Owen Paterson: Ex-minister defends lobbying for two firms after suspension from parliament halted

Owen Paterson has said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to act in the same manner “tomorrow” after he was heavily criticised by a standards body for breaching lobbying rules.

Speaking to Sky News, the former minister said he would “absolutely” do the same thing again after he was reprimanded by the Committee on Standards.

He also admitted that he continues to work with the two firms he was found to have lobbied on behalf of.

Mr Paterson was facing a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for “repeatedly” breaching lobbying rules over his paid consultancy work on behalf of Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor.

However, on Wednesday afternoon Tory MPs backed a government-sanctioned amendment to stop his proposed suspension from happening.

Mr Paterson told Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates that he would have “no question” in acting the same way again.

“No, I wouldn’t hesitate tomorrow. Absolutely,” he said.

“When we found out about the milk I realised it was absolute dynamite. First of all it was very obvious that lives were at risk, and secondly, if it had been mishandled and had been leaked to keen media agents like you, we could have absolutely blown the UK dairy industry apart.

“So I had absolutely no hesitation whatever in calling a meeting very rapidly. And if you look at the witness statements, they are grateful that I did do that.

“As a result of those efforts, British milk is now safer. And we did it without disrupting the dairy industry. So I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again tomorrow, absolutely no question.”

Mr Paterson was found to have breached rules on lobbying on behalf of Randox by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) about the testing of antibiotics in milk in 2016 and 2017.

Following a two-year investigation, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said Mr Paterson had breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy by making multiple approaches to government departments and ministers for the two companies.

But Mr Paterson denies the allegations, saying he was raising very serious issues about food contamination and accused the commissioner, Kathryn Stone, of admitting to him she “made up her mind” before the allegations were put to him and that none of his 17 witnesses were interviewed.

He has also claimed the investigation “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Paterson described the report as “a very bad piece of work” with “factual errors” in it.

“I am very grateful to the prime minister, Jacob-Rees Mogg and all those who voted for the amendment because I now have a chance to clear my name which I did not have under the existing system,” he said, following the vote to stop his proposed 30-day suspension.

“Thanks to the government and the vote today we have a chance to build a proper system.”

Mr Paterson told Sky News the investigation had caused “catastrophic damage” to his family life, adding: “My lawyers are quite clear that there are many factual errors in the report and major questions of interpretation.”

The former minister said “many MPs” have approached him to discuss how they have “found the present system unsatisfactory” and alleged that it was 17 months before Ms Stone contacted him with regards to the investigation.

Mr Paterson added that he believes it is “extraordinary” that none of his 17 witnesses were called and that “there was absolutely no gain” from his actions.

“I raised three issues in four years because they are very exceptional,” he told Sky News.

The Conservative MP for North Shropshire also disclosed that he first spoke to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the report’s findings “during the vote this afternoon”, adding: “I thanked him very much for taking this bold step.”

The commissioner’s proposal that Mr Paterson be served with a 30-day suspension – a penalty that could have resulted in a by-election – was backed by a Commons committee that included four Tory MPs.

But in an unprecedented move, earlier on Wednesday afternoon Conservative colleagues backed an amendment to the motion to suspend Mr Paterson, which will instead see a new committee set up to examine the current standards system and take another look at the case against him.

It was passed by 250 votes to 232, a majority of 18.

Tory MPs were ordered to back it on a three-line whip, but a total of 13 voted against and no vote was recorded for a further 98.

There were cries of “shame” and “what have you done to this place” as the result was announced.

Labour hit out at the move, with deputy leader Angela Rayner accusing the Tories of voting to “give a green light to corruption” and bringing “shame on our democracy”.

“Labour will not be taking any part in this sham process or any corrupt committee,” she said, with the Liberal Democrats and SNP also confirming they will boycott the committee being set up to look at the standards regime.

Now that the amendment has been passed, a nine-person committee with a Conservative majority and led by Tory ex-cabinet minister John Whittingdale will review the current standards system and reconsider the case against Mr Paterson.

The allegations against Mr Paterson, who was environment secretary from 2012 to 2014, relate to his conduct between October 2016 and February 2020.

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