Furthermore, it has emerged that Rifkind was a member of the panel that helped appoint Hudson as Standards Commissioner, three years ago. Corruption?
The parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson is facing questions for criticising the media sting on Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, after regulator Ofcom found the reporting was of significant public interest and did not unfairly represent the MPs.
Ofcom opened an investigation into the programme in question, a joint operation between Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph, after Rifkind and Straw were cleared of cash-for-access allegations by Hudson and the standards committee of MPs in September.
The programme used secret filming to allege that the MPs offered their political connections to earn money from commercial companies.
After exonerating the MPs of breaching parliamentary standards, Hudson said the damage done to the former MPs could have been avoided if Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported the exchanges they had filmed.
The House of Commons standards committee was even more critical of the journalism, saying it was “very concerned that the matter should have been reported in this fashion”.
But Ofcom took a different view on Monday, saying there was a “significant public interest” in exploring the conduct of the MPs and that in the circumstances undercover filming was “proportionate and warranted”.
In its 38-page ruling, Ofcom also said that the filming was an “accurate representation” of the discussions the MPs held.
The debate in the Westminster Hall today (Monday) followed the submission of an e-petition to the Parliament website calling for the legalisation of cannabis, signed by 220,000 people – more than twice the number needed to gain a hearing among MPs.
Labour MP Paul Flynn, opening the debate, said: “I would like to illustrate how this Government—like all Governments—have handled this issue. It is typified by the response we had to this thunderously eloquent petition.
“The Government response begins with the statement that ‘cannabis is…harmful’.
“Cannabis is the oldest medicine in the world. It has been trialled and tested by tens of millions of people over 5,000 years. If there were any problems with natural cannabis, that would have been apparent a long time ago. However, all we have is this wall of denial by Governments who are afraid of the subject, afraid of becoming unpopular and afraid of it being said that they are going to pot.
I am not unrealistic, and I do not expect the Government to make a volte-face on recreational cannabis, but they should explain their position and realise what is going on. However, the case for medical cannabis, including in its natural form, is overwhelming.”
Some of that case was made by other MPs. Conservative (yes, Conservative!) Graham Stuart said: “My constituent B- M- suffers from Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, and she is allergic to most of the pharmaceutical medicines that are prescribed—in fact, they have given her ulcers. She has found effective pain relief only through cannabis… Sadly, the current situation sees her forced into the company of illegal drug dealers.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “The biggest scandal is that this Government, like successive Governments, have set their face against the evidence… If we look at an evidence-based approach, there is absolutely no correlation between a drug’s legal status and the amount it gets used. In other words, prohibition simply does not work.”
Former Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley (Con), who co-sponsored the debate, said: “There are practical reasons for wanting to move to legalisation. First, attempts to prohibit the sale and use of cannabis have failed. It is readily available and widely used.
“The second point is that they have failed despite the fact that 80 per cent of the effort in the so-called war on drugs goes on trying to prohibit the use of cannabis. If we provided some legal outlets for cannabis, that enforcement effort, the treatment effort and so on could be diverted to tackling hard drugs, which really do harm people, enslave people and, sometimes, kill people.
“Thirdly, keeping on the statute books a law that is widely ignored and impossible to enforce undermines faith not just in that law, but in law and the legal system more generally.
“Finally, legalisation would deprive the criminal world of a large and lucrative market.”
But Mike Penning, minister for policing, crime and criminal justice, wasn’t having any of it. The most he could offer was: “I am committed to working with other Departments and whoever else wants to work with us to ensure that, in the 21st century, where cannabis can be helpful through pharmaceuticals, we will try to make sure that that happens. I am committed to looking at the research and at what work we should be doing. This debate has been enormously useful, but I cannot support the petition.”
And that was the bottom line.
It’s sad to say that the conclusion to be reached after this debate is not one about whether cannabis should, shouldn’t, will or won’t be legalised, but about the usefulness of government e-petitions – and it is this:
We might as well write our petitions on toilet paper and flush them into the sewers. The Conservative Government we have now would pay just as much attention and respect to that as it will to anything coming in via the e-petitions website.
Not impressed: Members of the Labour front bench display their incredulity at George Osborne’s claims during today’s debate.
It’s always fun to see George Osborne being put on the back foot, and today’s attempt at justifying his over-extravagant claims (or indeed lies) about gaining a concession from Europe over its £1.7 billion surcharge was a classic of its kind – even more so because he allowd himself to be flattered into lying to Parliament.
This blog was one of many who challenged his claim within minutes of it having been made, so it was a joy to see Osborne dragged to the House of Commons to answer Ed Balls’ urgent question – a demand for a statement on the matter in which Osborne repeated the claims we’ve heard before: He’d halved the bill, he’d delayed the bill, he’ll pay no interest on the bill.
We know he hasn’t halved it; all that happened was the EU took pity on him and agreed to bring forward a rebate that was coming to the UK in any event, meaning that – instead of receiving some money back from the Union – we’re just paying less in.
It is likely that pity also applied in the decision to delay payment of the bill until the next financial year – one can picture the scene: Osborne imploring, “Please don’t make me pay! The deficit is already out of control this year and you’re asking me to add another billion to it!” – and the decision not to demand interest for every day’s non-payment after December 1. In fact, with an agreement to defer payment until the 2015-16 financial year, it would be unfair to demand such interest.
Having won those concessions from a position of weakness, Osborne’s mistake was to come back and pretend that he was in a position of strength. Nobody believed him.
Today, in the House of Commons chamber, even his own backbenchers seemed to find it hard to put up the pretence. Meanwhile, Mr Balls had the floor:
He began: “Talk about smoke and mirrors, Mr Speaker—I can barely see you through the Chancellor’s fog and bluster!”
He quoted the Austrian, Dutch and Irish finance ministers, saying: “They are queuing up to contradict the Chancellor.
“Is it not now clear that the Chancellor totally failed to get a better deal for the taxpayer?” he asked. “He did not reduce Britain’s backdated bill by a single penny. The British people don’t like being taken for fools, and his attempts to fool them have totally unravelled.”
Labour backbencher Geoffrey Robinson had to withdraw his words after claiming Osborne had committed “a gross act of deception worthy more of Goebbels than the British Chancellor of the Exchequer.” Clearly he is a long-term reader of this blog.
Paul Flynn called Osborne’s “result” – as the Chance(llo)r described it – as “a confidence trick”.
Osborne and his pals were deep in their own narrative by then, whining about details of the rebate and the interest rate on the surcharge, and trying to score points with questions about Labour MPs’ loyalty to their leader. Somebody should have told them that a couple of Labour MPs complaining about Ed Miliband is as nothing, compared to the defection of two Tory MPs to UKIP and calls by a further – 22, was it? – for David Cameron’s resignation or removal.
Oh yes… and a Mr James Arbuthnot seemed to think that the surcharge, which came about because the UK economy had performed better than expected over a period of time, was “because of the stunningly impressive handling of the economy by my right hon. Friend”.
To this, Osborne responded: “One of the reasons why this surcharge, as he puts it, has arisen is because of the strong UK economic performance relative to the continent of Europe.” If he had left it there, we would not be able to call this statement what it was. He didn’t; he added: “We should not be happy about the poor performance of the European continent. We want the European continent to be performing better.”
The second part of his statement makes it clear that he is referring to the recent performance of the continental EU countries, meaning that he was applying comments about the UK’s “strong economic performance” to the period when he was Chancellor.
He was lying to Parliament. We all know that the surcharge has arisen because of the UK’s strong economic performance between 2002 and 2009, when Labour was in office, under chancellors named Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. It had nothing to do with anyone called Osborne.
Having established that lie, there really isn’t any need to go further into the debate. There is no reason to believe anything Osborne says. The Goebbels reference – not permitted in the Commons chamber – is entirely apt; he was trying to feed us The Big Lie.
What a shame that it isn’t likely to be a vote-winner for you.
Postscript: Ed Balls is also to be congratulated for his handling of Martha Kearney on the BBC’s The World At One today (Monday). Ms Kearney was in belligerent mood, keen to interrupt Mr Balls before he could make any meaningful points about Labour’s economic plans. He was trying to make the perfectly reasonable point that the UK can clear its debts by building up the economy, but she dismissed this as a project that would take many years to pay off (thanks for the vote of confidence, Martha!) and pressed him to tell her what cuts he would make when he had already clarified what he would rather do instead.
Then she asked why he had not supported the #WeBackEd campaign on Twitter. He pointed out that he had made his support for Mr Miliband perfectly clear in a radio interview at the end of last week, before that campaign had started. “I think that was a silly question,” he concluded – and she had to admit defeat.
Dorries or Bone: Who is the most vile? That is the question facing MPs at the moment.
The position of deputy speaker in the House of Commons is vacant – and Tory backbenchers are falling over each other in the battle to make the silliest bid.
The vacancy has occurred after Nigel Evans quit the post to fight allegations of sexual criminality.
We have already heard that Nadine Dorries has made the priceless offer to put herself beyond Parliamentary debate by standing for election – now it seems that Peter Bone, he of the long-winded Parliamentary questions and the long-suffering wife, has also put his name in the hat.
For when he interrupted Paul Flynn during the debate on the Transparency of Lobbying Bill yesterday, saying “I am slightly worried that if he carries on for much longer we will not be able to grill the Leader of the House”, Mr Flynn responded that he would not want to deny the honourable gentleman — a possible future Deputy Speaker of the House — that privilege.
“I believe that he is one of the candidates,” said Mr Flynn. “It is fascinating to get these invitations. One from an honourable lady said, ‘Vote for me and you won’t have to put up with me on the benches. I will be silenced.’ Therefore, we are voting for the one we most want to silence and we think is most loathsome.
“It is a hard task, because we have a rich choice.”
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