North East Herts MP's 'mistake' over parliamentary standards vote

North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald. Picture: Nikki Powell

North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald. Picture: Nikki Powell - Credit: Archant

The MP for North East Herts has admitted he made a 'mistake' in supporting the government's bid for a standards reform in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.  

Sir Oliver Heald MP voted last week in a standards reform debate, when he and 249 others voted in favour of reform and against the suspension of Owen Paterson, just hours before the North Shropshire representative quit as an MP.

Mr Paterson, who was an MP for 24 years, was caught up in controversy after he was found have broken lobbying rules during his £110,000-a-year private sector work.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister encouraged Conservative MPs to pass an amendment - put forward by Dame Andrea Leadsom - in favour of ignoring a month-long Commons suspension for Mr Paterson, prompting corruption accusations.

But despite a government U-turn with the promise of a new vote on the matter, Mr Paterson decided to resign from the House of Commons.

Sir Oliver Heald has now said while he saw the amendment as an opportunity for reform, he made a mistake in voting for it while it was paired with the Paterson issue. Former Prime Minister Sir John Major called the Westminster debacle 'shameful'.

Sir Oliver told this newspaper: "The disciplinary procedure for MPs is old fashioned and not in line with modern practice in all the workplaces of Britain.

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"I think it needs updating and to be overseen by a High Court judge in line with recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

"I saw the Leadsom amendment as an opportunity for reform, but I agree that it was a mistake by the Government to couple it with the Paterson affair and by me to support that.

"I do still hope that now the two issues have been separated, we can still come up to date and I understand the Speaker will be making proposals. I would never criticise John Major, who is an old friend and I was proud to be one of his ministers."

As Mr Paterson is no longer an MP, no suspension will go ahead. An emergency debate on parliamentary standards took place in the Commons on Tuesday evening.


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