Should it be a crime for the Government to mislead the public?


At the end of November this e-petition under the title of “Make it a criminal offence for MPs to mislead the public” was set up and within a few days it had reached the first critical point of 10,000 signatures. At that stage it was then necessary for the Government to respond to it and they did their usual approach and placed it onto the list of things to do. Finally on the 14th December they did so and by going onto the petition the whole of the response can be read. Since that point a number of people including me have also signed it and the current status is just over 84,500 signatures. If the petition was to be considered for a discussion it would need another 15,500 or so signatures and there is another four months for that to take place which one assumes will take happen. However what was a bit of a surprise was that on Tuesday (26th January) the Government responded to the same petition again. I have not seen any petitions that have had two attempts made by the Government before although of course there are thousands of petitions so it may well have happened before. The reason for the second response has been described as

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page

So I had a look at the two response just to see what has changed as clearly one would expect the revised element to be clear. The two responses each include an identical 553 word section and both are signed by the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons which is the Office of Jacob Rees-Mogg. The only difference is the opening sentence at the beginning of each of the two versions that the Government set out. Before looking at those it would be helpful to repeat the content of the whole of the petition:

A new offence should be created and legal sanctions should be introduced to stop MPs intentionally or recklessly misleading the public. This could restore a degree of trust in the UK’s political system.

MPs are able to say something written or unwritten that intentionally or recklessly misleads members of the public without facing criminal proceedings. This is not acceptable in a modern democracy. It is in the public interest that MPs who conduct themselves in this way face legal repercussions if they cannot prove what they say written or unwritten is true and accurate.

MPs must respect their voters and being open, true and honest with voters is a vital part.

So the opening statement in the first response back on the 14th December was:

MPs are accountable to their electors. They must abide by the Code of Conduct and supporting rules and allegations of misconduct will be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Whilst the opening statement on the rest of the same response that took place on 26th January was:

The Government does not intend to introduce legislation. MPs must abide by the Code of Conduct and allegations of misconduct are investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Now of course the first opening sentence was not a lie, but it was certainly not a very good response from the leader of the Commons to people who had signed the petition. Perhaps once it passes the 100,000 the rest of Parliament could reflect on this as well as how they would like their role to be made accountable in a way that goes a long way further than simply being able to vote them off or vote for them to go if they do actually break a conventional law.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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