There’s talk of parliamentary perjurers being prosecuted, but MPs mustn’t become too punitive

Alf observed with more than passing interest the steps being taken in Britain to punish those who lie or mislead Parliamentary select committees.

He was apprised of this development, in the Mother of all Parliaments, by a report (here) in the Daily Mail.

Lying or misleading MPs during parliamentary committees could become a criminal offence.

He admits he did not pay attention immediately to this item.

He was drawn, rather, to a raft of other items about the daft antics of Poms including the story (here) of a psychic who persuaded sheilas to strip for him.

A psychic was jailed today for convincing vulnerable young women to strip naked to improve their chances of contacting the dead.

Karl Lang, 49, ‘brainwashed’ two women in their twenties who asked him to help contact their dead relatives.

A court heard heard Lang had an ‘almost hypnotic ability’ to make women overcome their inhibitions and told one of his women clients to ‘perform like a porn star’ to help increase her ‘psychic powers’.

Fair to say, Poms might cavil at any suggestion this fellow, too, is a Pom, because probably he is Welsh.

He was jailed at Cardiff Crown Court for two years and banned from practising as a medium, clairvoyant, spiritualist or healer for 10 years.

But that is to digress.

Alf eventually got around to reading the stuff about American-style powers being discussed by senior British MPs following banker Bob Diamond’s testimony to the Treasury Select Committee.

One MP accused the former boss of Barclays of ‘calculatedly and deliberately’ misleading Parliament.

British MPs are getting antsy, too, after a report accused three former News International executives of misleading a House of Commons inquiry into the phone hacking at the News of the World.

But it seems they have not being using powers available to them for dealing with sort of thing.

Powers to imprison those in contempt was used by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and between 1810 and 1880 there are 80 recorded cases.

However, in recent years, the powers have never been used and senior MPs are keen to consider whether prosecution might be a possibility in the future.

Parliament also has the power to impose fines and call miscreants before them but the last recorded incident of this was 1666.

Bugger me, Alf muttered over his bacon and eggs.

Betcha lots of porkies have been told since then.

The Mail went on to say –

In the U.S those found in contempt of a Senate or House Committee can be reported to the U.S Attorney for the District of Columbia for Grand Jury investigation.

It is believed certain committee members involved in the News International, Barclays and G4S inquiries are keen to follow this lead.

But there’s always a fly in the ointment – or flies.

Roger Rogers, Clerk to the House of Commons, said this could cause embarrassment.

‘The possibility that the court might find that the committee had not in fact acted fairly, and throw the case out, would be no more welcome,’ he wrote in a report seen by the Independent.

And Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration Committee, said he preferred to find a way which would not involve the courts.

He said a better option could be MPs censuring an individual, for example stating they could not hold public office.

‘I think we want to avoid judicial involvement in Parliamentary affairs if at all possible,’ he said. ‘And this would appear to be one way of doing that.’

In this country, for what it’s worth and as you will learn here, people are expected to be respectful and truthful.

When giving evidence before a committee, you
are expected to be respectful and to tell the truth.
Deliberately attempting to mislead a committee
and ‘misconducting oneself’ are examples of
actions that could ultimately result in a finding of
contempt of the House.

But evidence given on oath is subject to the laws of perjury.

A committee can require a witness to give
evidence on oath. This is an infrequent procedure
but if it is used, such witnesses are subject to the
laws of perjury and face the possibility of
criminal prosecution if there is evidence of
perjury.

A recent case of someone sailing close to the wind, in the candour department, was when DOC director general Al Morrison failed to mention a raft of job cuts, when asked about staffing during a committee examination of his department’s Estimates.

Next day, dammit, he announced more than 100 staff faced losing their jobs.

The matter was taken up (here) on No Right Turn.

The annual financial review process, which requires department heads and Ministers to front up to select committees to account for their performance, is a vital mechanism for ensuring proper oversight of government agencies. But it is predicated on honesty from those agencies. And it seems that under National, that honesty is breaking down.

On June 23, Department of Conservation chief executive Al Morrison appeared before the Local Government and Environment Committee. As part of the hearing, he was asked about expected job losses at DoC. He said there wouldn’t be any. The next day, he announced that he was sacking a hundred people.

Morrison has now been recalled to account for what seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the committee, and therefore Parliament. His response? Semantics, evasions, and lawyer-esque hyper-parsing:

The No Right Turn post cited a report (here) at Stuff

It said Morrison was hauled back before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee after concerns about his answers were raised by the Green Party MP Kevin Hague.

In an open letter to committee chairman Chris Auchinvole this week, Hague said he was not suggesting Morrison set out to mislead last month’s estimates hearing, but believed MPs were entitled to a more careful and direct response to their concerns.

”I do believe the select committee was misled, in that it gained an inaccurate impression of what was to occur,” the letter said.

Morrison was questioned by reporters after he appeared again before the committee.

He told the hacks (with a straight face too, Alf is led to believe) the reply that got him into trouble had been given in response to a specific question about whether any science positions would be lost.

”I’m still not in a position to say whether there will be science positions lost. I am in a position to say that my hope is, my ambition is, that we will not reduce the science budget.

”That’s the question I was asked, that’s the answer I gave. I stand by it and it is still the answer.”

Actually, he sounded somewhat huffy about the matter.

The point of a select committee was to answer questions that MPs asked, Morrison said.

”It’s not my select committee, it’s the select committee’s select committee and I answered the question I was asked.”

Hague said he was ”surprised” by Morrison’s comments to reporters afterwards.

He also said select committees ought to have a reasonable expectation that ministers and department heads who appear before them will provide the kind of information they need.

”That’s the problem with this. The information about job losses was highly relevant to the estimates hearing. But the committee members, who were unaware of the process happening in the Department, didn’t know to ask that specifically.”

No Right Turn was much more indignant.

So, he’s sacking people, who may include scientists, but he’s not sure how many, so he can’t really say that there will be job losses. It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

This is Not Fucking Acceptable. Government departments are responsible, through their Ministers, to Parliament. They work for us. For a department to sit down in front of a select committee and lie threatens the chain of democratic accountability which gives their functions legitimacy.

As for Morrison, he’s as much as admitted that he attempted to mislead the committee. Not only is that a clear contempt of the House, for which he should be dragged to the privileges committee; its gross misconduct for a senior public servant. He should be sacked.

Dunno why the matter was not pursued.

But Alf is mindful that politicians are apt to have their own frailties when it comes to honesty, candour and the art of being forthcoming.

They perhaps have damned good reasons for being reluctant to prosecute folk for telling lies.

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