Letters: Parliamentary privilege

Parliament must rule on MPs' privilege claim
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The Independent Online

Harriet Harman has stated that the criminal law relating to theft, false accounting and obtaining by deception "applies to MPs like anyone else" and that before bringing charges against three MPs and one peer relating to their expenses claims the DPP, Keir Starmer QC, will have considered any possible defence. The implication is that they cannot avoid trial by invoking parliamentary privilege.

It appears from your report "You cannot prosecute us, MPs facing theft charges claim" (6 February) that the MPs concerned have been given different advice by "eminent QCs". Further, the DPP, in his statement announcing the charges, acknowledged that the applicability of any parliamentary privilege claimed "should be tested in court."

That is not satisfactory. The standing of Parliament will only be further harmed if criminal proceedings are delayed by protracted appeals – possibly up to the Supreme Court – to determine this constitutional issue.

As the Home Secretary said over the weekend, the public would be "aghast" if the MPs could side-step the charges by invoking parliamentary privilege. Since there appears to be an all-party consensus on this, what Parliament should do is to put the matter beyond doubt by enacting a one-clause Bill declaring that matters relating to expenses claims are not "proceedings in Parliament" and that the ordinary criminal courts are to have exclusive jurisdiction. With all-party support, such a measure could be passed into law within one day.


Groton, Suffolk

I would like to know why the Government does not use a Bill of Attainder in the case of the MPs accused of false accounting. A Bill of Attainder is a legislative device that allows Parliament to declare guilt and impose punishment on an individual without bringing the matter before the courts. It was first used in 1321, which is before the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

Alistair Watson


Tearful Campbell ducks the question

Alastair Campbell complaining about a BBC interview? It is they who should be complaining.

By appearing to break down, the old master achieved his objective of failing to answer the question. Andrew Marr was not pursuing an agenda. He was seeking to know, like everyone else, why all the intelligence about WMD pointed one way, from UN inspectors to British sources, and Blair chose to take the opposite view. In the process of course Blair lied to Parliament and kept repeating the legality question to Lord Goldsmith until he got the right answer. No wonder Campbell broke down to avoid answering the unanswerable.

What hurts most about all this is that the perpetrator of the subsequent loss of British and Iraqi lives is making a killing on the US lecture circuit as a result, and, in the sickest joke of all, was appointed special peace envoy to the Middle East.

Pete Parkins


Alastair Campbell seemingly close to blubbing on the Andrew Marr show made me feel sick. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people died in Iraq. Campbell and his master Blair are culpable for that. Shed your tears for them. And while you are about it how about some tears for David Kelly?

I really can't take Labour politicians and spin doctors suddenly finding tears just before a general election.

Peter Moore


During his years in Downing Street Alastair Campbell played a very hard game, sometimes at significant personal cost to those he perceived as opponents. It is hard to believe that his tears on a TV studio couch this weekend will elicit much sympathy from those he has trampled over the years.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Is Howard Jacobson sure he wants to defend Tony Blair against the charge of mendacity on the grounds of his "sincerity" (Opinion, 6 February)? For what is sincerity? The sincere person is simply one who, taken in by his own act, convinced by his own propaganda, is more interested in defending his self-image that in providing accurate descriptions of the world.

He is, as we say, a "bullshitter", and as the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt observes, "Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

The Revd Kim Fabricius


Antisemitism label for critics of Israel

I was sorry but not surprised to read Jonathan Hoffman's extraordinary letter (3 February) yet again equating any criticism of Israel with racism.

I once served on an executive body wrongly labelled as anti-semitic for actions taken over a third party's criticism of Israeli policy. Over some weeks, we received press attention, from Israel to the US, and an avalanche of abusive emails, many of which described the deep personal outrage of each individual sender, in identical wording.

A potential partner, with whom we had hoped to join in a large charitable initiative, withdrew from discussions. Some of our income was put at risk.

Ever since, I have had a grudging understanding of the pusillanimous stance taken by the US and others towards Israeli policies.

Both sides in this awful conflict have committed terrible actions, but one side has been more effective than the other in shaping reactions in north America and to a lesser extent in Europe.

Peter Robb

London N1

Jonathan Hoffman knows of no example of a critic of Israel being incorrectly labelled anti-semitic. I was smeared with the label of antisemitism when I first wrote publicly about the Palestinian ordeal in the mid-1980s.

Those who deploy the charge of antisemitism on critics of Israel risk debasing the coinage. Antisemitism remains too serious an issue to be casually conflated with the Palestine-Israel conflict by those who cannot defend Israel by rational argument.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Criticism of Israel's policies, even very harsh criticism, is totally legitimate and has nothing to do with antisemitism (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 8 February) . It is being done in Israel itself daily. But critics, Jewish or not, who deny the right of Israel to exist, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while not opposing any other nation-state, exhibit a clear racist attitude and can be rightfully called antisemites.

Dr Jacob Amir


Right judgment by Cherie Booth

A number of correspondents have criticised Cherie Booth for showing leniency to a convicted man on the grounds that he was a pious Muslim.

When considering sentence, particularly on a first offender, a judge takes into account all their circumstances. If they are essentially rootless, with no familial or social ties to provide a support network, they are unlikely to benefit from a community sentence. (They're unlikely to benefit from a spell in prison either, but that's another issue.)

Faith alone with not provide such support, but a faith which links them into a supportive community will, and it is therefore reasonable to consider that when sentencing. Cherie Booth's judgment was valid but unfortunately worded.

Ann Duncombe


Dinner at the Commons

You report (5 February) that "Charles Kennedy hosted a dinner for Michael Conn Goldsobel solicitors in November 2004", and that, as a consultant to that firm, I donated £1,002 to the Liberal Democrats on 31 December 2004. I really hate to ruin a conspiracy theory with the facts, but here they are:

The dinner was of the trustees of the Liberal Democrats, with Charles Kennedy as their guest. He therefore sponsored it. As the then secretary to the trustees, I organised it. For administrative convenience, I dealt with the parliamentary authorities from my office, to which address the bill was sent. It was paid pro rata by those attending. Michael Conn Goldsobel had no other connection with the event. My reported donation is in fact the annual aggregation of my monthly standing order to the Liberal Democrats, which way preceded this event and is still in force.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

Thomas Aquinas pronounces on sex

E Jane Dickson (Opinion, 6 February) is correct to maintain that sex for any purpose other than procreation was regarded as sinful by Thomas Aquinas, the reason being that intercourse, conducted naturally and without interference, leads to the birth of a child.

Because, for Thomas, any act of intercourse which was open to procreation is "in accordance with nature" (secundum naturam), rape, pre-marital sex and adultery were the least of the sexual sins because for each a man and a woman were required. The husband's or father's property rights were violated, of course, but that is outside the sphere of sexual sins.

What may strike a modern student of Thomas as amazing is that he saw bestiality as less sinful than homosexual sex. For in a sex act between a person and an animal, there is only one sinner, the human agent. A sex act between two men is the worst of the sins "against nature" (contra naturam).

I have yet to find in Thomas either a mention or a condemnation of lesbian sex, because there is no misuse of sperm.

Dr Michael JOHNSON


Given the reputedly hardline approach of the Pope on the question of "equality", and the forthcoming canonisation of Cardinal Newman, it will be interesting to see what gloss is put upon the sexuality of "England's leading convert".

Though Newman was probably a life-long celibate, his friendship and love for Richard Froude, and subsequently Ambrose St John, his companion of some 32 years, would place him in the "Don't ask, don't tell" section of the papal battalions.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

Brutalist car park defies bulldozers

The article "Battle to save Britain's Brutalist buildings from the bulldozer" (6 February) made interesting reading but contained one inaccuracy. The Gateshead Get Carter multi-storey car park did not come down last year. Some of it came down but then demolition was stopped in the autumn.

It had been given an initial demolition date of the end of 2007. Great cheers went up when demolition finally started in 2009. But now Gateshead residents look on in frustration that this half demolished monumental monstrosity continues to blight the town centre. At current rate of progress, I fear it will fall down before the demolition teams give it the final push.

Dr Jonathan Wallace

Liberal Democrat Councillor


Eurozone solidarity

"Pigs", eh? It's good to know who your friends are when things get tough.

Peter Harvey

Barcelona, Spain

Alive and hoping

Thank you for publishing Mary Wakefield's article "Don't switch off the will to live" (6 February). My 26-year-old niece Michelle Wheatley has locked-in syndrome after suffering a stroke last year. She very much wants to live, as she has a young son and daughter. If anyone has doubts about this they should visit her website and see how this remarkable young woman is fighting to live as normally as possible at the care home she is in. Her dearest wish is to one day live in her own home with her partner and children.

Patricia rawding


Nearer home

No, Speke airport was not named after the explorer John Stanning Speke, as your travel quiz suggests (Magazine, 6 February). Speke was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book and is an area of Liverpool where the airport was built.

Nigel Rees


Wrong answer

I see from Brian Crinion's letter (8 February) that the quality of the Tory Party's polls has not risen since the 2005 election campaign. At that time they polled me by telephone. The first question was: "Which of these issues is most important to you: asylum, taxation or crime?" I replied: "Asylum – there's not enough of it." From that point on the questioner didn't seem to know quite how to deal with me.

Laurie Marks


Tough glasses

We were given a set of four Crystolac glasses (letter, 4 February) for a wedding present in 1948. They are marked on the bottom with one dot over five dots, presumably signifying manufacture in 1946. Three have survived and are in daily use.

Howard Fuller

ABINGDON, Oxfordshire