Owen Paterson row: ‘Disappointing episode’ for Government, says Bexhill and Battle MP

Huw Merriman says the Owen Paterson row “has not reflected well on the standing of Westminster”.

Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 10:27 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 10:36 am

The Bexhill and Battle MP spoke out after the Government was branded “politically corrupt” for voting not to suspend Mr Paterson after he was found guilty of paid lobbying by a standards watchdog.

Tory MPs - including Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart - voted to block the MP’s suspension, and called for an overhaul of Parliament’s independent standards watchdog, sparking an uproar on social media.

Mr Merriman did not take part in the vote. He was away from Parliament that day with the Transport Select Committee as part of an inquiry on international travel restrictions.

Mr Merriman, pictured in the Commons, said: "I know a lot of constituents feel strongly about this matter which is why I have set up a virtual meeting this week, open to all, for views and feedback to flow."

Commenting on the Paterson row, the Conservative MP said: “This week has not reflected well on the standing of Westminster. I recognise that residents want to see their MPs focusing fully on the matters which impact them. Whilst I have never claimed a second income and I have never been investigated by the standards commissioner, I can see that changes to the process of reviewing standards in public life are badly needed. There is a lack of natural justice in the system. It needs reform. I would advocate a lawyer and a panel of retired judges rather than MPs sitting in judgment of their peers.

“I know a lot of constituents feel strongly about this matter which is why I have set up a virtual meeting this week, open to all, for views and feedback to flow. Hopefully some good reforms can be delivered from this disappointing episode.”

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major slammed the Government’s handling of Mr Paterson’s case as shameful and wrong. He said the Boris Johnson administration was “politically corrupt” over its treatment of the House of Commons and its attempt to overhaul the standards system was “rather a bad mistake”. “There’s a general whiff of ‘we are the masters now’ about their behaviour,” he said in a BBC interview.

Mr Paterson was found by Parliament’s independent standards watchdog to have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000-a-year private sector work. On Wednesday last week (November 3), Tory MPs blocked its recommendation that Mr Paterson should be suspended for 30 days by calling for an overhaul of the watchdog instead.

The Government then reversed its decision after an angry backlash by opposition MPs and some Conservatives, and apologised. Mr Paterson then resigned as MP for North Shropshire, saying he wanted a life “outside the cruel world of politics”.