David Laws: questions for him, questions for political journalists

The advanced leaking of a supposedly highly confidential Parliamentary report is just the sort of tip that political journalists love and we all often enjoy reading or hearing about.

But there are leaks and there are leaks, as the widespread leaking of the Parliamentary Commissioner’s report into David Laws demonstrates with the three questions it raises.

First, it’s not news that the Parliamentary Commission has found David Laws broke rules – he himself previously said he had and reported himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner. What will be new news, when it comes out, is what the Commissioner has found as a result of his investigations into David Laws’s motives and the financial impact of his decisions. Will it be the case, for example, that he finds the taxpayer actually was financially significantly better off as a result of the actions Laws took? An MP who breaks the rules and ends up significantly financially worse off as a result is a rather different case from an MP who breaks the rules into order to personally profit.

Second, are political journalists being played by someone with access to the full report who is wanting to spin the verdict by leaking a partial version of it? The story is so high profile it’s easy to understand why a political journalist might not be able to resist running the story, even if they haven’t been given the full story. But if it turns out there’s substantial news in the rest of the report (such as David Laws having been out of pocket as a result of the rules he broke), it’ll rather look as if too many political journalists have been just a little too easy to manipulate.

Third, the signs so far point to the leak having come from one of the MPs on the Standards and Privileges Committee. They have a semi-judicial role in making impartial judgements about the behaviour of others. If one of them is leaking stories, especially if they are leaking the stories for partisan advantage, is that a body really fit to continue in its present form?

If a member of the public sitting on a jury was leaking information in a similar way, or a councillor on a local government standards committee, they could face major repercussions. MPs should not plead special treatment for themselves.

As to who a leaking MP might be? These are the people on the committee:

Kevin Barron (Chair) Labour
Paul Beresford Conservative
Tom Blenkinsop Labour
Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat
Tom Clarke Labour
Geoffrey Cox Conservative
Matthew Hancock Conservative
Oliver Heald Conservative
Heather Wheeler Conservative
Alan Whitehead Labour

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34 Comments

  • It’s pretty poor that this has been leaked. My guess is a Labour MP.

  • He may not have profited financially but he benefitted by covering up his private life. He was fiddling the system to protect his own interests – in this case the concealment of his sexuality.

    Secondly, it seems like a breach of six rules was always going to be the story so I wouldn’t worry about political journalists being manipulated. Leaks are a fact of political life as is the constant party political battle. Not a new situation

  • Also, is it eight that David Cameron was calling for Laws’ return almost a year before this ‘semi-judicial’ process. He could have feasibly been prosecuted so that was a little bit of pre-judgement don’t you think?

  • The key thing surely is that he broke the rules. He committed fraud. Any benefit claimant that did the same thing would be in prison. If Laws return to the cabinet I think we can draw the conclusion that the Lib Dems have learnt nothing from last Thursday and are determined to be a mini me version of the Tory party. How can that spell anything other oblivion?

  • How can you come to the conclusion that it may be found that ‘the taxpayer actually was financially significantly better off as a result of the actions Laws took.’ and say that excuses his actions? What Laws did was to claim expenses which financially enriched his lover. Which was, and still is a clear breech of the rules. This isn’t about the SPC, leaks, or journalists, as much as some would like to deflect from the real issue, this is about Laws, and his expenses claims.

  • richard heathcote 11th May '11 - 12:12am

    Why do people defend manipulating or breaking rules for personal profit. Id like to know how exactly was he entitled to claim rent or mortgage relief etc. when he was living with his partner in London. Should we really be paying housing costs to people who have a residence in London, This is not aimed at just David Laws this is aimed at all politicians why do we pay for peoples 2nd homes? If they need to spend periods of time in London let them use hotels like most other people have to do. This subsidy to people who don’t even need the money is laughable.

    I would also suggest if Laws wasn’t a Lib Dem the reaction on these pages would be totally different if it was an MP from Labour or the Tories i would imagine people to be up in arms about the claims of £40000 and rightly so.
    When people who claim benefits they are not allowed to take, and for far smaller ammounts, are sent to prison then i think the public expect our MP’s to be treated the same.

    I really think Expenses need far more scrutiny and i think there should be limits on what people can claim for buying property for people is certainly a luxury we cannot afford.

  • Leaking of these type of things is certainly not desirable. I think the chairman of the committee should look into who leaked the report. As for David Laws he is a very talented individual and would be a welcome addition to the government at some point in the future.

  • An MP who breaks the rules and ends up significantly financially worse off as a result is a rather different case from an MP who breaks the rules into order to personally profit.

    Thanks for the advice, I must remember that defence next time I rip my employer off.

    If Laws returns to government the press will have a field day at Clegg’s expense – all his high and mighty speeches a year ago will be rolled out and laid bare and the electorate will have even more reason to despise him.

    Cameron’s hand of greeting to Laws is nothing more than a cynical trap that Clegg may blunder into – Cameron did it over AV so don’t think he won’t over this.

    Clegg needs to take a deep breath on this one and think about the implications rather than follow this sort of hypocritical justification to excuse Laws’ actions.

  • Kevin Colwill 11th May '11 - 1:32am

    @Jedibeeftrix…is it in the best liberal tradition to punish the misdeeds of those you like less harshly than those you don’t? I rather imagined liberals would be against that sort of thing.

    Laws was part of a team advocating cuts that will leave tens of thousands of ordinary people much worse off at the same time as breaking the rules concerning his own finances. That doesn’t display much talent.

    The fact that he resigned quickly is to his credit. The fact that he presented his sexuality as an explanation for his actions is not.

    In a sound bite…I don’t care if he’s gay or straight but in his position he should have been totally straight about his finances.

  • Of course the taxpayer was worse off. He claimed money to which he wasn’t entitled.. the payments made to his partner are the amount by which the taxpayer is worse off as these should have amounted to NIL under the rules.

    I

  • @mark pack – it pains me to say this. You are an intelligent man, but this is one of the worst examples of political spin that I have come across, reminiscent of the bad old days of one Mr Blair.

    LEAK
    Yes, maybe it is a leak. But the place is like a sieve at the best of times and besides, a) the report will be out in the next day or so, and no one really stands to gain from early disclosure. Do not hide behing the issue of probity when talking about this sordid episode.

    CONFESSION?
    “…(Laws) himself previously said he had and reported himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner.”
    – He was forced to by the imminence of the Telegraph story. If he’d felt he’d done something wrong, he wouldn’t have accepted the post at the Treasury, would he? Would he?

    WORSE OFF, WHERE?
    Bizarre moral relativism! I assume you’re implying that had Laws rented from an unconnected third party, he could have claimed more. If he’d wanted to keep his private arrangements just so, he could have simply not claimed!

    HOMOPHOBIA
    I can understand any public figure wanting privacy, but this I am sure would have been respected if it did not involve a fiduciary relationship with the taxpayer, in terms of claiming expenses and where – as with all politicians – one claims to have greater integrity than your opponents. The spectre of homophobic reaction simply does not wash in these particular circumstances. As for sensitivities with his family, while I respect and sympathise with this view, I cannot see why the expediency of not claiming at all would not have sufficed.

    After all the scandals over expenses, I am truly dismayed by Lib Dem reaction both at the time and now. As a number of others have said above, we seem to have selective vision and are at least as tribal, narrow and deluded as those in other parties.

    Ho hum!

  • daft ha'p'orth 11th May '11 - 2:46am

    Although I have no particular feelings about this leak one way or another, there’s something about this thread that brings Yes Minister to mind.

    “That’s another of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he’s being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.”

  • Andrew Suffield 11th May '11 - 7:21am

    Why do people defend manipulating or breaking rules for personal profit.

    I don’t see anybody doing that.

    Id like to know how exactly was he entitled to claim rent or mortgage relief etc. when he was living with his partner in London.

    I suggest you consult the rules on MPs expenses. We’ll have to wait for the report to be released to be sure, but he does appear to be entitled to claim for this like every other MP. The issue is that he made the wrong type of claim; this is a curious issue because it looks like the right sort of claim would have given him more money. (Again, have to wait for the report to be sure)

    Should we really be paying housing costs to people who have a residence in London

    An interesting question, to be sure. But one which is not relevant to the subject at hand.

  • 1. He lied and broke the rules on expenses.

    2. He continued to do so in light of the scandals of the previous few years.

    3. As an MP we are entitled to expect honesty and integrity from him, he showed neither.

    He is not fit to be a Minister whatever his talents. He lost that right by his actions. If this was a talented Labour or Conservative politician we would all be creating havoc if there was talk of an early return to the front bench.

  • People here seem to be forgetting that the arrangement Laws had was originally well within the rules. He didnt set up an arrangement that was against the rules – what he did was not change an existing arrangement when the rules were changed. The reason he didnt change his arrangement when rules on partners were changes was that it would have been obvious that he was doing so because his male “landlord” was his partner, which he was obviously trying to avoid.

    Finally, it is also being forgotten, that Laws did in the end change the agreement of his own will. When the expenses storm broke the arrangement had already been ceased, but the FOI request reached into the past and pulled it up.

    Nevertheless, this was a real breach, and as a result he shouldnt go directly back into the Cabinet if rehabilitated. He should start at a junior level and work up.

  • Tony Dawson 11th May '11 - 9:41am

    Why is anyone vaguely-intersted in what this committee ‘finds’ about David Laws’ conduct? The committee (NB this does not reflect on all its members but it works by majority) is a joke whose members’ inability to detach themselves from self-interest is perhaps best demonstrated in the 2009 Spelman decision:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmstnprv/316/31604.htm#a17

    Nothing in the findings of the committee will alter the facts:

    (1) David Laws is a very able man and a good Liberal

    (2) David’s judgement in the matters where the committee are investigating, where he broke the rules deliberately, after consideration, to achieve a particular end, was severely ‘shot’.

    Anyone thinking that restoring David to our Front Bench Team now, at a time when the public’s view of the Lib Dems is focused heavily on ‘Trust’ is several million Euros short of a bailout.

  • Old Codger Chris 11th May '11 - 9:42am

    We must wait for the official verdict.

    However, if Laws fraudulently claimed £40k of taxpayers money then – at the very least – he should be chucked out of Parliament. Assuming that won’t happen, he should be expelled from the Parliamentary party and Yeovil will have to find a new candidate for 2015.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 11th May '11 - 10:07am

    @Mark Pack “But if it turns out there’s substantial news in the rest of the report (such as David Laws having been out of pocket as a result of the rules he broke)…”

    Pardon?!
    Why break a rule that leaves you out of pocket? Call me stupid but wouldn’t it be easier to not break the rules in the first place?

  • It is quite simple.

    Laws broke the rules on claiming expenses, “By his own admission”

    He has since been investigated and found to have broken (6) rules, with regards to expenses.

    Rent to his partner,
    Utilities
    and for house repairs.

    If someone on Benefits, claimed they where single and renting a room from a landlord, and claimed out of work benefits & Including Council Tax benefits, Housing Benefits, When really there landlord was their live in partner.

    If they where caught, they would prosecuted, and as the rules now state, could be banned from claiming benefits for (x) amount of time.

    Why should these standards be any different for MP’s who are caught breaking the rules with their expenses?

    At the end of the day the expenses still come from Public money and it comes from (us) the (public)

    I don’t care about all this waffle, that what Laws claimed, was to protect his privacy, what a load of rubbish. The guy is a millionaire.
    A) Where are the rules that say an MP has to claim 2nd home expenses?
    B) IF he was joint owner of a property (named on mortgage papers) why would this expose him as being gay? Many people have joint mortgages and business arrangements who are not in relationships, that does not mean to say they are a couple.
    C) Mr Laws would be well aware that he would have been able to get a super injunction to protect any mention of his sexuality” in the media’s investigations over his expenses, as it was only in the public interest to expose the breech of expenses not his personal life.

    I do not believe MR Laws should be allowed to return to the front bench at any time.

    In My opinion, Mr Laws should now face the same procedure as others who have gone before him, who have gone through the judicial system over their expenses.

    Members of Parliament are elected into Westminister by the faith of the electorate, to represent them, and conduct themselves in a way which is honest, beyond reproach and fit to hold office.

    IMO David Laws, has failed to do this, and I believe people from his constituency should have the right to a by-election.

  • I have always felt very sorry for David Laws in the same way that I feel sorry for Max Mosley.
    Both have probably been imprinted from childhood by intolerant influences.
    Poor old Max, son of Oswald and Diana Mitford , had the odds stacked against his growing up to an ordinary dull adult life.
    David Laws, I understand, was brought up and educated under a Catholic regime of the Brideshead type.
    I understand that in Catholic teaching homosexuality is a sin? And hence the guilt.

    The secrecy aspect is also very understandable while we have such a cruel homophobic press..

    We must endure hypocritical blogs like Guido Fawkes; he poses as a family man and a defender of financial morality; but panders to lascivious readers with chauvinism, ( called “tottywatch”), and homophobia ; as a past hedgefunder he seeks to expose others whom he thinks gain from financial exploitation.
    Anyone woulld shrink from Guido’s crude and destructive approach.
    .
    I hope David will soon be able to return to frontbench politics.
    .

  • @Krsten de Keyser because the motive was to protect his private life (whatever we think about that) it is a motive.

  • @George Kendall
    “Instead, they pre-judge Laws’ guilt or innocence on cherry-picked extracts that paint him in the worst possible light”

    Sorry but there is no pre-judgement. He has admitted he broke the rules, and he has given a reason for mitigation. Whilst it is possible to feel an element of understanding (although public figures hiding their sexuality does little to help end the bigotry in our society), we have to be able to expect our MP’s to hold the highest standards of integrity.

    Ministers who break the rules cannot continue and should not be brought back into government for at least the duration of the parliament. He has shown himself to be unfit for a Cabinet post and like Mandelson (who returned in just under a year) in the last Government it would be wrong to return him so soon. I wonder if anyone wants to look back at the Lib Dem statements in that case…..

    There’s a wonderful scene in the film a time to kill (based around a black father in a southern US state taking revenge on two white men who raped his daughter). The lawyer makes the jury close their eyes and talks them through the rape of the child. At the end he asks them to imagine the child is white, the jury realise their predjudice. Before anyone goes off on one, I’m not equating the wrongs committed, but look at the circumstances and imagine it was George Osbourne.

    If your honest response is not the same in both cases then you are being tribal.

  • Steve Wilson 11th May '11 - 12:34pm

    Amazing spin.

    There’s none so blind as those that won’t see, as they say around my part of the world.

    Steve Way has nailed it. I’d only add that Laws should have apologised at the time and had the good grace to clear off and take his ‘talents’ elsewhere. The whole episode is an example of how the political class STILL sees itself above the law and tribal party members only see it as they want to.

  • @George Kendall

    You say that many are rushing to judgement. Aren’t you and mark Pack doing the same? You have both cast aspersions on the integrity of the members of the SPC without any supporting evidence. Why try to blacken someone’s name in order to support someone else?

  • Tony Dawson 11th May '11 - 1:26pm

    “It doesn’t seem much to ask to wait a day.”

    For an irrelevant report from an irrelevant committee with massive ‘form’ on bias.

    The facts are the facts. What this self-protecting group of MPs thinks about them is neither here nor there.

  • Tony Dawson 11th May '11 - 1:31pm

    ” You have both cast aspersions on the integrity of the members of the SPC without any supporting evidence. ”

    Splutter!!!

    The evidence is in NEARLY ALL of their reports. Honorable members are honorable members and will remain thought of as such, despite the preposterous nature of their defences unless it can be proven otherwise far beyond reasonable doubt. Nannygate was the classic example of this. Spelman’s defence was clear nonsense. But it was more than good enough for the SPC.

  • gramsci's eyes 11th May '11 - 2:39pm

    “An MP who breaks the rules and ends up significantly financially worse off as a result is a rather different case from an MP who breaks the rules into order to personally profit.”

    I think you will find that this was the defence of David Chaytor MP currently doing 18 month at HMP.
    “We submit that the sums he received, if he had gone about it transparently, honestly and frankly, he would have been entitled to every penny, if not more than he claimed.”

    What’s the difference?

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