Vote Leave’s campaign director Dominic Cummings has refused to appear in front of the DCMS Select Committee next week. Committee chairman Damian Collins has taken umbrage at this and says he will therefore be reporting the matter to the House, presumably to try and get him adjudged to be in contempt of parliament.
It is for the House to decide whether a contempt has been committed and, if so, what punishment should be imposed. The process for raising a complaint of breach of privilege or contempt is, according to Erskine May, as follows:
- A Member writes to the Speaker asking for a specific matter to be given precedence.
- The Speaker announces in the House that he has agreed that the Member may raise that specific matter, and the day on which he will give the matter precedence.
- The Member then tables a Motion on the Order Paper for that future day, as the first item of substantive business after Questions and Statements.
- Such Motions usually take the form of a reference to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which reports its conclusions to the House in a published Report with any recommendations for further action. But Motions may be tabled in other terms as well and, subject to the Chair’s selection of amendments for debate and decision, may be amended by the House.
The House’s power to punish non-MPs for contempt is untested in the modern age, it would probably fall foul of human rights legislation. In theory Cummings could be summonsed to the bar of the House to be reprimanded or imprisoned. The House of Commons last used its power to fine in 1666…