Ex-minister Owen Paterson could be suspended from the Commons for 30 days after an MPs’ watchdog found he had “repeatedly” used his position as an MP to benefit two companies who paid him as a consultant.
The watchdog described his actions as “an egregious case of paid advocacy”.
In reply, the Conservative MP said: “The process I have been subjected to does not comply with natural justice.”
“I am not guilty and a fair process would exonerate me,” he added.
Mr Paterson said the process was “a major contributory factor” in the death of his wife, Rose, who took her own life last year.
The committee said the allegations related to events which took place before Mrs Paterson’s death.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone opened an investigation into the North Shropshire MP following accusations he had lobbied on behalf of two companies who employed him.
Her report said he was a paid consultant to Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods and had made approaches to the Food Standards Agency and Department for International Development ministers about the companies.
The commissioner also found Mr Paterson had breached the MPs’ code of conduct by using his parliamentary office on 25 occasions for business meetings with clients between October 2016 and February 2020 and in sending two letters relating to business interests on House of Commons headed notepaper.
The report noted that there was no immediate financial benefit secured by the two companies, but that Mr Paterson’s approaches could “clearly have conferred significant benefits on Randox and Lynn’s in the long term and even in the short term secured meetings that would not have been available without Mr Paterson’s involvement”.
The Standards Committee recommended that Mr Paterson, who is a former Northern Ireland Secretary, be suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days, which will now be debated.
If an MP is suspended for more than 10 sitting days by a parliamentary committee, this can automatically trigger a recall petition – something which could lead to a by-election in their seat.
Mr Paterson has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Speaking to the BBC, the former environment secretary said he was “absolutely stunned” by the report’s recommendations.
He said he had wanted to alert the environment department about carcinogenic products in milk and ham, defending his actions as “absolutely right” and arguing that it had “saved lives”.
“If it happened again this morning, I would do it again,” he added.
The MP accused the commissioner and the committee of not talking to him until months into the investigation and failing to hear from his 17 witnesses.
He claims he was pronounced guilty by the commissioner “without being spoken to” and that “no proper investigation was undertaken”.
The BBC has been told the committee interviewed Mr Paterson and reviewed all the witness statements he provided, while the commissioner offered Mr Paterson an interview but he didn’t proceed with it.
A spokesperson for Randox said it was aware of the report, adding: “Randox does not wish, or need, to comment on this investigation. This is a matter for Mr Paterson and the relevant parliamentary authorities.”
A spokesperson for Lynn’s Country Foods said the company would not be making a statement.
In Mr Paterson’s response to the committee report he said: “I lost my beloved wife of 40 years and this process was a major contributory factor.”
He said the way the investigation was conducted “undoubtedly played a major role”, saying: “Rose would ask me despairingly every weekend about the progress of the inquiry, convinced that the investigation would go to any lengths to somehow find me in the wrong.”
Mr Paterson told the BBC the investigation had “destroyed the last quarter of my life” and that his wife had been “very rattled” by the inquiry.
In the report, the committee said it was “painfully conscious that Mr Paterson lost his wife in tragic circumstances in June 2020”.
“We wish to express our deepest sympathy to him for his loss – this last year must have been very distressing for him and we have taken these circumstances fully into account in considering Mr Paterson’s conduct during the period of the investigation.”
However, the committee said the allegations related to conduct prior to Mrs Paterson’s death and that “it is these allegations on which we are required to adjudicate, impartially, without fear or favour, and with a sole eye to the rules of the House and the requirements of natural justice”.
It added that it was “very possible that grief and distress caused by this event has affected the way in which Mr Paterson approached the Commissioner’s investigation thereafter”.
The committee also noted other mitigating factors including Mr Paterson’s ill health.
The committee said Mr Paterson’s “evident passion for and expertise” in food and farming was “admirable” but warned it should be “channelled within the rules of the House”.
Listing “aggravating factors” that influenced the recommended punishment for Mr Paterson, it said: “No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests.”
It added that “Mr Paterson’s financial remuneration from Randox and Lynn’s amounted to nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary” and that during the investigation Mr Paterson had “made serious, personal, and unsubstantiated allegations against the integrity of the commissioner and her team”.