FORMER Liberal Democrat MP Sir Malcolm Bruce has backed Alistair Carmichael over a leaked memo claiming that the House of Commons would empty ‘very fast’ if untruthful MPs had to quit.
Orkney and Shetlands MP Mr Carmichael is facing calls to step down after admitting leaking a memo during the election campaign that incorrectly claimed Nicola Sturgeon had voiced a preference for David Cameron as prime minister.
“We should, of course, hold people to account and if people lie they should take some consequences but Alistair has taken consequences”Sir Malcolm Bruce
Mr Carmichael previously claimed he had not been aware of the memo, which was leaked during the general election campaign.
But former MP Sir Malcolm, whose Gordon seat was won by former SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond following the retirement of the former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, backed the former Scottish Secretary, claiming lying was widespread in public life.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Malcolm said: “Alistair has recognised that he has made a mistake. People are entitled to make mistakes, learn from them and move on.
“We should, of course, hold people to account and if people lie they should take some consequences but Alistair has taken consequences.”
The SNP have called on Mr Carmichael - who was returned as Scotland’s sole Liberal Democrat MP on May 7 - to consider his position after a Cabinet Office probe revealed he had approved the leak of a memo by his special adviser.
The document, written by a Scotland Office civil servant, claimed that Ms Sturgeon had told the French Ambassador to the UK that she would rather see Mr Cameron as prime minister, and not Ed Miliband.
Ms Sturgeon has always stated that she never made such comments.
Mr Carmichael claimed at the time that he had first been made aware of the memo when he a journalist contacted him but has since admitted that he was aware of the document’s contents and agreed that it should be made public, despite not seeing the memo before it was published.
The Parliamentary Standards commissioner has confirmed that a number of complaints have been made about Mr Carmichael’s conduct, and she is considering whether they come under her remit.
Sir Malcolm added that Mr Carmichael had waived the severance pay he was due to receive after losing his position in the Cabinet.
He told the BBC: “I’m acknowledging that if [Alistair Carmichael] has said ‘I didn’t know about something I did now in the heated atmosphere of an election campaign’ that was part of the mistake, which he has apologised for.
“My point is if you are suggesting that every MP who has never quite told the truth or indeed told a brazen lie - including ministers, including Cabinet ministers, including prime ministers - we would clear out the House of Commons very fast, I would suggest.”
SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire described the Liberal Democrats’ defence of Mr Carmichael as ‘ludicrous’, adding: “Being an MP or MSP is a huge privilege for anyone elected to serve - and untruthfulness can never be simply brushed aside in the way that Sir Malcolm suggests it should.
“All Sir Malcolm has succeeded in doing is to keep the focus on his colleague.”
Labour MP John Mann argued that a stronger system of voter recall for politicians accused of misconduct was needed. He said: “There are plenty of people who avoid answering a question but that is not the same as lying.”
Under a law backed by the Liberal Democrats during the last parliament, a member’s seat becomes vacant if they are suspended from the House of Commons for at least ten days, a ten per cent of their constituents sign a petition pushing for a by-election.
Sir Stephen Tall, a former co-editor of the Lib Dem Voice website, said on Twitter: “It is a rubbish defence/excuse and not one a party reduced from 57 MPs to just 8 should be making.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats however, have confirmed that Mr Carmichael, who held onto his seat by just over 800 votes, would not face any disciplinary action.