Public inquiry details ‘potentially defamatory’ statements

I received a letter today from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Very nice people but sadly lacking the boldness to stand up to their lawyers. I’ve re-published my statement below along with the requested censoring so you can see exactly how little free speech we have in this country.

All requested ‘redactions’ are already in the public domain: Keith Vaz’s wheelie bin bill and train tickets are published on parliament’s own website along with Ann Widdecombe’s train ticket. The facts about Derek Conway and Michael Trend are widely published and appear in parliamentary reports and debate. If I’m missing something do let me know but otherwise this seems perfectly outrageous and I will not be agreeing to the requested censoring. And you thought Soviet Russia was bad.

Dear Ms Brooke,

Further to our telephone conversation yesterday, please see the list of suggested redactions below. When would be a good time to call you to discuss?
· On the second page, in the second paragraph redact from “That is how” to “Derek Conway”.

· On the second page, in the third paragraph redact the sentence “we do not know the full motivation of the person who exposed Derek Conway.”

· On the third page, in the paragraph under the heading “Reaction of travel information” redact from “Keith Vaz” to “based on reality”. Then redact from “it was precisely” to “blackout” at the end of the paragraph. [DN: This means redacting most of the paragraph, but leaves the basic point that redacting information on direction of travel makes it difficult for the public / media to scrutinise expense claims]

· On the third page under the heading “publish addresses” redact from “Keith Vaz” to “blocked toilet etc”.

· on the last page in the first paragraph redact from “when I heard” to “to view these receipts”.

Ruth Alaile
Secretary to the Committee on Standards in Public Life

6 Responses to “Public inquiry details ‘potentially defamatory’ statements”

  1. GF says:

    This is so outrageous that only a (very partial) devil’s advocacy can be given:

    To be fair to the poor Committee, they are not censoring you — unless I’m mistaken, in which case feel free to point it out and ignore this — but merely passing on their (as they put it) “suggestions” as to what to redact. Whether they should have done so is another matter, but you’re still entitled to submit what you original intended to, right?

    Furthermore, are they liable under the (admittedly idiotic and dangerous, and with respect to parliamentary privilege flagrantly hypocritical) libel laws if they publish your comments? It’s not really their fault that this is the situation if so (except insofar as they are MPs that can and should do something about it).

    But just to re-iterate: that this letter should even have been sent is truly depressing.

  2. John L Bell says:

    Hope you don’t mind, Heather!
    I have emailed the leaders of the three major parties asking for their party view on this attempt to suppress evidence given to the Committee!

    In your new book might I suggest that this attempt to be given a suitable tag line …. something like….. ‘attempts to suppress freedom of speech in the Mugabe style of democracy’!

    Who are the named persons who have come come up with this latest wheeeze to protect those in parliament guilty of fraud?

  3. Rich says:

    “redact from “Keith Vaz” to “blocked toilet etc”

    I assume no change of sense will occur.

  4. Nick says:

    @GF: Yes, if the Committee publishes defamatory material, it is potentially liable in any libel action. As this is not a Parliamentary committee, but a quango, it’s not covered by Parliamentary privilege, or by the privilege that proceedings in courts and inquiries have.

  5. John L Bell says:

    Ah!!!!!! A watchdog with its teeth removed! A watchdog that cannot bite or even bark!

    And who exactly set up this arrangement….. Let me guess?

    Wouldn’t be anyone in This Fraudsters’ Parliament… I suppose?

    Update:
    Still no reply from any of the three main party leaders on this brazen attempt to suppress evidence of MPs’ Fraud! Still in ‘holiday mode’, perhaps?

  6. John L Bell says:

    At last! I can also claim to have been hit by the ‘potentially defamatory’ excuse! On Nick Robinson’s Newslog on the BBC website my post was removed! I think it was the reference to ‘This Fraudsters’ Parliament’!
    I always thought that something was only defamatory if it was untrue!

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