Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

MPs to debate 'e-mail contempt' complaint

John Hemming MP
Lib Dem MP John Hemming made a complaint about an e-mail

Commons Speaker John Bercow has granted MPs an emergency debate after one Member claimed he had been "intimidated" by a firm of solicitors.

Liberal Democrat John Hemming, who represents Birmingham Yardley, complained about an e-mail he had received from Withers LLP.

Mr Bercow said the MP believed it amounted to a "contempt of the House" and ordered a debate for Thursday.

The e-mail urges Mr Hemming to ensure that Parliament is "not misled".

I have decided that this is a matter to which I should allow precedence.

Printed in the parliamentary record, Hansard, it suggests the MP distributed a "defamatory and maliciously false leaflet".

It is, the e-mail says, "abundantly clear that the offending text referred to, and would have been understood by those reading it to refer to, our client in relation to its client, who is opposing a compulsory purchase order".

Dated 4 August, 2009, the e-mail goes on: "Your threat to make a statement in the House of Commons referring to our client's alleged 'spoiling tactics' in this and other situations and that our client's threatened proceedings amount to 'bullying and an attempt to gag opponents' is tantamount to blackmail.

"These allegations are untrue as our client is only trying to put right a serious wrong to his reputation. We note that you would only make these allegations under the cover of parliamentary privilege.

"My client objects very strongly to you doing this and would ensure, via other sources, that the House of Commons were fully appraised of the true situation and not misled."

We strongly refute Mr Hemming's allegations that our actions were intimidatory in any way
Withers LLP

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Bercow said: "The Member for Birmingham Yardley has drawn my attention to an e-mail he received from Withers LLP, a firm of solicitors, which could in his view amount to a contempt of the House by seeking to intimidate a Member in his parliamentary conduct.

"I have decided that this is a matter to which I should allow precedence.

"Therefore under the rules set out at pages 167 to 168 of Erskine May [the guide to parliamentary procedure] the Honourable Member may table a motion for debate at the commencement of public business tomorrow."

In a statement, Withers LLP said: "Throughout our client's dispute with John Hemming MP, we have acted entirely properly and professionally in defending our client's reputation.

"We strongly refute Mr Hemming's allegations that our actions were intimidatory in any way."



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