30th April 2021
The relentless and casual dishonesty of the current prime minister Boris Johnson may still have political or parliamentary consequences.
I have submitted a complaint about Boris Johnson's conduct to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Why?— Margaret Hodge (@margarethodge) April 29, 2021
The PM has repeatedly failed to be honest, open or transparent about the donations & gifts he receives.
The PM's ethics advisor is toothless & has no independence.
But just as a thought-exercise, say, would it be a good idea to put the prime minister under oath (or affirmation) at PMQs?
Then, in theory, the prime minister’s mind would concentrate wonderfully, as he would be under some sort of punitive sanction in the event he knowingly said something false.
In this way, the position of the prime minister would be akin to a witness in a legal case, who is under pain of perjury in the event that they do not say the truth.
It is the sort of notion that can appeal to the mind’s eye.
It would not work easily in practice.
For example: who would determine whether the prime minister is saying something untrue or not?
If the house of commons as a whole, they can do this by motion already – although this will not happen in practice to a prime minister with an overall majority.
And, if not the house of commons as whole, who?
The speaker? A committee? An official?
How would they go about assessing whether there had been a falsehood or not?
And then there is the deeper – almost categorical – problem.
The prime minister is not providing evidence in answer to parliamentary questions.
This by itself differentiates the prime minister from a witness in legal proceedings.
A prime minster may be asked to give an account of the government’s position – an explanation, rather than a list of facts.
Indeed, any statements of fact are merely incidental to this giving of an account.
A prime minister can thereby provide a full answer to a parliamentary question and not state any fact at all.
Accordingly, the witness-perjury model is not an exact fit.
But how do you stop a prime minister – or any other minister – from stating untruths at the dispatch box?
Thee polite constitutional fiction is that honorable and right honorable members do not lie in parliament – and that is why they cannot (other than by a parliamentary motion) be accused of lying.
But this ‘good chaps’ theory is being flouted – brazenly so.
We therefor have a problem without an easy solution.
Putting the prime minister under oath may not work – but what would?
How can – in practice – there be a check and balance to a prime minister lying in the commons – if mere conventions do not matter any more?
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