A date of December 16 has been set for the by-election in the constituency of North Shropshire following the resignation of its MP, Owen Paterson.
The writ for the by-election enabling the contest to go ahead passed through the House of Commons without opposition.
Paterson [pictured], a Conservative and former cabinet minister, resigned after being found to have broken Parliamentary rules on lobbying. He had held the North Shropshire seat since 1997.
In the 2019 general election, Paterson secured 62.7 per cent of the North Shropshire vote for the Tories. His closest opponent, Labour’s Graeme Currie, took 22.1 per cent.
The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Greens have all confirmed that they will put candidates forward for the by-election, in a constituency which has traditionally enjoyed strong Conservative support.
The row leading to Paterson’s resignation arose after the Parliamentary Committee on Standards suggested he be banned for sitting in the Commons for 30 days, after he was found to have lobbied on behalf of two businesses, Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.
With Paterson facing suspension, the government subsequently ordered Conservative MPs to vote on changing the rules around the conduct of politicians enforced by the Standards Committee, meaning any suspension was off.
The reversal and intensifying row prompted Paterson’s resignation, with the now former MP saying that his integrity had been “repeatedly and publicly questioned” and he now sought a life away from the “cruel world” of politics.
Paterson had worked as a paid consultant for both Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods since 2015 and 2016, respectively, earning a combined £100,000 per year from the roles on top of his wage as an MP.
While MPs are allowed to have second jobs, they are not permitted to act as paid advocates under parliamentary rules and use their influence to facilitate any sort of gain for businesses.
The Standards Committee concluded that Paterson had acted as a paid advocate by having made various approaches to the Food Standards Agency on behalf of both companies and having approached ministers within the Department for International Trade relating to Randox and blood testing technology.
Paterson continues to deny any wrongdoing amid the controversy.
Meanwhile, ministers have admitted wrongdoing in their handling of the affair but emphasised that its initial backing of the change to conduct rules were intended to give all MPs a right to appeal when facing punishment.
Elsewhere, another Conservative MP has hit the headlines this week, with former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox facing scrutiny over revelations that he had been working remotely in the Caribbean over April and June, and related accusations of parliamentary rule breaking.
Sir Geoffrey has continued to practice as a barrister alongside his work as an MP and has earned in excess of £700,000 on top of his MP’s salary carrying out legal work in the British Virgin Islands.
His work involves advising on an inquiry into government corruption in the British Virgin Islands headed by the UK Foreign Office.
While Sir Geoffrey did not break any parliamentary rules by working abroad, he was found to have carried out some legal work relating to the inquiry from within his Commons office.
Rules state that MPs are not permitted to use public resources such as parliamentary offices for personal or financial benefit, prompting accusations of rule breaking.
Cox has denied that he is guilty of any wrongdoing, while his case has been forwarded to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
A statement on Cox’s website said: “He [Sir Geoffrey Cox] does not believe that he breached the rules but will of course accept the judgement of the Parliamentary Commissioner or of the Committee [on Public Standards] on the matter.”
The statement adds that Sir Geoffrey always sought to prioritise work on behalf of his constituents in the Torridge and West Devon seat and that it would be down to them as to whether he remains an MP.
It says: “Sir Geoffrey regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out. Sir Geoffrey's view is that it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practises that profession.
“That has been the consistent view of the local Conservative Association and although at every election his political opponents have sought to make a prominent issue of his professional practice, it has so far been the consistent view of the voters of Torridge and West Devon. Sir Geoffrey is very content to abide by their decision.”
Debbie Flint, the deputy chair of Sir Geoffrey’s local Conservative Association, told the BBC that the organisation was fully supportive of Sir Geoffrey in the matter.
Downing Street has released a statement saying that while Sir Geoffrey’s remote working in the British Virgin Islands was not in violation of parliamentary rules, MP’s ought to be “visible” in their constituencies and are “not doing the job” properly if they are inaccessible.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister is clear that MPs' jobs must be to serve the constituents they represent in their interest in Parliament.
“If they're not doing that, they're not doing their job and will rightly be judged on that by their constituents.”
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons