An emergency debate lasting for up to three hours will take place on Monday in the wake of the Government’s handling of the Owen Paterson case.Anger grew over the weekend, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accusing Boris Johnson of trying to undermine the standards watchdog because of his own run-ins with it. He said last night that the Prime Minister must apologise to the country and act to clean-up politics.Cabinet minister George Eustice meanwhile was criticised by Tory MPs after dismissing the Paterson row as a “storm in a teacup”.Former Cabinet minister Mr Paterson was facing a 30-day suspension for an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules after an investigation by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone and a subsequent report by the Commons Committee on Standards.
The Government had ordered Conservative MPs not to back Mr Paterson’s immediate suspension last Wednesday but to support the creation of a Tory-led committee to look again at the case and overhaul the standards system.
Ministers backed down following a backlash, prompting Mr Paterson to quit the Commons on Thursday.
The Liberal Democrats now want a statutory public inquiry to be tasked with uncovering the truth behind allegations of sleaze and to make recommendations for reform, including the prospect of tougher punishments.As the furore continued, opposition parties stepped up attacks on the Government over a Sunday Times report which showed 15 of the last 16 Conservative Party treasurers have been offered a seat in the Lords having each donated more than £3 million to the party. The report, in conjunction with Open Democracy, also revealed that since 2010, 22 of the party's main financial donors have been given peerages after donating a combined £54million.The Tories denied any link between the donations and the nominations to sit in the Lords.
But SNP MP Pete Wishart said it showed the “Tory corruption scandal is growing worse by the day”.
He continued: “It's now beyond all doubt that the honours system has been abused by the Tories.
“The Metropolitan Police should launch a fresh cash for honours investigation to determine whether a criminal offence has been committed.
"It is utterly appalling that so many millionaire Tory Party donors have been handed life peerages by Boris Johnson and his predecessors.”
Defending the government on the Sunday TV round yesterday, Mr Eustice claimed their expertise made them “valuable” members of the Upper Chamber.
He insisted: “They are philanthropists who give huge amounts to charity, who have been very successful in business and, therefore, on those grounds ought to be considered for the Lords.”
However his “storm in a teacup” dismissal of the Paterson case was branded “unhelpful” and “complete nonsense” by members of his own party, in a sign of the anger on the party benches.
Mr Starmer last night called on the Prime Minister to publicly confirm that Mr Paterson will not be nominated for a peerage.
Sir Keir said Mr Johnson needed to “clean out the filthy Augean stable he has created”.
Ahead of today’s debate, he said: “Boris Johnson needs to attend this debate, answer for his mistakes, apologise to the country and take action to undo the damage he has done.
“The country is yet to hear a word of contrition over his attempts to create one rule for him and his friends and another for everyone else. He must now come to the House and say sorry.”
Sir Keir also demanded a “full, transparent investigation” into how Randox – one of the firms that paid Mr Paterson – came to win Covid-19 testing contracts.
He said it was “vital the public has confidence that Owen Paterson’s paid advocacy did not influence these decisions”.
The Liberal Democrats, who secured the emergency debate, say a public inquiry should have the power to summon witnesses and take evidence under oath. It would examine not only the Paterson row but also the awarding of coronavirus contracts, whether Mr Johnson’s holidays were properly declared and the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
The party also said that any MPs being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should not be able to vote or propose amendments to motions related to disciplinary issues.
Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said it was “the equivalent of defendants in a court case also taking part in the jury”.
She added: “Time and again Government ministers have refused to properly investigate allegations of sleaze, failed to declare relevant meetings and donations and tried to rig the system to cover their own backs.
“We need an independent public inquiry, with the powers and resources to get to the bottom of this Conservative sleaze scandal.”