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16 November 2021

Why the government cannot escape the Owen Paterson scandal

The row over MPs’ standards lives to see another day, thanks to the efforts of Conservative MP Christopher Chope.

By Ailbhe Rea

The row over MPs’ standards lives to see another day, thanks to the efforts of Conservative MP Christopher Chope, who last night blocked a motion that would have allowed the government quietly to implement the standards committee’s report on Owen Paterson’s breaking of lobbying rules, and move on from the issue.

The MP for Christchurch sees himself as a stickler for parliamentary scrutiny. He has form on blocking motions and private members’ bills on issues such as female genital mutilation and upskirting – always because he wants a proper debate, he says, and he objects to private members’ bills (rather than legislation introduced by the government) on a point of principle. 

His own colleagues fell victim to this approach last night. His objection means that they will have to spend an hour today discussing their own U-turn over backing Paterson in a debate on the floor of the House of Commons, rather than quietly nodding the motion through. His colleagues are furious with him for prolonging their embarrassment and further sending a message of equivocation over MPs’ standards.

Chope’s approach to blocking bills on important matters has seen him branded a “dinosaur” and has, at times, actively delayed the introduction of legislation (such as on upskirting) that would materially improve people’s lives.

But the “dinosaur” has always said that he believes in the robust debate of motions before parliament. “The government cannot just bring in what it wants on the nod,” he said during the upskirting controversy. “We don’t quite live in the Putin era yet.” His objection last night has scandalised MPs on all sides of the house. But it means that the government has to squirm a little longer, and stare down the barrel, yet again, of its botched attempt to let Paterson off the hook. More scrutiny is not, perhaps, a bad thing. 

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