Skip to main content

Contempt of Parliament in 2004


The link is to Hansard in which the following exchange occurred

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on a point of order of which I have given you notice. As you know, robust debate is in the nature of politics and no one, least of all you, would want to inhibit that. However, I hope that you agree with me that there is an important distinction to be made between matters of argument and the deliberate misreporting outside this place of proceedings within it, including the doctoring of quotes from Hansard and the invention of votes by hon. Members on motions that were never moved.
My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is to say that that is what has been happening in Birmingham, where a Conservative councillor, Peter Douglas Osborn, distributed a leaflet misreporting a Hansard quote from the Minister for E-Commerce, Energy and Postal Services in respect of the Post Office urban reinvention programme. You will also be aware that Councillor Douglas Osborn, together with Liberal Democrat Councillor Holtom, has written to a third party alleging that I voted against a motion that did not exist regarding a post office in my constituency. Those documents follow allegations made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the city council in leaflets distributed in my constituency, also alleging that I and other Labour colleagues voted for a number of propositions concerning local post offices that were never put to this House.
May I therefore seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on what can be done to protect the integrity of the parliamentary record and to safeguard the reputations of hon. Members of all parties against those who seek to falsify them?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his point of order. He has raised a significant matter, which should be of concern to the whole House.

On 16 July 1971, the House resolved not to entertain any complaint of contempt or breach of privilege in respect of the publication of its debates or proceedings, but that resolution in no way removed the constraints on those who, for whatever reason, choose to misrepresent the proceedings of the House or to publish false or misleading reports of our debates.

As "Erskine May" makes clear, since at least 1699 the House has regarded the misrepresentation of its proceedings not only as a contempt, but as
"destructive of the freedom of Parliament".
Nothing in the 1971 resolution alters that view.

I can therefore advise the hon. Gentleman and the House that the deliberate or reckless misrepresentation of the debates and proceedings of the House is potentially a contempt of the House, against which the House may wish to proceed. Moreover, those who act in this way are unlikely to be protected in the courts by the unqualified privilege which normally attaches to the reporting of our proceedings.

I am sure the that House will take a serious view of the situation if the conduct which the hon. Gentleman has described continues.


The issue was that various Labour MPs have voted for funds to go to Post Office to close post offices.

Comments

Hywel said…
But that would be set against the Article 10 Protection for Freedom of Expression which the ECtHR has held gives particularly strong protection for political speech.
Jules said…
Hywel: There's a very good argument that preventing the perversion of the process of democracy by prohibiting misrepresentation of politician's voting record is "necessary in a democratic society [...] for the protection of the reputation or rights of others".

Whether it would succeed or not is an interesting question. There is, I would say, a "pressing public need" to prevent people from being misled concerning the actions of their representatives. However, the closest case law I can find is Lombardo & ors. v. Malta (2007). In this, the court said:

"The Court would in any event observe that the distinction between statements of fact and value judgments is of less significance in a case such as the present, where the impugned statement is made in the course of a lively political debate at local level and where elected officials and journalists should enjoy a wide freedom to criticise the actions of a local authority, even where the statements made may lack a clear basis in fact."

The main distinction I can draw between this case and the case we are discussing is that in the Malta case, the claimants had been found unable to prove their statements, which may or may not have been true in fact, whereas in this case we would be talking about statements that are provably false.

Not much to go on, but still something.
john said…
However, the statements I made as the then leader of the lib dems on Birmingham City Council were accurate.

Popular posts from this blog

Statement re false allegations from Esther Baker

Statement by John Hemming
I am pleased that the Police have now made it clear that there has been a concerted effort to promote false criminal allegations against me and that the allegations had no substance whatsoever.
I would like to thank Emily Cox, my children, Ayaz Iqbal (my Solicitor), my local lib dem team and many others who supported me through this dreadful experience. There are many worse things that happen to people, but this was a really bad experience.
It is bad enough to have false allegations made about yourself to the police, but to have a concerted campaign involving your political opponents and many others in public creates an environment in which it is reasonable to be concerned about ill founded vigilante attacks on your family and yourself. Luckily there was a more substantial lobby to the contrary as well, which included many people who were themselves real survivors of abuse, which has helped.
I am normally someone who helps other people fight injustice. …

Homelessness vs Selling Books

Candidates in elections tend to find themselves very busy with lots of things to do.  It is, therefore, necessary to prioritise things to ensure that the important things are dealt with.

To me the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping is an important issue.  Therefore, when Birmingham's Faith Leaders group contacted me to ask me what I would propose and whether I would work with them to make things better I was pleased to respond with my views and indicate that I would work with them after the election.

The Faith Leaders Group (Bishops and other religious leaders in Birmingham) have now sent out their report.

Sadly, according to their report,  I was the only candidate for Yardley to respond.  The group in their report said:

"Particularly disappointing was the lack of response from some of those candidates seeking re-election as MP for their respective constituencies."
It is worth looking at the priorities of my opponent.
Interestingly today she has decided to be at th…

Millionaires and politics

The Labour Party spent most of the last election criticising me for being a successful businessman (aka millionaire). That is business in the private sector employing over 250 people. It is worth looking at the situation for the Labour Candidate now:

For the year 2016-7 Annual Income from Parliament74,962Specifically for her book51,250Other media income etc5,322.82Total declared income131,534.82

Traditionally anyone with an annual income of over £100,000 has been considered to be a millionaire. I did not use my position in parliament to increase my income.


I have been asked for sources for this. This BBC piece looks at how one should define rich. It was written in 2011 so the figures will be slightly out of date. There are perhaps 2 relevant pieces:
"In 1880 a rich person would have had £100,000 in assets or an income of £10,000 a year, he says. About a hundred people a year died leaving £100,000 and by 1910 this was 250 - "a microscopic fraction of the number of death…