The Commons Select Committee On Standards and Owen Paterson

Kathryn Stone is the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards of the House of Commons.

The Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons, and the Commissioner’s remit is to investigate allegations that MPs have breached the rules found in paragraphs 11-18 of the House of Commons’ Code of Conduct for Members. Once the investigation is concluded, the Commissioner reports to The Commons Select Committee On Standards.

In October 2021 the Commissioner found that Owen Paterson had breached the paid advocacy rules for making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency and four approaches to the Department for International Development in relation to Randox and seven approaches to the Food Standards Agency relating to Lynn’s Country Foods.

The Commissioner said Paterson had “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the house into disrepute” and that “no previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests”.

Acting on her report, The Commons Select Committee on Standards recommended that Paterson be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days. The Government decided they didn’t like that and voted to overturn the suspension. The uproar that followed resulted in Own Paterson resigning as an MP.

Before the uproar, the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News that he believed Kathryn Stone should review her position after her suspension of Owen Paterson was blocked by Parliament.

But here’s the thing. She didn’t suspend him. She reported to the Committee and they suspended him.

According to the Committees page of Parliament the current members of the Committee on Standards are:

Chris Bryant MP Labour Rhondda Commons Chair
Dr Arun Midha Lay Member
Mrs Jane Burgess Lay Member
Mr Paul Thorogood Lay Member
Mrs Rita Dexter Lay Member
Mrs Tammy Banks Lay Member
Dr Michael Maguire Lay Member
Mehmuda Mian Lay Member
Andy Carter MP Conservative Warrington South
Alberto Costa MP Conservative South Leicestershire
Allan Dorans MP Scottish National Party Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Mark Fletcher MP Conservative Bolsover
Yvonne Fovarque MP Labour Makerfield
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP Conservative Harwich and North Essex

How did they arrive at their decision on the penalty to impose on Mr Paterson? There are four Conservative MPs on the Committee. How did they vote?

Bearing in mind the Commissioner’s finding that “no previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches” was as bad as Mr Paterson’s, it might have been more appropriate for the The Commons Select Committee on Standards to suspend Mr Paterson for the rest of the Parliament.

If Parliament had not voted to overturn the suspension, then Mr Paterson would not have resigned and he would have been suspended for 30 sitting days.

The Standing Orders of Parliament dictate the consequences of being suspended.

  1. Members suspended, etc., to withdraw from precincts
    (1) Members who are ordered to withdraw under Standing Order No. 43 (Disorderly conduct) or who are suspended from the service of the House shall forthwith withdraw from the precincts of the House.
    (2) Suspension from the service of the House shall not exempt the Member so suspended from serving on any committee for the consideration of a private bill to which he may have been appointed before the suspension.

45A. Suspension of salary of Members suspended
The salary of a Member suspended from the service of the House shall be withheld for the duration of his suspension.

So there is a financial penalty, assuming ‘withheld’ means that it is never paid to the MP.

So how much is it? The basic annual salary of an MP in the House of Commons is £81,932, as of April 2020. How does a withholding of pay for a sitting day tie into that? The Commons Library records the number of Commons sitting days by session since 1945, and from the latest figures (2015-2016) there seems to be around 150 sitting days. So would Owen Paterson have forfeited 30 of 150 of £81,932, which would be £16,800? Or would it be 30 of 365 of £81,932, which would be £6,700? Or something else?

The newspapers reported that Mr Paterson made something around four times his MP’s salary as a consultant. So having his name in the public eye associated with sleaze may have hurt him more than it did his pocket. Or perhaps not. Without knowing Mr Paterson, one cannot say.