Martin Bright

Smoking Guns and the Morality of Parliamentary Privilege

Text settings

The MPs' expenses scandal has taken another extraordinary turn. Jim Devine, David Chaytor and Elliott Morley were already humbled and now they face criminal charges. With political scandals there are rarely any smoking guns. Cash for Honours was the last police investigation to come close. But this time it doesn't look good for the miserable threesome. 

The search for the criminal smoking gun is a poor substitute for the exercise of moral judgement. The present crisis is a sign that the political class has simply forgotten that it is possible to act according to a personal ethical code without reference to whether something is legal or not. 

One senior opposition MP who will remain nameless to spare her blushes told me when the scandal blew that she considered it her duty to bear most of her personal costs as an MP herself. Why? Because she saw it as a privilege to serve in parliament. 

This is a different interpretation of "parliamentary privilege" to the usual one (that MPs should enjoy a degree of protection from prosecution in order to safeguard freedom of speech).

It is an utter disgrace that Devine, Chaytor and Morley believe they can use the principle of privilege to hide from justice. Is there no way they can be expelled from parliament in order to strip them of any imagined protection?