Burnley MP slammed over his vote to change standards system amid 'sleaze' row

Burnley's MP has been criticised over his decision to vote with the Government in this week's controversial vote to change rules on the way MPs' conduct is policed - which blocked the suspension of Conservative former minister Owen Paterson.
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The rule change, which called for a shake-up of the standards watchdog, drew an angry backlash from opposition parties and the general public who accused the government of "wallowing in sleaze".

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham did not respond to the Burnley Express to explain the reasons behind his decision, which effectively would have saved Mr Paterson from suspension.

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However, in a dramatic twist after a public backlash the following Mr Paterson chose to resign.

Burnley MP Antony HigginbothamBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

Mr Paterson was found to have broken lobbying rules, but said he was not given the chance to clear his name. His Tory allies called for a shake-up of the standards watchdog and won the vote thanks to government backing, including Mr Higginbotham.

The Labour leader of Burnley Borough Council, Coun.Mark Townsend said it was an outrage that Burnley's MP had lent his support to the change.

Coun. Townsend said: "The public are right to be furious that Tory MPs, including Burnley's MP Antony Higginbotham, voted to protect one of their own than uphold standards in public life.

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"They thought they could get away with their 'do what we say not we do' approach and have only back tracked because of public outrage. Cash for influence has to be stamped out and it's an outrage that Burnley's MP voted to tear up the rules to protect his mate than enforce them."

All opposition parties had refused to take part in any new standards system the government sets up.

Neighbouring fellow Tory MPs, Pendle's Andrew Stephenson and the Ribble Valley's Nigel Evans, abstained from voting.

The committee had recommended that Mr Paterson be banned for 30 sitting days after being found to have misused his position as an MP to benefit two firms he worked for.

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A suspension of this length could have seen the Tory MP then face a recall petition, which could lead to a by-election for his seat.

The committee's recommendations, which have to be signed off by MPs in the Commons, are usually accepted without much discussion - but on Wednesday, the Government ordered its MPs to vote for an amendment to halt Mr Paterson's case and to alter the standards system.