THE disgraced ex-wife of former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne has been handed a key role as a government adviser, despite only recently being released from prison for perverting the course of justice.
Vicky Pryce, 61, has resumed her role as a government economics adviser in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills after serving a jail term for swapping speeding points with ex-husband Huhne.
The former civil servant is attending meetings of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s panel monitoring the performance of UK plc.
A department spokeswoman said Ms Pryce was appointed to the panel monitoring the economy more than ten years ago, when she was chief economist at the then Department of Trade and Industry, but her membership had been on hold.
“She has now resumed her unpaid position as part of this panel after serving her sentence, which in no way brought into question her ability or judgment as an economist,” the spokeswoman said.
The move was defended by the government and senior Liberal Democrats, who said Ms Pryce had done her time for her mistake.
A source close to Mr Cable stressed the role was unpaid, and Ms Pryce’s conviction was not relevant to her expertise. He is understood to believe she should be allowed to move on after being punished.
Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: “I don’t see any reason why she can’t be appointed to the role. She has served her time and now she can move on. It does not preclude her from any job.”
Ms Pryce headed the government’s economic service before leaving for the private sector to avoid a conflict of interest when Mr Huhne was appointed energy secretary in 2010.
After the Lib Dem left her for another woman, allegations emerged that she accepted penalty points on his behalf in 2003. Ms Pryce admitted taking Mr Huhne’s speeding penalty but put forward a defence of “marital coercion”, arguing that he had bullied her into it. Both were subsequently jailed.
In sentencing Ms Pryce to eight months in prison, the judge said she had a “controlling, devious side” to her nature, and her “serious and flagrant” crime merited a custodial sentence.
Ms Pryce was stripped of her status as a Companion of the Order of the Bath, awarded in 2009, on the grounds that she had brought the honours system into disrepute.
Since her release last May, Ms Pryce – a long-standing friend of Lib Dem Mr Cable and his wife –has written a book on her experiences at Holloway prison and the East Sutton open jail.
The panel, which features private sector economists and officials from the Treasury, convenes about three times a year to advise the Business Secretary.
Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared to open the door for Ms Pryce to make a return.
The economist has said she would consider standing for parliament at the next election. Asked if he would support her in this, the Lib Dem leader replied: “I remain full of admiration for her. She is a highly accomplished economist. I hope to see her continue to make a contribution to public life.”
Mr Huhne took up a senior job at US renewable energy firm Zilkha Biomass Energy last year.