4 November 2021
Statement from James Sunderland MP

Over the past 24 hours, I have been asked why I voted with the Government in support of the Andrea Leadsom amendment.  Contrary to what has been levelled at me by a handful of concerned constituents, I did not ‘vote to protect a corrupt MP’, did not ‘vote in favour of corruption’ and I am no ‘fan of sleaze’.  My position has again been misrepresented and the facts are rather different.

It is important to stress from the outset that Owen Paterson was never going to be ‘let off the hook’.  He was found guilty of illicit lobbying and it is right that he should face sanction.  The amendment was never intended to re-write the current lobbying rules and was certainly not an attempt to shield him from justice.  Nor does it exonerate him in any form or overturn the judgement of the Standards Committee.  It simply delays consideration of the finding by forming a new Select Committee (or equivalent) which will – rightly – review existing standards procedures and modify them.

This is necessary for the simple reason that the current process is fundamentally flawed and antiquated.  At no stage during any of the hearings was Mr Paterson given a right to an appeal.  He was not allowed legal representation, none of his 17 independent witnesses were called to give evidence, the case was never referred to an independent adjudication panel and the process in place does not reflect best practice in any other employment sector.  Most worryingly of all, the Commissioner herself has publicly stated that there was a presumption of guilt in this case, which runs completely contrary to all the established legal rights that everyone enjoys in the UK.  Indeed, I continue to believe that anyone accused of malpractice – or any other offence – is entitled to a fair hearing, which was not given.

Whilst this was not an easy call, my decision to vote with the Whip was for the right reasons.  Not only am I a Conservative MP and part of a team, but any verdict derived from a flawed process must inherently be unsafe.  Nor is it justified that any MP – of any party – should be presumed guilty without fair representation and nor should any MP be subject to vitriol without a chance to be heard.  Had this occurred in any court of law, it would have been thrown out months ago.  Yes, the timing of this vote was not great but the process does need reform, and quickly, for it to be worthy of Parliament. 

Since then, Mr Paterson has himself resigned.  Whilst his treatment did fall short of what should have been expected from the Commission, this was probably the right thing to do in respect of the allegations directed against him, the impact upon his family and the divisive nature of the vote yesterday.  I was also surprised by his apparent lack of humility in subsequent media reporting.  

I hope that this helps to explain the reasons for my vote.  We should rightly expect more from all our MPs but by the same token, MPs also have a right to expect fair treatment, especially with allegations of malpractice needing to be taken seriously, the stakes so high and against the backdrop of the unnecessary on-line abuse that many face.  And in respect of my own financial interests, these have been accurately declared to the Parliamentary Registrar.  I do not earn any money from lobbying and do not receive any income from any other employment, business activity or consultancy.