UK Politics

Denis MacShane 'not above law', says MP standards watchdog

MPs are not above the criminal law - but it is up to police whether they re-open their investigations into Denis MacShane, MPs have been told.

The former Labour minister quit as an MP for using fake receipts to wrongly claim more than £7,000 of expenses.

There has been speculation material gathered by the Commons watchdog was covered by Parliamentary privilege.

But Kevin Barron, chairman of the standards and privileges committee, told MPs that was not the case.

"There may have been suggestion MPs are above the criminal law. I just want to say this is not true and it really needs to be addressed," he told MPs.

He added: "If our report contains new material then the police can use it to guide their investigations, but receipts, invoices and claims are not privileged and do not become so simply because they are reproduced in a Parliamentary report."

Correspondence between the Parliamentary standards commissioner and Mr MacShane is, however, covered by privilege and could not be used in court - but "it is likely to be inadmissible anyway", added Mr Barron.

The Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service decided in July to drop their investigation into Mr MacShane's expenses, but the committee's report is understood to contain previously unseen material, leading to calls by some MPs for police to re-open the case.

Parliamentary privilege is an ancient right protecting MPs from legal action arising from events in Parliament.

'Outside the rules'

The standards committee found Mr MacShane had submitted 19 false invoices which were "plainly intended to deceive" Parliament's expenses authority.

The committee said it was the "gravest case" which has come to them for adjudication.

It suggested of the £12,900 claimed through false invoices, it was likely around £7,500 was "outside the rules", although Mr MacShane has apologised and repaid the entire £12,900.

In a statement on the committee's report, Mr Barron said: "The absolute sums were not the issue.

"It was the manner in which they were claimed, the flagrant disregard for the rules of the house and the failure to co-operate with the commissioner's investigations which most concerned the committee."

Commons Leader Andrew Lansley and his Labour shadow Angela Eagle both endorsed the committee's findings on Mr MacShane, who had recommended he be suspended from the Commons for 12 months, before he decided to step down.

Mr Barron, a Labour MP for neighbouring Rother Valley, said he hoped the past three years' events would not overshadow the good work Mr MacShane had done in his Rotherham constituency since being elected in 1994.

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