MPs who made false allegations under Parliamentary privilege have highlighted a difference in the scrutiny of them and the scrutiny of police, and even of police and crime commissioners (PCCs).
The adjournment debate in the House of Commons last night was a damning indictment of the current political system and demonstrates why MPs are held in such low regard.
By their incredible allegations, four Conservative Avon and Somerset MPs – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Charlotte Leslie, Ian Liddell-Grainger and Liam Fox – made a series of accusations that, had they been made in any other place, could have led to libel proceedings.
They sought to advance the cause of the former Avon and Somerset Constabulary chief constable Nick Gargan who resigned after lengthy and expensive misconduct proceedings.
The MPs used the poorly-attended Adjournment Debate to attack the independent police and crime commissioner and obtain a private meeting with the Policing Minister for Mr Gargan.
For example, Mr Liddell-Grainger said one superintendent was only promoted because of his role in the events. He told the House of Commons: “The PCC has promoted a senior officer who released a letter as a superintendent. He basically stabbed his boss in the back and then turned up as a senior commander in Somerset. What confidence can we have when we have a badger cull, Hinkley Point, serious flooding two years ago and a man who quite honestly is there because he is — this is a horrible term — a poodle of the PCC?”
This showed that he did not understand the promotion process as well as getting his facts completely wrong. It, inevitably, led the force issuing a statement correcting the MP.
Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Morgan said: “During an adjournment debate a number of comments were made under parliamentary privilege which are categorically incorrect.
“Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger MP claimed that Chief Superintendent Ian Wylie was promoted to Somerset as a result of signing a letter to the PCC, Sue Mountstevens, in his capacity as chair of the Avon and Somerset Superintendents' Association. The letter expressed the views of the association with regard to Mr Gargan following the findings of the misconduct panel published on July 9, 2015.
“The truth is Ian Wylie was promoted well before the misconduct proceedings were even brought. He was subject to a robust selection process involving a properly constituted panel in September 2014. His posting as chief superintendent for the Somerset policing area was confirmed on June 12, 2015.”
Ms Leslie then falsely identified a current employee of the force as the whistle-blower cited in the report of the misconduct panel into the allegations against Mr Gargan.
T/Chief Constable Morgan said: “The person she identified is not a whistle-blower, nor are they mentioned in the report.
“My overriding obligation is to the duty of care to my staff who today have found themselves unnecessarily drawn into the broader matters concerning Mr Gargan. It is wholly inappropriate that they should be subjected to these inaccurate statements.
“Any repetition of these inaccuracies would be unfair and irresponsible. I have tonight invited both MPs to withdraw their comments.”
After speaking to Ms Leslie, Hansard was amended so as not to identify who she alleged was the whistle-blower, but the overall assertion remains. The broadcast showing the words she used can still be viewed online through a number of sources, including Parliament’s own TV channel.
As the Commons chamber emptied, the four MPs roundly praised each other’s passion and contributions to Parliament. An almost empty chamber was left with only two Ministers and the Speaker to challenge the fairness of the allegations being made.
Had such inaccurate remarks been made publicly by a police officer, an independent investigation would no doubt have ensued.
Yesterday the Home Office published a consultation document that detailed proposals to increase powers to scrutinise PCCs but it was later withdrawn as it was still a “working document”.
The MPs achieved their aim and the Minister acquiesced to their demands for a meeting to discuss the so-called “unfairness” to Mr Gargan.
In my view, it is no coincidence that MPs chose this moment to attack the current independent PCC; Avon and Somerset Conservatives chose their candidate for the 2016 PCC elections last week.
We wait to hear if the MPs will indeed retract their statements made in the Commons, but in the actions they have taken they have done nothing to improve the reputation of MPs, nor of politicians in general, however much they pat themselves on the back.