Hypocritical Cameron voted against proposals to reform parliamentary privilege


With his poll lead slipping, his team’s competence questioned and his policies under attack, David Cameron today stands accused of “breathtaking” hypocrisy over his comments on the expenses scandal. In a speech on rebuilding trust in politics the Conservative party lead sought to portray himself as “the change Britain desperately needs”, criticising Gordon Brown for being a “roadblock to political reform”.

David-CameronHis record since the scandal broke, however, belies such rhetoric, Left Foot Forward can reveal.

When the Parliamentary Standards Bill was introduced in the Commons on June 23rd, it contained a clause stating parliamentary privilege did not prevent evidence being admissible in proceedings against an MP for an offence in the Bill – a clause deleted after opposition from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Speaking in the debate, then Shadow Leader of the House Alan Duncan had said:

“We still have concerns about clause 10, which creates a formal provision to allow proceedings to be admissible in court proceedings against an MP, regardless of parliamentary privilege…

“Inasmuch as IPSA has power over our allowances, we are largely content, but inasmuch as it muddies the water and empowers the courts to intrude on our independence of action, it must be resisted.

“Even more dangerously, as the Clerk goes on to suggest, the casual disregard for parliamentary privilege in the Bill, particularly in clause 10, could cause permanent damage to parliamentary proceedings.”

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told Left Foot Forward:

“David Cameron’s position this morning is breathtaking for its sheer hypocrisy. Just a few months ago the Conservative Party were actively sabotaging all efforts to exclude the ambit of parliamentary privilege from the new laws on MPs expenses.

“Now Mr Cameron’s lust for an easy headline has provoked yet another bout of rank opportunism. The British public will see right through it.”

David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg are among those who voted against the proposals on reforming parliamentary privilege.

Concerns have also been raised as to whether Mr Cameron’s outspoken remarks will prejudice any future trial against the three MPs – Jim Devine, David Chaytor and Elliot Morley – and Tory peer Lord Hanningfield, all of whom have been charged with theft by false accounting, with Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman warning him:

“He’s got to be very careful what he says or his comments might actually jeopardise the trial and nobody wants to see that happen.”

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  • Robson

    This is a wholly moot point. Parliamentary privilege in regards to freedom of speech is accepted as necessary. To suggest removing it entirely was wrong without this government reforming our archaic libel laws first. Parliamentary privilege as claimed by 3 Labour MPs to avoid embezzlement charges is seriously wrong.

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  • http://www.partyreptile.blogspot.com Tim J

    Talking of hypocrisy, don’t you think that the published opinions of the Home Secretary might carry as much weight, if not more, than the leader of the opposition? After all, Alan Johnson has said the privilege defense should not apply, and that the trial “should be on the same basis as any member of the public who goes through the courts system”. And even Downing Street said “No one believes that an MP has the right to be above the criminal law. Parliamentary privilege was clearly not intended to cover this.”

    Perhaps you could explain why these comments are acceptable, but Cameron’s are unacceptable?

  • http://www.shamik.co.uk Shamik Das

    Everyone should watch what they say. I’d have thought Cameron’s comments in particular come very close to being in contempt.

  • http://www.markpack.org.uk Mark Pack

    I think you’re missing what was wrong with parts of the Bill which Cameron and others (including the Lib Dems) opposed: it was a rush job, badly drafted with wide but barely debated implications and with Parliament’s Privilege Committee warning about the impact of what it proposed.

    Opposing a botched rush job was the right thing to do – even if one of the people doing it was David Cameron :-)

  • http://www.partyreptile.blogspot.com Tim J

    “I’d have thought Cameron’s comments in particular come very close to being in contempt.”

    What? Do you have the slightest idea of what contempt of court is? A court has not been convened yet, a trial has not been arranged, there *is no court* for Cameron to be in contempt of. Yassus.

    In any event, nothing that Cameron (or indeed Alan Johnson or ‘Downing Street’, both of whom have said effectively the same thing – that ‘privilege’ should not be used as a defence here) has said could possibly be construed as contempt.

    Is this the legendary ‘evidence based blogging’ of which I have heard so much?

  • http://www.shamik.co.uk Shamik Das

    I’m sorry but you’re wrong. Proceedings are active once an individual is charged. Any prejudicial reporting from that point on can be held in contempt.

    I suggest you read this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/edguide/thelaw/contempt.shtml

    And then this: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1981/cukpga_19810049_en_1#pb3-l1g14

  • Donald Hedges

    I think its all a complete nightmare anyway. They had a chance to prosecute errant MPs with Clause 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Bill, a golden opportunity if there was one and chose not to do so, deliberately not altering Article IX of the Bill of Rights Act. So they are now all hoist with their own petard.

    As to contempt of court, well we’ve all committed that by endlessly discussing it. Its very doubtful whether this thing will now ever come to trial.

  • Henry

    All this sounds like Cameron putting up a smokescreen in advance of the electoral reform vote – which the Tories are getting hysterical about.

  • http://www.partyreptile.blogspot.com Tim J

    And you’re arguing that Cameron is publishing material that is more likely to prejudice the outcome of the trial than the identical messages coming from the Home Office and Downing Street? Hmm.

    Besides, I suspect that discussions as to the applicability of a parliamentary privilege defence, and whether such a defence is morally justifiable falls squarely under the exemption in clause 5 of the CCA.

    “A publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion.”

    The argument that Cameron (or any other of the commentators) should be legally prohibited from commenting on these proceedings is ludicrous.

  • Tom

    Tim J: Both the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister said that privilege shouldn’t be used as a defence. Fine. But that’s not what the Leader of the Opposition has said – he has gone further, said that it should be legally removed as a defence, AND attacked the government for not already doing so – despite his blocking an attempt to do just that. I fail to see how anyone can claim that the Home Secretary’s or Prime Minister’s comments are hypocritical. The Leader of the Opposition’s certainly are.

    Mark Pack: What were these implications? S.10 of the Bill was pretty narrow, providing only that privilege could not prevent IPSA and the Commissioner from carrying out their functions, or any evidence being admissible in regard to the offences created by s.9 of that Bill relating to expenses fraud and registration of interests. It wouldn’t affect any other criminal or civil cases, so Robson’s worries above are entirely misplaced.

  • Tom

    And yeah, there’s no risk of anyone being prosecuted for contempt of court here. Since a contempt of court prosecution means admitting a fair trial is pretty much impossible, and therefore abandoning the prosecution, they’re really very rare. Even flagrant contempts like the headline ‘GOT THE BASTARDS’ when the 21/7 tube bombing suspects (as they were at the time) were arrested didn’t lead to anything.

  • Mark

    Condemning someone because they voted against the Parliamentary Standards Bill doesn’t mean they are allowing MPs off the hook, it’s more complicated than that.

    Why not come out and condemn those who seek privilege as their defence? I know this blog is big on Labour but if you can’t bring yourself to condemn the use of “privilege” then surely you’re not a progressive, you’re a reactionary.

  • Tom

    Mark – ‘privilege’ in legal terms is different from ‘privilege’ in general. I think what the parliamentarians are doing in attempting to use parliamentary privilege to prevent investigation into possible fraud is incredibly grubby, debases the idea of parliamentary privilege, makes politicians in general look bad, and – in my opinion – won’t even work.

    But that doesn’t mean legal privilege in general is a bad thing. The law that prevents the court from forcing your solicitor to testify against you is a form of privilege. So is the law that prevents a newspaper being sued for libel for printing a story that it believed to be true and behaved responsibly over (though that one isn’t as strong as it could be). And parliamentary privilege prevents MPs for being sued or prosecuted for things they say in parliament, to allow them to speak without fear.

  • http://www.shamik.co.uk Shamik Das

    Mark,

    I’ve given no opinion on the privilege defence, nor on the participants’ innocene or guilt, either way. In terms of what Cameron said about withdrawing it as a defence, at this time, I cannot see how that would be fair – surely the applicability of privilege, as Keir Starmer clearly said, is up to the Courts, not a power-hungry politician, to decide.

    There is also an argument to suggest that those involved should not face retrospective justice, and should be tried and be able to defend themselves under the laws that existed at the time.

  • Mark

    Tom, I’m aware of the legal nature of “privilege”, thanks. As we’ve seen in the Trafigura case, it’s very useful in the right instances. That’s why I said it was a subtle issue and not really good point-scoring.

    Shamik: Shape your words carefully but surely something smells wrong when Labour MPs claim “privilege” as their defence? Now it’s not for a politician to decide their fare but surely the matter of expenses cannot morally stretch to expenses? Labour are in danger of gifting Cameron an open goal here, the way the three weren’t suspended until Cameron called for it is only going to make Labour look like ditherers. Someone needs to get a grip and if the Party can’t make up its mind, bloggers should not be embarrassed to point out that parliamentary privilege is for more noble means than ducking expense claims.

  • Tom

    Mark: My apologies. I thought from your reference to this being a progressive blog that you were condemning privilege in general. Which I’d be very happy to join you in doing, outside the legal sphere.

  • http://twitter.com/iolos/status/8820683236 David

    Dave, it's time you got your policies sorted out. http://is.gd/7WvGG

  • http://twitter.com/notlob2008/status/8821544158 notlob2008

    RT @LukePollard: Read this – RT @Juderobinson: Last year Cameron voted not to reform parl privilege. Now he accuses GB of blocking it http://bit.ly/bFwSbe

  • http://twitter.com/grovesred/status/8823022485 Frank Ormston

    RT @leftfootfwd: Hypocritical Cameron voted against proposals to reform parliamentary privilege: http://is.gd/7WvGG

  • http://twitter.com/jack_scott/status/8823096985 Jack Scott

    RT @bristolwestpaul: Cameron opportunist and hypocrite voted against changes to Parliamentary Privilege http://ow.ly/1530b

  • Mr. Sensible

    Like Shamic says, this is hipocricy.

    If Cameron’s so serious, why has he not expelled Lord Hanningfield who, lest we forget, has been charged as well.

    And since we mention Allan Duncan, does anyone remember that this is the same Allan Duncan (who’s still I think in the shadow cabinet) who likened a new expenses regime to “living on rations?”

  • http://twitter.com/mjgeek/status/8823977000 David Cox

    RT @bristolwestpaul: Cameron opportunist and hypocrite voted against changes to Parliamentary Privilege http://ow.ly/1530b

  • http://twitter.com/mjgeek/status/8824282374 David Cox

    2 ids same tweet @TeeMarketing @websitenewsman Cameron knows about due process in suspensions "dithering"=dishonest http://ow.ly/1530b,

  • http://twitter.com/roybailey/status/8825879500 Roy Bailey

    RT @bristolwestpaul Cameron opportunist and hypocrite voted against changes to Parliamentary Privilege http://ow.ly/1530b

  • http://twitter.com/eddyanderson/status/8828688622 Eddy Anderson

    Cameron: Hypocritical on parliamentary privilege? http://tiny.cc/cteOg (@leftfootfwd)

  • Margaret Young

    It says more about weak Cameron than anything else. Policy Wobbles with the Tory poll lead falling and Shallow Cam looks for a cheap headline, what a spineless leader the Cons have in Cam.

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  • http://www.partyreptile.blogspot.com Tim J

    “But that’s not what the Leader of the Opposition has said – he has gone further, said that it should be legally removed as a defence, AND attacked the government for not already doing so – despite his blocking an attempt to do just that.”

    Except that’s not what the Tories blocked – they voted against a proposal to remove the entire concept of parl’y privilege from IPSA referrals – and the Tories believe that privilege has a perfectly legitimate role in protecting the freedom of MPs from prosecution for what they say in Parliament. It’s a reasonably compelling argument – a former Labour Home Secretary and a former Labour Foreign Secretary agreed after all.

    I note you seem to have rowed back on your preposterous argument that Cameron ought to be legally prohibited from voicing an opinion on this matter. Good stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/kaschwilder/status/8870042824 Kasch Wilder

    RT @mydavidcameron: RT @leftfootfwd Hypocritical Cameron voted against proposals to reform parliamentary privilege: http://is.gd/7WvGG

  • Tom

    “Except that’s not what the Tories blocked – they voted against a proposal to remove the entire concept of parl’y privilege from IPSA referrals”

    Yes. But if Cameron believe privilege should not apply to expenses, why should parliamentary privilege have any role in IPSA referrals?

  • http://twitter.com/wm43mcintosh/status/9017326115 Callum McIntosh

    RT @davecameroon: Look here chaps, it's not hypocritical to be against something before you were in favour of it, surely! http://is.gd/7WvGG

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