Sun, 21 April 2024

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The House Live All
By Bishop of Leeds
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Minister Admits "Mistake" Over Botched Attempt To Reform Parliament's Watchdog

3 min read

Nadhim Zahawi has admitted it was a “mistake” for the Conservative party to conflate wanting to reform parliament’s watchdog with the case of Owen Paterson.

On Thursday afternoon Paterson announced he would resign as an MP over his role in a paid lobbying scandal, following a tumultuous 24 hours in which the government U-turned on a vote to re-write standards rules after major backlash.

The prospect of the MP for North Shropshire being suspended from parliament was overturned when the government passed a controversial amendment designed to ditch the independent watchdog responsible for regulating them. 

This morning, the Education Secretary said that his party’s decision to U-turn on the vote was “a good thing”, and admitted that the government had been wrong to conflate the Paterson incident with wider reform of parliamentary standards regulations. 

“The Prime Minister has always been very clear that paid lobbying is not allowed,” Zahawi told Sky News.

“I think the leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg came to the House yesterday [to say that] upon reflection, yes it was a mistake,” he added.

“I think it was right to come back very quickly to the House and say look we need to separate those two things out, we should work on a cross party basis to create a fairer system.

“That’s a good thing and my appeal to my fellow parliamentarians from all parties is let’s come together and create a better system with the right of appeal and it was right to separate the two things out.”

When asked whether he accepts that Paterson “did something wrong”, Zahawi responded: “I think the commissioner had investigated and had come back on the investigation around what Owen Paterson was doing in terms of his work for two companies.

“The Prime Minister has always been clear that paid lobbying is wrong, and we need to separate those two things out. The thing to focus on is not this particular case but to focus on creating a fairer system with the right of appeal for all parliamentarians.”

The Educations Secretary justified voting in favour of reforming parliament’s watchdog by stating he is required to “take collective responsibility” during Commons divisons.

“I’m a secretary of state, a cabinet member in this government and we voted because I thought actually improving the system and introducing the right of appeal as you would have in many sectors of the economy, in many professions people have a right of appeal.

“But upon reflection I do think it’s a mistake... I hope we’ll be able to return with proposals and have a cross-party agreement as to how we improve the system.”

Zahawi also confessed that “I actually haven’t read the report” by the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone outlining why Paterson was in breach of parliamentary lobbying rules.

"I've looked at the report, I haven't gone into the details,” the Education Secretary told BBC Breakfast.

"Owen says that much of it is contested, I think something like 14 people have said in statements it is contested."

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