Saturday, 29 May 2010

Laws' Choice

So, less than three weeks in and a cabinet minister has resigned. David Laws was found to have claimed reimbursement from the Treasury for renting a room from someone called James Lundie when he was actually in a sexual relationship with Mr Lundie and therefore living with him rather renting from him. I know not whether Mr Laws paid Mr Lundie the sums he claimed as expenses. I have heard it suggested that the nature of their relationship meant Mr Laws could have claimed reimbursement of the whole of Mr Lundie's mortgage interest payments, again I do not know whether that is the case and for present purposes it doesn't matter. Mr Laws initially explained his error as being due to not wishing to reveal his homosexuality. If I understand his position correctly, it is that he felt claiming to be a lodger would not arouse suspicion whereas any other claim might have done so.

David Laws had three options. He could have declined to claim any reimbursement for his London housing costs. If asked about it, he could have said he was staying with a friend rent free or that he stayed with a friend and made a contribution to costs but chose not to claim in order to save the taxpayer expense. His second option was to tell the whole truth and claim the maximum the rules allowed. His third option was to lie and claim something on a false basis - perhaps more than he was entitled to, perhaps less. He chose the third option. Silly boy.

For all his faults, the late Prime Minister Ted Heath always played this subject perfectly. When asked any question relating even obliquely to his sexuality he gave the same dead pan response: "I don't talk about these things". That was it, topic over, it was none of the interviewer's business and nothing was being volunteered. As far as I am aware neither Ted Heath nor David Laws has ever expressly asserted that they were not homosexual. Had they done so it would not have been an option to say "I don't talk about these things" because he would have done exactly that.

Indirectly Mr Laws did deny his homosexuality by claiming reimbursement of rent because rent paid to a sexual partner could not be claimed under the rules as they were at the time. (I refuse to sink so low as to refer to any such partner as a rent boy.) By claiming reimbursement of rent he was asserting that the person to whom it was paid was his landlord and not his "partner". That was untrue. He obtained money by asserting a falsehood. That is fraud. That he might have been entitled to claim the same or more money by telling the truth mitigates the offence. Indeed it might be such strong mitigation that no fair minded prosecutor would think it sensible to pursue criminal proceedings against him. It might even be such strong mitigation that a return to a senior position in government will be possible within a short period of time although I hope not, a propensity to fraud should be a disqualification for office not a requirement as it has been for the last decade.

Mr Laws' choice was to preserve his privacy and forgo money or to forgo his privacy and receive money. Preserving his privacy and receiving money was not an option without acting fraudulently and jeopardising his whole career. It is a shame he chose the corrupt option but he has now done the right thing and resigned. And all for £40,000 he now has to repay.

1 comment:

Stan said...

"He obtained money by asserting a falsehood. That is fraud."

Exactly - and fraud is still a criminal offence, I believe. Will he be charged? I won't hold my breath. If any of us defrauded our employers of £40,000 we would feel the full force of the law used against us - whether we paid the money back or not - I doubt that Laws will.

And people wonder why the rule of law has collapsed.