Leading article: Unusual punishment

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Does the punishment fit the crime in the case of the Liberal Democrat MP David Laws? The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury certainly behaved foolishly in paying rent to his partner. But no one disputes that Mr Laws' motivation was fear rather than profit; the fear that his homosexuality would be exposed if he admitted that he was in a relationship with his landlord. This was a spectacle that inspired sadness, rather than condemnation. It was a reminder that even now some in our society still feel unable to be open about who they really are.

The House of Commons standards watchdog confirmed yesterday that Laws, unlike some other expenses-fiddling MPs, had not been motivated by profit. Yet the watchdog still recommends that Mr Laws be suspended from the Commons for seven days, a judgement that could jeopardise his chances of returning to a front-bench government role. Mr Laws admitted his guilt the moment his unwise arrangement was exposed. He paid back the money claimed and resigned from the Government. And Sir John Lyon's committee has taken an extremely long time to come to its conclusion. This was not a trivial offence. And the punishment does, just about, fit the crime. But Mr Laws has now been punished enough.

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