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Boris Johnson Insists Paid Lobbying Is "Wrong" As Government Scrambles To Overhaul Rules For MP Standards

Boris Johnson PMQs

4 min read

Boris Johnson has defended a controversial plan to overhaul parliamentary standards rules after Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said that when the government "break the rules, they just remake the rules".

Deputising for Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, Rayner took on Johnson at today's Prime Minister's Questions, and pulled no punches on the matter of an amendment on parliamentary standards procedures, that MPs will vote on later this afternoon. 

"In no other profession in our country could someone be found guilty by an independent process and just have their mates vote them back into the job," Rayner told Johnson. 

She said it was "one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of," arguing that if a police officer, teacher, or doctor was found guilty of breaking the rules by an independent body, the verdict would be upheld and not scrapped afterwards.

"If you keep cheating the public, it'll catch up with you in the end," Rayner said.

The Prime Minister insisted that the plan to overturn a recommended 30-day suspension for Conservative MP Owen Paterson was to ensure he had a "fair opportunity to make representations" and a "proper appeal."

Last week, following a two-year investigation, the MP for North Shropshire was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules by the parliamentary watchdog for approaching ministers on behalf of two companies. 

However, the government has told Tory MPs to today vote for an amendment, tabled by ex-Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, that would reject the verdict of parliamentary standards commissioner and form a new committee of MPs tasked with rewriting rules for parliamentary standards.

Paterson has denied wrongdoing and said that the way the probe into his conduct was carried out contributed to his wife's suicide.

Johnson said paid lobbying in the House of Commons was "wrong" and that MPs found guilty of doing it should apologise and pay "the necessary penalties."

However, he said that in the case of Paterson, paid lobbying was "not the issue" and told Labour told approach his case "with a spirit of moderation and compassion".

Rayner rejected Johnson's claims, however, asking why the government was able to act retrospectively in the case of Paterson but not in that of Rob Roberts, the former Tory MP who was allowed to rejoin the party this week after an independent investigation found that he made unwanted sexual advances towards a member of staff. 

"When a Conservative member was found guilty of sexual harrassment, but let off on a loop hole, they said the rules couldn't be changed after the event," Rayner said.

"So they can't change the rules to stop sexual harrassment but they can change the rules to allow cash for access. So why is the Prime Minister making it up as he goes along?"

Defending Paterson on Sky News this morning, Treasury Minister John Glen argued “it’s a matter for the House of Commons to respond to that report”.

“I think most people would agree that when there is a dispute over someone’s conduct there’s got to be fair and due process before an outcome and a determination of the consequences is made,” Glen said.

Fellow Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, who himself is a member of the Standards Committee, has argued that the existing system for regulating standards "is neither effective nor fair."

Writing in The House, Jenkins said he believed the current committee "commands no confidence" from MPs and the public alike. 

“It does not even command the confidence of those who complain," he added. 

“I hope to influence the current review of the Code and its operation, but the more I learn, the more it is clear that it requires root and branch reform.”

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