Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

Jonathan Swift

No, of course, I did not vote against banning MPs suspected of sex offences from Parliament. Once again, a controversial issue is being misrepresented for political purposes. Alas that such is politics.

You can find the debate on Risk-based exclusion of members of parliament here and the related House of Commons Commission report here. As the Commons Leader explained, the Commission had updated its proposal in relation to the point at which risk assessment is triggered. Of course it is right to have a procedure to protect staff and members from members who may be a risk.

There was a division on an amendment to return to the original proposal for the point at which risk assessment is triggered: I voted against that amendment. The motion as amended was then carried without division and is now in force. Unusually, a division was called and then cancelled on the motion as amended. When the division was cancelled, I was in the aye lobby, waiting to vote for the motion. I am sorry it is somewhat complicated: this is why misrepresentation is so easy.

That is, I was ready to vote for the procedure to ban MPs on arrest for sexual offences. Alas that the cancellation of the division meant I could not record my name, making this misleading smear campaign possible.

When anyone is investigated for a crime, they are arrested and questioned, then charged if there is a case to answer, then they go to court. They are innocent until proven guilty. Justice demands that they are not named until they are charged, otherwise people are vulnerable to losing their reputation on false allegations. Alas that false allegations are a longstanding problem. I voted for MPs to have broadly the same protection as anyone else.

False allegations are a problem to which politicians are particularly vulnerable. Not only do we have many enemies who wish to bring us down but any allegation will have vastly more coverage than for a private person. We can therefore easily be ruined by malicious people trumping up allegations with no basis. 

So, the Leader of the House proposed, in line with the revised House of Commons Commission recommendation, that the process should start when an MP is charged, and therefore named. The amendment made the start of the process arrest. While that was the original House of Commons Commission proposal, they had updated it, I think rightly.

I voted against the amendment, then I was in the lobby to vote for the proposal as amended when the division was cancelled: of course it is right to protect people.

The fact that, in this case and so often, malicious campaigners misrepresent our votes to harm us does itself make the case that we are vulnerable to wicked people.  That’s why I voted to protect MPs from losing their reputations unjustly, before they are charged. 

MPs are only human. That means they err and fall short, alas including crimes. But we also fear being wrongly ruined by false allegations, and for good reason. If we continue down a path of leaving MPs so exposed, fewer people will stand and government will be worse. 

I regret that this slightly complicated matter has been exploited for political purposes. Shame on those who have misled members of the public and yet God bless them, preferably with the knowledge of their shame.

Update: The Speaker of the Commons explains, “no member voted against the exclusion policy.”

Alas that campaigners sought to use this vote to smear MPs. Such is politics I am afraid but is it any wonder people don’t want to get involved?

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