U-turn over sleaze delayed as lone Tory MP Christopher Chope blocks motion
The Government’s U-turn over the Owen Paterson sleaze scandal has been dragged out even further after Tory MP Christopher Chope was the lone dissenter against a motion to reverse controversial changes.
On Monday night, MPs were expected to nod through a motion that would reverse changes to Parliament’s standards processes and approve findings against Mr Paterson, who resigned from parliament last month.
However, Christchurch MP Christopher Chope – a regular Parliamentary filibusterer who has previously blocked bills on upskirting, female genital mutilation, the pardon of Alan Turing and free hospital care parking for carers – objected and prevented the motion from passing without a full vote.
The objection means that a full Commons vote will now have to be held on the issue at a future date.
The Government faced anger earlier this month after whipping Conservative MPs to scrap the existing disciplinary process for MPs and let Mr Paterson off the hook for standards breaches, before a subsequent U-turn on the issue.
The motion considered on Monday was expected to reverse that vote, upholding the findings of the Commons Standards Committee which recommended Mr Paterson be suspended for 30 days for breaches of lobbying rules.
However, the vote was not able to proceed due to Mr Chope’s objection.
After anger from SNP MP Pete Wishart, Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said: “Somebody shouted object, I took the objection, it will now be up to the Government to re-programme that particular motion.”
A vote is now expected to take place on Tuesday.
During the 2009 expenses scandal, it was revealed that Mr Chope had claimed £136,992 in expenses in a single year, including £881 to reupholster a sofa. He continues to employ his wife as his secretary.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, chair of Parliament’s standards committee, wrote: “Unfortunately because a single MP objected to the motion endorsing the committee on standards report on Owen Paterson, the house has still not resolved this matter. The govt will have to bring it forward ASAP with time allocated, if the house isn’t to fall into further disrepute.”
Mr Bryant later tweeted: “I’m told there will be a one hour debate tomorrow on rescinding the motion from two weeks ago and approving the standards committee report on Owen Paterson. I’ll be there.”
Earlier on Monday, the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng apologised to Parliament’s standards commissioner for publicly questioning whether she should remain in her post before the Government’s U-turn.
In a letter to Kathryn Stone, the Business Secretary admitted he fell short of the “high standards” set out in the ministerial code when he said she should “decide [on] her position” earlier this month.
The botched attempt to overhaul the system, and subsequent U-turn less than 24 hours later, intensified the spotlight on MPs’ second jobs and their expenses claims, leading to a flurry of negative headlines for the Tories.
Writing to Ms Stone, Mr Kwarteng admitted that he should have “chosen my words more carefully”. “I did not mean to express doubt about your ability to discharge your role and I apologise for any upset or distress my choice of words may have caused,” he said.
He acknowledged that ministers must “adhere to the high standards of the ministerial code”, adding: “I therefore regret if the words I used on this occasion have given the impression of having fallen short of these high standards.”
The Paterson debacle prompted a junior member of the Government to warn that MPs and ministers were not doing their job “effectively” and could suffer a “decline into defeat”.
Bim Afolami, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, warned that the Government is “close to losing the benefit of the doubt” with the public over its recent performance.
Writing for Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome, Mr Afolami said: “The real complaint from the public is that they don’t think that MPs and the Government are doing their jobs effectively enough. Dare I say it, I think they are right.
And he added: “We need to prove that we are worthy of the trust that was placed in us in 2019 and show we are focused on delivering for the public. Unless we do that, we will go the way of previous long-running administrations – a gradual and then sudden decline into defeat.”