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Lib Dems demand public inquiry into Tory sleaze scandal ahead of emergency Commons debate

November 7, 2021 11:59 PM

The Liberal Democrats have called for an independent public inquiry into government sleaze and allegations of political corruption, warning that Boris Johnson's Conservatives are "releasing sewage into our rivers and sleaze into our politics."

Wendy Chamberlain (https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4765/Portrait?cropType=ThreeFour Author: David Woolfall)The party is also demanding that any MPs under investigation for breaking parliamentary rules should be barred from taking part in Commons votes on disciplinary issues. It comes ahead of an emergency House of Commons debate on parliamentary standards on Monday 8 November, secured by Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP.

The Liberal Democrats have said an independent, statutory public inquiry is needed into recent allegations of political sleaze and corruption at the very heart of the government. These include the awarding of lucrative Covid contracts to those with political links to the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson's failure to declare that holidays abroad and the redecoration of his Downing Street flat were paid for by party donors, and last week's attempt to block the suspension of former Conservative MP Owen Paterson after he was found to have breached lobbying rules.

The inquiry would have the power to summon witnesses and require them to give evidence under oath, including current and former government ministers and officials, and demand the disclosure of any relevant official documents and communications.

The party has also said that any MPs being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should not be able to vote or propose amendments to motions related to disciplinary issues. It comes after it emerged that 22 Conservative MPs who voted for Andrea Leadsom's amendment to tear up anti-sleaze rules are either being investigated or have had allegations upheld against them since the 2019 general election. This includes Owen Paterson who was able to vote on whether or not he should be suspended.

Speaking ahead of Monday's debate, Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain MP said:

"We have a Conservative government that is releasing sewage into our rivers and sleaze into our politics.

"It beggars belief that Owen Paterson was able to vote on his own suspension, while the votes of Conservative MPs currently under investigation were critical in passing Leadsom's sleaze amendment. It's the equivalent of defendants in a court case also taking part in the jury. We need to make sure those with a vested interest in tearing up Parliament's anti-sleaze rules don't have the power to do so.

"Last week's events were just the latest example of political cronyism and corruption, from dodgy Covid contracts to Boris Johnson's holidays secretly paid for by his wealthy donor friends.

"Time and again government ministers have refused to properly investigate allegations of sleaze, failed to declare relevant meetings and donations and tried to rig the system to cover their own backs. We need an independent public inquiry, with the powers and resources to get to the bottom of this Conservative sleaze scandal.

"People around the country who play by the rules are being let down by Boris Johnson's Conservatives who think the rules just don't apply to them. They deserve answers over who is influencing our politics, how taxpayers' money is being spent and what is being done to hold those in power to account."

Wendy Chamberlain served for twelve years as a police officer in Scotland and is the only female former police officer in Parliament.

The House of Commons will hold an emergency debate on standards on Monday 8 November, following last week's vote in which Conservative MPs voted to overturn the suspension of Owen Paterson and overhaul Parliament's anti-sleaze rules. The SO24 debate, secured by Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain, is expected to take place after Oral Questions at 3.30pm and last for around three hours.

Public inquiry into sleaze: A statutory public inquiry, held under the Inquiries Act 2005, could be given powers to compel testimony from witnesses and order the release of written evidence. The inquiry would be tasked with uncovering the truth behind allegations of sleaze and recommending changes and reforms necessary to end the culture of cronyism and corruption at the heart of government. These could include changes to the Ministerial Code, new powers for the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests and tougher penalties for those found guilty of political sleaze and corruption.

Ban on MPs under investigation voting: The Liberal Democrats are calling for MPs under investigation for breaking parliamentary rules to be barred from voting on disciplinary matters in the Commons. The ban would apply to all those MPs under investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the House of Commons Committee on Standards and the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme (ICGS). Former MP Owen Paterson this week escaped a recommended suspension for breaches of paid advocacy rules, following the passing of the Leadsom Amendment by 250 votes to 232. Among those voting for the amendment were Paterson himself, as well as 22 other Conservative MPs who are either under investigation presently or have had allegations upheld against them within this term of Government. Combined, the votes of these MPs could have prevented Andrea Leadsom's sleaze amendment from going through.