Backbench Tory MP Andrew Bridgen faces a five-day suspension from the House of Commons after a cross-party committee found he had breached parliamentary rules on registration, declaration and paid lobbying “on multiple occasions and in multiple ways”.
In a report on Thursday, the parliamentary standards committee (PSC) said Bridgen had demonstrated a “cavalier attitude” to the rules on registration and declaration of interests regarding his work with Mere Plantations, a UK-based company specialising in forestry in Ghana.
The findings will add to concern about rules around lobbying done by MPs and ministers in the wake of the Owen Paterson sleaze scandal.
The PSC last year recommended that the former cabinet minister be suspended from the Commons for 30 days over an “egregious case of paid advocacy” in relation to his paid work with Randox, the medical diagnostics group. Paterson has denied any wrongdoing.
Boris Johnson, then prime minister, instructed MPs to vote to reform rules around MPs’ conduct, which would have created a new committee and an appeals system. But he backtracked after an outcry from opposition parties, prompting Paterson’s resignation and a wave of scrutiny over parliamentarians’ second jobs.
In its investigation into Bridgen, the PSC found the MP for North West Leicestershire agreed to act as an adviser to Mere Plantations in 2020, a role that paid £12,000.
The year before, the company had paid more than £3,000 for travel and accommodation for Bridgen to visit its plantation in Ghana and offered a donation of £5,000 to the North West Leicestershire Conservative Association.
The PSC said Bridgen committed a “significant litany of errors” after failing to declare a relevant interest in the company in five meetings with government officials and in eight emails to ministers.
It added that Bridgen had filed an inaccurate entry in the Commons’ Register of Members’ Financial Interests relating to his role with the company between June 2020 and May this year.
Kathryn Stone, parliamentary commissioner for standards, said she was “concerned at the cavalier approach taken by Mr Bridgen in relation to maintaining his entry in the register, and by Mr Bridgen’s evident lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules”.
The report also said Bridgen had called into question Stone’s integrity “on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations”, and attempted to “influence the House’s standards processes”.
The committee asked Bridgen to apologise to the Commons and recommended he be suspended for five sitting days.
Responding to the report, Bridgen said: “Whilst I am extremely disappointed with the recommendations of the committee, I accept them and will comply with them as required to do so.”
In the wake of the Paterson affair, the Tory party and parliamentary authorities have grappled with how best to regulate the conduct of MPs in relation to outside paid work.
The PSC this year put forward a series of recommendations aimed at updating MPs’ code of conduct to tighten rules around lobbying, second jobs and transparency.
The proposed measures include a ban on MPs accepting paid jobs as “parliamentary advisers, strategists or consultants” and ensuring that they have a written contract for outside employment so they are unable to lobby government officials.
The government in September said the PSC’s proposals would require MPs’ approval and “sufficient time” to be debated.