Owen Patterson

Lobbying and Standards

Paterson had repeatedly lobbied ministers on behalf of two companies – the clinical diagnostics firm Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods – who were together paying him more than a £100,000 a year. While Paterson was being paid more than £8,000 a month by Randox for 16 hours’ work, the company won more than £500m of Covid-related contracts from the government.

An official two-year inquiry by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, found Paterson guilty of some of the most “egregious” breaches of parliamentary lobbying rules seen in many years and that parliament’s own standards committee, set up in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, had examined the case and recommended that Paterson be suspended for 30 days.

His actions breached rules which ban MPs from taking part in paid advocacy. In addition, Paterson had, on 16 occasions, used his House of Commons office for meetings relating to his private business interests, and failed on a number of occasions to declare those interests.

The chief whip, Mark Spencer, and the leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, decided to prevent Paterson’s punishment and reform the parliamentary standards committee, chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant, replacing it with a new committee with a Tory chair and majority. There were also briefings against Katheryn Stone by senior Tories, who questioned whether she should stay in post given what they alleged had been her failure to give Paterson a fair hearing.

On Wednesday 3rd November 2021 the plan was put to a vote of MPs and Boris Johnson ordered a three-line whip. The government won by a margin of 250 to 232, but several dozen Tories refused to back the government. The damaging rebellion saw 13 vote against and 60 abstain, including former prime minister Theresa May.

The next morning, following press and backbench criticism Rees-Mogg announced a complete U-turn, dropping the plan to pause Paterson’s suspension and, it seemed, the idea of setting up a new standards committee. “It was a total farce,” said a former minister. “The stench of sleaze and the mind blowing incompetence could be massively damaging to us.”

Paterson heard the news that the plug had been pulled on him after all, despite Johnson’s efforts, while shopping in a supermarket and quickly announced that he would step down as an MP.