LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers voted on Wednesday to halt the suspension of a member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party who was found to have broken rules on paid lobbying, instead backing an overhaul of the process of investigating politicians.
A Committee on Standards report said Owen Paterson committed an "egregious case of paid advocacy" by repeatedly using his position to promote two companies, who together paid him nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary.
When parliament was asked to endorse the suspension, a group of Conservatives, with Johnson's support, put forward a proposal to delay it and instead set up a new committee to review his case and the wider process of investigating lawmakers.
That proposal was passed by 250 votes to 232, despite considerable anger from opposition parties that the government was changing the rules because it did not like the result, a move that they said would damage public trust in parliament.
"In no other profession in our country could someone be found guilty by an independent process and just have their mates vote them back into the job," opposition Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner said ahead of the vote.
"When they break the rules, they just remake the rules."
The government, which media reported had instructed its lawmakers to back the proposal, said it was about improving the process.
"Paid advocacy in this House (of Commons) is wrong," Johnson said before the vote.
"The issue in this case ... is whether a member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case and whether as a matter of natural justice our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal."
Paterson, who says the stress of the investigation played a major role in his wife's suicide last year, disputes the committee's findings and said witnesses who came forward to support him were not spoken to.
The Committee on Standards is made up of seven lawmakers from several parties including four Conservatives, as well as seven lay members.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Michael Holden)