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By Bishop of Leeds
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MPs Vote To Reverse Conservative Plans To Reform Parliament's Standards Committee

5 min read

MPs have voted to rescind Conservative plans to reform parliament's watchdog and delay approving a report on the former parliamentarian Owen Paterson, who was found guilty of breaching lobbying rules.

The vote to undo the highly contentious reform plans was due to take place at 10pm on Monday evening, but a last minute procedural objection from veteran Conservative MP Christopher Chope blocked it from going ahead. 

Instead MPs unanimously approved the motion this afternoon and were afforded one hour to debate Westminster sleaze allegations beforehand.

Speaking in the Commons, Shadow House Leader Thangam Debbonaire asked: "how have we got to the point where the Prime Minister has had to clarify that the UK is not a corrupt country?"

Theresa May said that she "hopes this is going to be the last opportunity for the House to do the right thing and accept the report of the committee on standards on Owen Paterson". 

"Passing this motion will be a step in the right direction, but it will not undo the damage that has been done by the vote of the third of November," the former Prime Minister added. 

"This is not a party political issue, damage has been done to all members of parliament and to parliament as a whole."

During the debate, a fiery exchange took place between Chope and Alicia Kearns, a Conservative MP who was elected in 2019.

After Chope professed to having “no regrets” about delaying the vote, Kearns asked the Commons, "how much time does he want... when will it be enough?" noting that MPs had already spent almost four and a half hours debating the issue. 

Chope accused Kearns of not having “applied her mind”, which prompted gasps from across the House.  

Tory MPs hope today's vote will be a crucial step in putting sleaze allegations rocking their party to bed. 

Several expressed fury over last night's shambolic delay to the vote. 

One former minister told PoliticsHome their colleagues were "absolutely furious" with Chope and described him as "a man predictably showing little sense or awareness".

New MPs also expressed anger at last night's events, with members of a WhatsApp group of MPs elected in 2019 reported to be "kicking off" and getting "quite fruity" late on Monday evening.

One Tory MP described Chope as a "freaking dinosaur". 

“Can he not just retire already? He’s already playing the disgraced grandad card but that’s usually linked with being in a care home or something,” they said.

Another Conservative MP called him "an idiot and a constant contrarian”. 

A veteran Conservative parliamentarian took a less harsh view, describing Chopes move as "foolish, but he is entitled to do it".

Earlier this month, an amendment was put forward by Andrea Leadsom in favour of setting up a new standards committee and postponing a proposed 30 day suspension of Tory MP Owen Paterson, who was found guilty of breaching lobbying regulations. It was voted through by 250 – 232 despite a number of MPs expressing their discomfort with the move. 

But the government was forced to U-turn following cross-party anger at the conflation of reform of the Commons’ standards committee with the case of Paterson. 

Today's rescheduled vote will officially undo the Leadsom amendment. 

Paterson has now resigned from parliament and a by-election is due to take place in his North Shropshire constituency.Following the Conservative Party’s botched attempt to rewrite rules on conduct, Westminster has been rocked a raft of sleaze allegations, in particular relating to MPs earning additional income from advising private companies.

The MP Geoffrey Cox faced strong criticism after lucrative legal work he undertook in the Caribbean during the pandemic was exposed.

The former Attorney General’s second job in the British Virgin Islands took place earlier this year. Since then, the MP has registered earning £400,000 a year from a major law firm, appearing to often work close to full time hours on the contract. 

Cox also used the House of Commons proxy voting system to vote during his time on the sunny holiday island and renowned tax haven. 

In a statement published on his website, Cox said he had secured permission from Chief Whip Mark Spencer to use the proxy system in this way. 

Grant Shapps has also faced criticism this weekend after The Sunday Times reported the Transport Secretary allegedly spent public money on lobbying against government-backed plans to build new homes on a private airfield.

Department for Transport officials have rejected the story, labelling it “misleading”.

The Prime Minister and his party have taken a major hit in the opinion polls in the wake of the Paterson saga and subsequent revelations about second jobs.

Labour led the Tories by 6% in a Savanta ComRes poll for the Daily Mail on Friday.

However, Dowden suggested yesterday that the public wasn't interested in ongoing sleaze allegations and instead wants ministers to focus on "the job at hand".

Amid the furore, the Labour Party has tabled a motion for Wednesday which would see MPs banned from taking paid directorships or consultancies.

The motion’s text, which will debated in the Commons, is yet to be confirmed.

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