'MPs WARNED AGAINST "THROWING MUD" '
BBC NEWS ONLINE – 5 March 2009
MPs have been warned against 'throwing mud' about fellow politicians outside the House of Commons. Commons leader Harriet Harman said MPs should resist the temptation to make 'personal accusations' or they could damage the reputation of the House.
Tory MP Julian Lewis raised the issue in response to a newspaper story about his expenses claims. He said the story was 'scurrilous' but another MP had effectively endorsed it with a quote in the story.
Mr Lewis, who has spearheaded the campaign to allow MPs to keep their addresses private, found his second homes expenses under scrutiny in a News of the World article on Sunday. It accused him of 'milking' the allowance, by claiming it on his more expensive London home – but pointed out he had not broken any rules.
Lib Dem MP Norman Baker – a long time campaigner for more transparency on expenses – was quoted as saying:
'This is all further evidence that the second homes allowance has to be tightened up so the public can have confidence MPs only claim what they need.'
In the Commons, Mr Lewis did not refer to Mr Baker by name – in keeping with the Commons tradition that accusations should not be made against MPs who are not in the Chamber. But the New Forest East MP asked Commons leader Harriet Harman what 'basic standards of ethics' should be expected of MPs who
'endorse scurrilous charges against the personal conduct of other honourable members in the press'.
He said the article had accused him of hypocrisy and abusing the Parliamentary housing allowance and the quote at the end was 'a clear endorsement of the charges'. He claimed Mr Baker had since written to him to say he had not seen the full story nor had he been aware of much of the content.
'I believe that this is despicable behaviour,'
Ms Harman said she had much sympathy with him, and although MPs were 'fair game for the rumbustious political debate' they should be careful about allegations of wrongdoing or dishonesty – or they risked damaging the reputation of the Commons.
'In this chamber, there are very strict rules so that people actually have to have some evidence before they throw mud,' she said. 'And I think when it comes to personal accusations, members should not make those allegations against other honourable members outside the House.'
MPs BACKED MEASURE
Mr Lewis and Ms Harman have found some common ground on the issue of MPs addresses - he began campaigning to allow them to be kept secret from Freedom of Information requests on security grounds, following a High Court ruling last year.
Ms Harman, whose own home has been targeted by Fathers 4 Justice protesters, took the measure through the Commons. On Monday MPs backed a measure allowing election candidates to keep their home addresses secret.
[For later developments, click here.]