Parliamentary privilege is precisely that – a privilege. It was intended to ensure that Members of Parliament (of both Houses) should be able to speak freely in Parliament without the threat of litigation related to what they might say. It did not – quite rightly – exempt Parliamentarians from the criminal law.
However, listening to the howls of outrage about the attack on Parliamentary privilege from Conservatives when an investigation into alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act – an investigation that the Police had little choice about having to conduct – led to Damian Green MP, you would have thought that the Conservative Party wanted to adopt the Russian mode of Parliamentary privilege where members of the Russian mafia get themselves elected to the Russian Duma to avoid criminal charges.
Now – suddenly – the Tory Party position has changed – at least it is in a sensible direction this time. David Cameron has now adopted the Labour Party position articulated by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, who made it clear yesterday, in relation to the MPs and the Conservative Peer charged over their expenses, that people wanted to see MPs treated like everyone else:
“They are entitled to a fair trial and the public… would be aghast if they thought there was some special get out of jail card for Parliamentarians.”