The Sketch: String 'em up, they said! (But their hands were tied)


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The Independent Online

They've been lied to systematically for five years, treated with contempt by News International, the police and prosecutors. So the MPs on the Culture Select Committee published a report detailing the most egregious examples and yesterday managed to get an emergency motion on the floor of the Commons. For what end? To have the villains flogged? Charged? Called to the Bar of the House?

Nope, the MPs only "refer" their report to another committee – a notoriously spineless and self-serving one – who will decide whether the conclusion is correct. Aching Norah! That the three NI employees "misled" or "made statements that were wrong" or "said the thing that is not" (or as The Sun might put it, "WAPPING LIARS' WHOPPING LIES!") is known by every single sentient creature in Britain. Including cockroaches.

And if the Privileges Committee does agree with their conclusions, what then? Who knows? Tom Watson in a short speech asked for some sort of "parliamentary justice". Chris Bryant in a long speech argued it was "a profound mistake not to use penal powers", at which Watson failed to completely suppress a yawn. Bryant wanted to use a parliamentary device to imprison the three. You only had to hear him say the words to know what a madcap idea it was. As Damien Collins pointed out, it would be immediately challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.

This has been going on for five years. This cat's cradle of procedure, of conflicting rights, of incompetent inquisition.

Even making witnesses give evidence on oath – thereby making them liable for criminal sanctions, as Kevin Brennan repeatedly pointed out – cuts both ways. Louise Mensch told us that they didn't use the oath because it gave extra legal privileges to the witnesses, and this would make it even more difficult to get at the facts. Our rulers are slung up in traction, they can barely move.

There was one good ribald laugh, at least, when Therese Coffey told us how unacceptable it was to "evade the truth when speaking to Parliamentarians". Maybe they could set us an example from time to time.