Owen Paterson: Ex-Tory minister faces suspension after lobbying on behalf of two companies

A former Conservative minister should be suspended from the Commons for lobbying on behalf of two companies, a standards body has ruled.

Owen Paterson was found to have “repeatedly used his privileged position” to benefit Randox, a clinical diagnostics company, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a meat processor and distributor and has been recommended for suspension from the Commons for a month.

The MP, who was environment secretary from 2012 to 2014, was a paid consultant for Randox from 2015 and for Lynn’s Country Foods from 2016. The allegations relate to his conduct between October 2016 and February 2020.

Following a two-year investigation, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said he had breached the rule prohibiting paid advocacy by making multiple approaches to government departments and ministers for the two companies.

But Mr Paterson denies the allegations, saying he was raising very serious issues about food contamination and accused the commissioner, Kathryn Stone, of admitting to him she “made up her mind” before the allegations were put to him and that none of his 17 witnesses were interviewed.

He also claimed the investigation “undoubtedly played a major role” in his wife, Rose Paterson, taking her own life in June last year.

He said the investigation has been “catastrophic” for him and his three grown-up children and that his wife would ask him “despairingly” every weekend about the inquiry “convinced that the investigation would go to any lengths to somehow find me in the wrong”.

Mrs Paterson’s anxiety increased the more the investigation went on and she became convinced it would destroy his reputation and force him to resign, he said.

He also said she feared she would have to resign from her post as chair of Aintree Racecourse and as a steward of the Jockey Club, “two roles of which she was rightly enormously proud”.

The MP said as a result of his interventions, “staple foods consumed by millions, milk and ham, are now safer than before” and said he would not hesitate to act in the same way again “despite this tortuous and inadequate investigation”.

He also called for parliamentary privilege to be waived so he could take his case to a court where he said: “A fair process would exonerate me.”

Mr Paterson was found to have breached the rules on lobbying on behalf of Randox by making three approaches to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) about the testing of antibiotics in milk in 2016 and 2017 and approaching ministers at the Department for International Development four times about its blood testing technology in those years.

On behalf of Lynn’s Country Foods, Mr Paterson breached the rules by making seven approaches to the FSA in 2017 and 2018 and failed to declare his interest as a paid consultant to the FSA in four emails between 2016 and 2018.

He was also found to have breached the rules on using parliamentary facilities by using his parliamentary office 16 times for business meetings with clients between 2016 and 2020, and sending two letters relating to his business interests on House of Commons headed notepaper.

The MP acknowledged he should not have used the headed notepaper and apologised but maintained he had not breached the code of conduct in any other respect.

Ms Stone’s recommendation Mr Paterson is suspended has to be voted on by MPs and usually occurs within five days.

A committee spokesman said it does not comment on published reports and the chair of the committee, Chris Bryant, suggested to Sky News that people should read the entirety of the report.

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