BBC QT: Minister asked about ‘the morality’ of Tories U-turn over anti-sleaze regime

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On Thursday night, the audience from Hartlepool, North East England, had lots of interrogations on the current controversy regarding MPs who earn money from other jobs while in office. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson attempted to spare Owen Paterson from a 30-day suspension for paid lobbying.

In 2019, the Guardian exposed his lobbying on behalf of two companies from whom he has received at least £500,000 in payments as a consultant.

Conservative MPs were reportedly ordered by the party whips not to back the standards committee’s call for Mr Paterson to be suspended for 30 days.

A planned yes-no vote on Mr Paterson’s suspension was superseded by Tory MP Dame Andrea Leadsom’s amendment to establish a new, Tory-led, committee to reconsider both Mr Paterson’s case and whether a new standards system is needed.

Backed by Downing Street, Tory MPs were told to vote for Dame Andrea’s amendment, a vote the Government won 250 to 232 votes.

Criticism came from all sides to the extent that No 10 made a U-turn and stated that Mr Paterson would have to face a fresh vote on the 30-day suspension.

The Tory MP decided to resign from his position as he learned about the change of plans from reporters while out shopping at a supermarket.

“Where is the morality in a whole load of MPs voting for something which I hope they thought was morally wrong after the whips told them to?” asked a woman from the audience.

“Of course, it does make you wonder whether some of them were thinking gosh if I go against the Prime Minister, this is my chance of any advancement in the party,” she added.

“Will I not be a junior something or a minister?

“Where is morality?”

Industry Minister Lee Rowley answered that it was “clearly a mistake” without ever mentioning neither Owen Paterson’s lobbying allegations nor Boris Johnson.

“The mistake was to conflate an individual case with wider considerations of whether this process works or not,” he said.

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“We are gonna try and work out how we can get a better process including things like independent rights of appeal which you would expect in a normal workplace.”

Other MPs now face criticism as new reports emerge on their second or third jobs while they are in office.

MP Geoffroy Cox has been in the spotlight for keeping a second job as a barrister, which has earned him almost £6million on top of his MP’s salary.

For the Industry Minister, having a second job is justified by MPs getting more “experience”.

“We want parliamentarians who write good legislation and sometimes it requires them to be able to have quite recent experience, of what is going on in the real world,” he said.

“I left my job four years ago, I’m a bit rusty.

“I don’t think it is the worst thing, in principle, for other people to bring their experience into Parliament that they have done recently so they can help, hopefully, write better laws.”

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