PERHAPS I can comment on the Owen Paterson affair, the way it has been reported and the justice of his 30-day suspension from the House of Commons, which he will not now serve after his resignation as an MP.
I decided to read the full report of the House of Commons Committee on Standards on Mr Paterson that was published on October 26. Mr Paterson was undoubtedly an advocate for two companies and was earning a significant income from those sources, which in itself is perfectly legal.
Because of those roles, however, he was made aware of dangerous levels of antibiotics (more specifically, florfenicol, a totally prohibited antibiotic residue that is harmful to infants) in some supermarket milk. He contacted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in November 2016 and arranged meetings to discuss the issue, which was eventually resolved.
A year later he again approached the FSA to alert that body to the fact that a major company was selling bacon that contained nitrites, which are carcinogenic substances.
Mr Paterson also met representatives of the Department for International Development about the reliability of equipment used for blood testing in international aid programmes.
In all of these cases there were no identified benefits that accrued to the companies he was connected with, but the ills he identified were later apparently put right.
His error was not to realise that the rules were so tightly worded that he could infringe them by drawing these problems to the attention of the relevant authorities if there was a possibility that benefits could be conferred on his clients, even if they weren’t.
But does that mean he shouldn’t have raised those issues and do his actions justify a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons?
Unfortunately the Standards Committee is chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant, Paterson’s political opponent, who described his conduct as “corrupt and unacceptable”.
In my view, the Standards Committee should be made up of totally neutral people, not political allies and opponents. Where is the natural justice in that case?
I believe that Mr Paterson did the right thing by drawing significant problems to the attention of the relevant authorities. It certainly wasn’t deserving of a 30-day suspension from Parliament and it’s a shame that he is no longer an MP.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app, receive exclusive members-only offers and access to all premium content and columns. Click here to subscribe.