Politicians are no strangers to the law

Despite what the public thinks of its politicians, it is very rare for an MP to be convicted of an offence serious enough to draw a prison sentence. The last sitting MP to go to jail was John Stonehouse, below, more than 30 years ago.

He was a Labour minister whose business affairs went belly up in 1974. He feigned suicide by leaving his clothes on a Miami beach. A month later, Australian police arrested an Englishman whom they thought might be the runaway peer Lord Lucan. It was in fact Stonehouse. He was still an MP while in prison awaiting trial for fraud but once he had been convicted, and sentenced to seven years, he had to resign, or he would have been expelled.

The last MP to be formally cast out, as opposed to resigning in disgrace, was a Tory, Peter Baker, who was elected in 1950, aged only 28. He started forging documents to avoid bankruptcy when his companies ran into trouble, and was expelled in December 1954.

In 1947, Garry Allighan, a journalist turned Labour MP, wrote a sensational article alleging that MPs were selling parliamentary secrets to newspapers. A committee of investigation found two culprits, one of whom was Allighan. MPs voted 187-75 to expel him.

One of the great political comebacks of the century was by the Liberal MP, Horatio Bottomley, who resigned in 1912 because he had gone bankrupt after narrowly escaping jail for fraud. He re-emerged as an ultra-patriotic journalist during the war, used money from the sale of war bonds to discharge his bankruptcy, and was elected as an independent in 1918. At his next trial for fraud, in 1921, he was sentenced to seven years. He was the first MP expelled from the Commons that century.

The former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken might have become the fourth when he drew an 18-month jail sentence in 1999 for perjury but he was spared that particular disgrace because he had unexpectedly lost his seat in the Labour landslide two years earlier.

Jimmy Thomas, one of the few Labour ministers to serve in Ramsay MacDonald's coalition government, resigned after being caught in 1936 leaking budget secrets to his son, a stockbroker. A Tory, John Cordle, resigned in 1977 over his links with the corrupt architect John Poulson.

Two other 20th-century MPs had to resign after being convicted of what were thought then to be serious offences. Arthur Lynch, an Irish MP, was sentenced to be hanged in 1903 for fighting against the British in the Boer War. The sentence was commuted and he was back in the Commons after six years. Sir Paul Latham, a Tory, went to fight the Nazis, was caught having gay sex with fellow soldiers, and was sentenced to two years. By our standards, neither man had done anything wrong.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power