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This briefing summarises the events that led up to the decision to hold an emergency debate on the House of Commons standards system on Monday 8 November 2021. It includes an overview of the Commons standards system and a timeline showing how the system has evolved.

Report on conduct of Owen Patterson

On 3 November 2021, the House debated a motion to approve a report from the Committee on Standards relating to the conduct of Owen Paterson; and to suspend him from the service of the House for 30 sitting days.

The House agreed to amend the motion. It declined to consider the report from the Committee on Standards and agreed that a new committee be appointed to consider: 

  • Whether the current standards system should give MPs the same or similar rights to people who are under investigation for alleged misconduct in other workplaces. This would include the right to legal representation, to examine witnesses and to appeal.
  • How far procedures that relate to the Committee on Standards (including lay members), and to the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards “should be made consistent with the principles of natural justice”.
  • Whether the case against Owen Paterson should be reviewed or if the report from the Committee of Standards on this case should be reconsidered by MPs
  • Other matters connected to the above.

 A new committee

The decision also allowed for the creation of a nine-member committee to be chaired by John Whittingdale. It would have four other Conservative members, three Labour and one SNP.

It would have the usual select committee powers to take evidence and report, to appoint specialist advisers and unusually to appoint legal advisers.

The Committee was required to report by 3 February 2022.

Political reaction to the new committee

The Labour, Scottish National and Liberal Democrat Parties said that they would not participate in the work of the Committee.

On 4 November 2021, Wendy Chamberlain, a Liberal Democrat MP, made an application for an emergency debate on “the consequences of the decision of the House on 3 November relating to standards.” Her application was approved and the debate has been scheduled for Monday 8 November 2021.

Just before Wendy Chamberlain’s application, during the Business Statement on 4 November, the Leader of the House stated that any link between the case of Mr Paterson and a review of the standards process needed “to be broken.” The Leader told the Commons:

“While there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that there is a need for an appeals process, there is equally a strong feeling that this should not be based on a single case, or applied retrospectively. I fear last night’s debate conflated the individual case with the general concern. This link needs to be broken. Therefore, I and others will look to work on a cross-party basis to achieve improvements in our system for future cases. We will bring forward more detailed proposals once there have been cross-party discussions.”

Later in the day on the 4 November, the Government confirmed there would be a vote on the motion to sanction Owen Paterson, on a date to be announced by the Leader of the House.

The Government said there would be a separate vote on any reforms of the standards process which would be proposed on a cross-party basis.

Owen Paterson announced that he would resign as an MP at around 2.30pm on 4 November 2021.


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