Thank you for your e-mail regarding my recent vote on the House of Commons Committee on Standards and the case of Owen Paterson MP. I understand your strength of feeling on this issue and I will outline the reasoning for my vote below.
I voted with the Government as I believe the current system that judges the standards of MPs is not fair or just and needs to be improved. I do not think it is the role of MPs to play judge and jury in cases like this. It is for a proper, balanced investigation to find whether an MP has broken parliamentary rules. Let me be clear, I do think what Mr Paterson did was wrong as MPs should never lobby for profit. I do see that what he was trying to do, lobby on food safety issues, was well intentioned and had a level of public interest but the way he went about it was not within the rules. There is also a too easily dismissed human element to all of this, especially as he tragically lost his wife to suicide last year amid this investigation. Mr Paterson has consequently taken the extremely difficult decision to resign to protect his family and his wife’s memory. Polite disagreement is welcome and encouraged in a healthy democracy but some of the vitriol directed towards my colleague is completely disproportionate.
While I maintain that the work of the Committee on Standards is vital, there is strong feeling on both sides of the House that all Members of Parliament should have the right to appeal and a fair hearing. I therefore welcome that the Government will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. The Government has been clear that this should not be based on a single case or applied retrospectively.
I do not think I can be accused of always falling into line with the Government and Whips and I believe I have shown some clear independence of thought on many issues. I am not afraid to vote against the government and have done so on numerous occasions, including: animal welfare standards in trade deals, the Social Care Levy, the reduction in Universal Credit, reducing our commitment on international aid and the triple lock on pensions.
I do think that it is unfortunate that reform of the system has to be linked to this difficult case as it would have been far better to have reforms not linked to any particular inquiry. Let me be absolutely clear that Members of Parliament should uphold the highest standards in public life and a fairer system to uphold these is what I voted for.
I was moved to read Owen Paterson’s statement of resignation and I think it helps to provide some context, especially with regard to the human tragedy and mental health aspects, which I believe are so important to consider in this case. If you would like to read it also please follow the link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-59167222.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this important issue.