Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng apologises after quizzing future of parliament’s sleaze investigator in Sky News interview

A cabinet minister has apologised after he cast doubt over the future of parliament’s sleaze investigator in a Sky News interview.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has written to Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, to express his “regret” after he questioned whether she would remain in her role.

In his letter to Ms Stone, sent 11 days after he made the comments, Mr Kwarteng admitted he “should have chosen my words more carefully” when he defended the government’s actions over the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

After Conservative MPs, encouraged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, voted to stop Mr Paterson being suspended from the House of Commons – as well as to overhaul parliament’s standards rules – Mr Kwarteng had said it was “difficult to see” a future for Ms Stone.

Ms Stone had recommended a 30-day ban from the Commons for Mr Paterson after she found he had broken lobbying rules over his £110,000 per year work for two private companies.

When Tory MPs rejected Ms Stone’s recommendation in a Commons vote and saved Mr Paterson, Mr Kwarteng said he was not calling for the commissioner’s resignation.

But he added: “It’s up to anyone where they’ve made a judgement and people have sought to change that to consider their position, that’s a natural thing.”

Following a huge outcry, the government later U-turned on its decision to save Mr Paterson from an immediate suspension and also scrapped its plan to set up a new Conservative-dominated committee to overhaul parliament’s standards rules.

The prime minister has subsequently admitted he could have “better” handled the row over Mr Paterson, who has now quit the Commons, and said Ms Stone should be allowed to get on with her job.

In his apology letter, Mr Kwarteng suggested he might have “fallen short” of the ministerial code with his comments about Ms Stone and revealed he had also sent a copy of the letter to Mr Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, Lord Geidt.

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Labour have previously urged Lord Geidt to investigate what they described as Mr Kwarteng’s attempt to “bully” Ms Stone.

“Having seen how my remarks have been interpreted, and reflecting on them, I recognise that in answering the question that was posed to me I should have chosen my words more carefully,” wrote Mr Kwarteng to Ms Stone about his Sky News interview earlier this month.

“I did not mean to express doubt about your ability to discharge your role and I apologise for any upset or distress my choice of words may have caused.

“I recognise that it is incumbent on ministers to adhere to the high standards of the ministerial code, including ensuring that our words are carefully chosen and that we treat others with consideration and respect.

“I therefore regret if the words I used on this occasion have given the impression of having fallen short of these high standards.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, has previously admonished Mr Kwarteng over his comments about Ms Stone.

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