commons.

“This goes back to the 1990s where Tory MPs were given brown envelopes stuffed full of cash to ask questions in parliament on behalf of companies, and that is what we are returning to,” he said.

Sir Keir Starmer.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote in The Guardian that the Tories were “yet again wallowing in sleaze”, describing “Trump-like attempts to fix the system to its own benefit”.

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “The Conservatives are governing like the mafia.

“They are targeting those who uphold the rules rather than those who break them.”

How have the Conservatives responded?

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg

Following the furious reaction, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg signalled a huge U-turn on Thursday morning, pledging to work with other parties, and to separate the decision over Mr Paterson’s future from the case for shaking-up the system.

He told MPs: “It is important that standards in this House are done on a cross-party basis.

“The House voted very clearly yesterday to show that it is worried about the process of handling these complaints and that we would like an appeals system, but the change would need to be on a cross-party basis and that is clearly not the case.

“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case or apply retrospectively.

I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken.”

“I fear last night’s debate conflated an individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken.

“Therefore I and others will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases.

“We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.”

Why did Mr Paterson announce his resignation?

In a statement announcing his decision, Mr Paterson said: “I have today, after consultation with my family, and with much sadness decided to resign as the MP for North Shropshire.

“The last two years have been an indescribable nightmare for my family and me.

“My integrity, which I hold very dear, has been repeatedly and publicly questioned.

“I maintain that I am totally innocent of what I have been accused of and I acted at all times in the interests of public health and safety.

“I, my family and those closest to me know the same. I am unable to clear my name under the current system.

“Far, far worse than having my honesty questioned was, of course, the suicide of my beloved and wonderful wife, Rose.

“She was everything to my children and me. We miss her everyday and the world will always be grey, sad and ultimately meaningless without her.”

‘Intolerable’

Mr Paterson’s statement continued: “The last few days have been intolerable for us.

“Worst of all was seeing people, including MPs, publicly mock and deride Rose’s death and belittle our pain. My children have therefore asked me to leave politics altogether, for my sake as well as theirs.

“I agree with them. I do not want my wife’s memory and reputation to become a political football.

“Above all, I always put my family first.”

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