MPs fight for their right to lie

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Poppy, Oct 9, 2007.

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  1. MPs fight for their right to lie

    I t would be reasonable to assume our legislators would do all they could to restore their tattered reputation at a time when distrust of politicians is at an all-time high.

    But when the BBC commissioned a documentary exploring whether MPs were willing to pass a law that would allow them to be prosecuted for lying to the electorate, it prompted an angry backlash from those who frame Britain's laws.

    Former Home Secretary Michael Howard told the programme makers: 'It's the stupidest idea I've ever heard.' Another former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the BBC was accusing all MPs of being 'charlatans and liars'. The Tory MP for Bournemouth West, Sir John Valentine Butterfill, said 'anarchy would reign' if ordinary voters were allowed to sue a Parliamentarian for lying.
    One Tory MP even went as far as to try to get his on-camera interview dropped from the one-hour programme, Why Democracy? The Ministry of Truth, to be broadcast this week on BBC2.

    Film-maker Richard Simons, of Spirit Level Films, quizzed 46 MPs to see how many of them would back a private member's bill creating a legal mechanism allowing a member of the public to prosecute an MP for lying. This would be called the Misrepresentation of the People's Act and would leave parliamentarians open to prosecution for lying, much in the same way that the Trade Descriptions Act protects consumers from dishonest claims and statements.
    But, while around a quarter said the idea was worth debating, the rest either argued that existing self-regulation was good enough to ensure MPs and Ministersremained honest, or dismissed the idea out of hand.

    Only one MP - to be revealed in the programme - volunteered to sponsor a Bill and steer it through Parliament in the face of the likely wrath and obstruction of his colleagues.

    Simons, of Spirit Level Films, told The First Post: 'In the US it is illegal to lie to Congress, and a law in the state of South Australia makes it a criminal offence to lie in the run-up to an election. Why can't British citizens enjoy the same protection from their elected representatives?'

    In his quest to frame a Bill, Simons enlisted the support of Professor Conor Gearty, barrister and director of the LSE's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. 'There's a great deal to be said for a regulatory mechanism that makes it unlawful to engage in lying for political gain of the type we frequently see at election time,' says Gearty.
    During the course of the film, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, expresses his bewilderment at the current arrangements, which rely solely on the House of Commons regulating itself.

    Sir Philip says in the film: 'Nobody independent looks at complaints by members of the public about the actions of government ministers.' He says the public don't understand why this is the case - 'and to be honest, neither do I'.

    As even the disgraced MP Neil Hamilton points out during the film: 'Five years is a long time to wait for the next general election. In the meantime, MPs and political parties get up to all sorts of chicanery and there's no means to call them to account.'

    'Why Democracy? The Ministry of Truth', BBC2, 8pm, October 11
  2. This statement alone shows that we are perhaps approaching a need to reform the palace of Westminster! while i try to believe our parliamentary system is the envy of the world i fear i am just deluding my self unfortunately.

    There must be MP's who are good for both there constituantes and the country but they seem to few and far between is it that power always corrupts? and the Westminster village mentality
  3. Other than the ballot box, is there a mechanism in place where we can take 'our' representatives to account?
  4. I doubt it and given voter apathy the ballot box does little to bring the ********* to account either. The majority of people did NOT vote for the government who have held power for the last 10 years.

    So, comrades, the armed struggles begins..innit.
  5. If MPs are to be held to account in such a manner, then journalists should have a similar holding to account placed on them.

    In the meantime, consider these three scenarios.

    A government has committed a military unit to an operation in a country in the North of the african continent during the previous week - the troops are still in country. A journalist from the Socialists Power Mag sniffs it out. In a press conference He names the time and place in a cleverly worded question.

    How would the Minister involved answer?

    The law had been passed forty years ago when Dennis Healey lied about the imminent devaluing of the pound, lied in order to save the British economy. Would He have lied if prosecution would have followed?

    The law was in place when Thatcher and Heseltine said the mining industry was safe. Would they have done so if a consequence was doing time at Her Majesties pleasure?
  6. Only one MP - to be revealed in the programme - volunteered to sponsor a Bill and steer it through Parliament in the face of the likely wrath and obstruction of his colleagues.

    Probably Norman Baker, Lib. Dem. MP for Lewes - he was the one that pushed through the rule to get MPs to disclose their expenses.
  7. I doubt He would get another private members bill so soon.
  8. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    As long as he is busy exposing the hypocrisy of westminster he might leave me and my pheasants alone for one more season.
  9. Sven are you suggesting the public need to be kept in the dark so the politicians can screw the public in peace? In the first scenario you suggest, a no-comment on the grounds of National Security would suffice, but if you are trying to justify MP's lying to the country, their constituents and each other as necessary and even a good thing, that is incredible!

    Oh, and journo's are not our elected representatives so why on earth should the veracity of their comments have to meet the same standard as MP's?
  10. Sven, there you go again being irrelevant.

    The intent of this exercise is to prevent future politicans from telling porkies - I've never known a law brought in to be retrospective. Using your wisdom, every person who had ever smoked a fag inside a pub would be fined.

    Why is it unreasonable to expect an elected official to tell the truth?
  11. I agree with your point about Journos but your first example would have been covered by the Official Secrets Act, the second point - he would not have had to lie to save the economy if he had not fcukd it up in the first place and finaly Maggie's lie delayed the inevitable by how long? If we do not stop our elected representatives from playing fast and loose with the truth how can we possibly judge who should run the country - the best liar? And how do we stop them from lousing everything up if they can just lie about their involvment in it?
  12. You're forgetting that Sven wants to be a 'politishin' and he is just trying to protect the job spec that he aspires to.
  13. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Simple answer to the first point Sven: I'm afraid I cannot answer that question. Please refer your question to the MOD who deal with operational matters.

    As for the rest, nobody is requesting a law that would force a politician to give an answer, only that if they state something, it must be the truth.

    What is so difficult about that?

    Edited to add: self regulation my hairy chubbs. That's like a paedo regulating himself. Politicians lie, it's what they do, they have a penchant for it, nay, a habitual need. How can a bunch of habitual liars regulate themselves? By lying about the fact that they lied in the first place, or lying about how they dealt with it.
  14. elovabloke

    elovabloke LE Moderator

    I have been lied to in written communications with Ministers. We have all heard them, lie on the box, even the PM bends the truth. It appears that they can tell the odd porky without any comeback. Sven, you may have a point on issues of National Security, but I seem to remember legislation being in place to deal with.
  15. MPs' have always assumed the right to lie and have always excercised that right with extreme vigour.