Cameron: Accused MPs must face justice

David Cameron will pledge today to change the law to prevent the “disgusting sight” of MPs using parliamentary privilege in a bid to avoid prosecution for expenses abuses.

The Tory leader will also challenge Gordon Brown to withdraw the Labour whip from three MPs who have been charged with false accounting over their claims.

And in a personal attack, he will accuse the British Prime Minister of helping to create the culture at Westminster that led to the expenses scandal and the collapse of public confidence in politics.

The intervention, in a speech in central London, comes amid fury over speculation that the trio – David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine – will argue that parliamentary privilege exempts them from prosecution.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday flatly rejected the idea that the principle should provide a “get out of jail card” for MPs.

“My colleagues in Parliament should get a fair trial,” he told the BBC. “That fair trial should be on the same basis as any member of the public who goes through the courts system.

“The whole point about this, this dreadful, dreadful, damaging year that we have had here, is that people want to see MPs treated in the same way as they would be treated had they broken the law.”

Mr Cameron will insist that Mr Brown has shown he is “just not capable” of dealing with the issues involved in reforming Parliament.

“Look how he tried to block the publication of expenses,” he will say.

“Look at his disastrous interventions – from the YouTube fiasco when he proposed paying MPs just to turn up – to his own failure to turn up and vote against the John Lewis list...

“And look how he tolerates the disgusting sight of Labour MPs taking parliamentary privilege designed to help MPs fight for their constituents; for truth and justice and abuse it in order to save their skins and avoid prosecution for fraud and wrongdoing.”

“Even worse, it’s been reported that the Labour Party’s official solicitor is providing the three MPs with legal advice.

“At the very least, Gordon Brown should immediately clarify whether the Labour Party is paying for that and withdraw the whip from these shameless Labour MPs.”

Mr Cameron – who has already withdrawn the Tory whip from Lord Hanningfield after he was charged with false accounting over his expenses – will lambast the PM for “cynically” backing voting reform to save his own skin.

And he will accuse him of blocking parliamentary reforms proposed by a cross-party committee led by Labour backbencher Dr Tony Wright.

The Tory leader is calling for MPs to delay their half-term break by a day so they can debate the proposals – including electing select committee officials and giving rank-and-file MPs more control over House business – on Thursday.

“How Gordon Brown can claim to be a reformer with a straight face, I just don’t know,” he will say.

“He can’t reform the institution because he is the institution: he made it.

“The character of his government – secretive, power-hoarding, controlling – is his character.

“Just as he’s the roadblock to public service reform, he’s the roadblock to political reform.”

Mr Brown has been an MP since 1983, whereas Mr Cameron has only been in Parliament since 2001 – although he worked for the Conservative Party as early as 1988.

Mr Cameron will disclose that he has asked shadow leader of the House George Young to draft a Parliamentary Privilege Act that would clarify the rules and prevent the principle being misused.

The Labour Party rejected the suggestion that it was providing legal advice for Mr Morley, Mr Chaytor and Mr Devine.

“The party has not and continues to have absolutely no involvement in the legal arrangements of these MPs, who were barred from standing as Labour candidates last year,” a spokesman said.

Aides to Leader of the House Harriet Harman said motions had been tabled on Friday to implement the Wright reforms and a parliamentary debate had been scheduled for February 22.

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