The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner has ruled that Labour MP Stephen Doughty showed a “severe error of judgement” in asking a vulnerable constituent to supply him diazepam – a prescription-only Class C drug – yet nonetheless ruled that he did not break the Parliamentary Code of Conduct in doing so. Apparently he was “complicit in a criminal offence”, though too “naive” to even realise it. Stephen Doughty is a lawmaker.
In a response issued on Wednesday, Commissioner Kathryn Stone said that while Doughty had invited the constituent to “meet his pet cat” and subsequently asked him for “any spare diazepam” for an upcoming flight (which he received the next day), he “did not demonstrate an appreciation that […] he was asking him to commit a criminal offence.” Ironically, Doughty ended up cancelling the flight and claims he never even took the diazepam anyway.
Stone concluded her ruling that Doughty had “learned a very difficult lesson“:
However damaging these events have been for Mr Doughty personally, I am not persuaded that his actions have caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House as a whole, or of its Members generally. Mr Doughty has learned a very difficult lesson, but his naivety and ill advised behaviour does not reflect more widely on other Members. I do not therefore uphold the allegation that he acted in breach of paragraph 17 of the Code of Conduct.
The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner seems to have overlooked that Doughty did however blatantly breach paragraph 5 of the duty of the Code of Conduct:
“Members have a duty to uphold the law”
The claim that his “ill-advised behaviour does not reflect more widely on other Members” is arguable. If the public thinks MPs are legislating whilst hallucinating on diazepam it might explain a few things, it will however hardly enhance the reputation of MPs. Whilst Guido thinks it should be legal to buy happy pills like diazepam over the counter, it isn’t legal now. If being complicit in a criminal offence isn’t a breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct it means lawmakers can be law breakers as far as the Standards Commissioner is concerned. Ten years after the expenses scandal we are seeing the neutralising of the checks on MPs’ misbehaviour. IPSA and the Standards Commissioner are slowly yet surely undergoing regulatory recapture by MPs. It will end badly…