Innocent until proven guilty and all that. I am happy to accept that Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for the Ribble Valley and facing various sexual offence charges, has done nothing wrong while we await due process and the slow-turning wheels of the criminal justice system. Indeed, I take the principle so seriously that I think that he should have continued as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. It is a rather enviable job, and I think an innocent person ought to be allowed to do it. “As many as of that opinion say Aye. The Ayes have it; the Ayes have it.”
However, it has become a constitutional convention that, when someone is charged with a criminal offence, he or she is expected to resign from certain kinds of public office. Chris Huhne resigned as Energy and Climate Change Secretary when he was charged with obstructing the course of justice. The fiction is that the resigner has to give up the job so that he or she can devote sufficient time to preparing their case, but the non-fiction is that we do not really believe in the presumption of innocence at all. We know that the Crown Prosecution Service will bring charges only when there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, and so we create a category in our minds in which some people are half-guilty.
Anyway, I won’t have it. Evans is totally innocent in my mind until the court finds otherwise, and I shall complain on his behalf about the police misusing their power of arrest and the pointless rigmarole, which will now begin, of his having to turn up to various courts to confirm his name and address, which is such a waste of the time and salaries of court officials and yet which no one seems to notice.
However, Evans has resigned as Deputy Speaker, as he confirmed in an awkward personal statement heard in embarrassed silence in the Commons yesterday, and herein the real scandal lies. Because it turns out that he is now entitled to a “severance” payment of £9,000 simply for ceasing to do the job.
This is just an example of MPs in the past having helped themselves to a trough of taxpayers’ money, using words from the private-sector labour market to conceal what they are doing. “Severance” is when you tell the stoker you have to let him go because someone’s gone and invented the internal combustion engine. It does not mean when someone who is totally innocent has decided that they must resign from a post to give them time to prepare their case against malicious and unfair accusations.
If he resigned as an MP, the situation might be different, and former MPs do have generous payments to soften the blow of not being on television any more. But Evans still has a job as an MP, which pays a salary of £66,000 a year. All he has done is give up a title, worth an additional £36,000 a year, and the Commons authorities say that they are legally obliged to offer him a quarter of it now that he has stood down.
However, Evans is not legally obliged to take the money. He should turn it down. He is entitled to the presumption of praiseworthiness until he accepts this unacceptable perk.Reuse content