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Judge Calls For Overhaul Of Standards System In Wake Of Paterson Lobbying Scandal

Judge Calls For Overhaul Of Standards System In Wake Of Paterson Lobbying Scandal
3 min read

Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone should have her decision-making powers to find MPs guilty of wrongdoing stripped back and MPs should be banned from amending or debating sanctions for their colleagues’ rule breaches, a senior judge has recommended in a review of the standards system.

The Committee on Standards has today published Sir Ernest Ryder’s review of fairness and natural justice within the House of Commons standards system. Ryder was approached to conduct the review last November in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal which saw the longstanding Conservative politician resign after being found guilty of “egregious” breaches of lobbying rules.

As well as bringing greater attention to MPs’ second jobs and Westminster “sleaze” allegations, the incident – which saw Tory MPs whipped to save Paterson from suspension before a government U-turn 24 hours later – raised a series of questions raised about the House of Commons’ process for dealing with alleged rule breaches.

In his review, Ryder, a former Senior President of Tribunals and Lord Justice of Appeal, recommended the creation of a Code of Procedure for the conduct of standards cases, ratified and regularly reviewed by the House of Commons. 

He also recommended that serious sanctions which come before the House (such as expulsion or suspension of an MP) should be decided upon without debate or amendment. 

Other recommendations include clarifications around the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, making them an investigator rather than a decision-maker. Ryder said the commissioner should present the results of their investigations as “opinions” rather than “findings”, with the Committee on Standards then being the first decision-maker. 

Stone, who has been commissioner since January 2018, came in for intense criticism by allies of Paterson in the aftermath of his case, with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying that she should consider her position; the FDA union condemned Kwarteng’s comments as “an orchestrated and deliberate attempt to not only undermine the independent authority of a regulator but to influence decision-making and set a marker down for the future.” Kwarteng later apologised to Stone.

In his review, Ryder also recommended the creation of an appeals process to a body outside of the Committee on Standards – another issue that arose in the Paterson case. However, Ryder also clarified that this route should only be open when either the investigation or decision-making processes themselves were materially or procedurally flawed, or if significant new evidence had come to light.

Ryder will appear before the Committee on Standards on 8 March to answer questions about the review. In response to the review, the Committee on Standards have published a short report that launches a consultation period, closing on Monday 28 March 2021. The committee will then put a package of proposals to the House for changes to the House’s standards system.

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