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4 Dec 2008 : Column 145

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and how she has conducted herself so calmly throughout this affair. Why should Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition have thought it necessary to take legal advice on this matter? Does she share with me the view that perhaps, in their wish to see great transparency and openness, they should publish the brief that they gave to counsel and the legal advice that they obtained?

Jacqui Smith rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. What the Opposition do is not for the Home Secretary to account for.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Surely the Home Secretary will be aware that leading members of the Labour Governments since 1997 were expert and very successful in using leaked material during the last Conservative Government. In respect of a point made by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), a former Home Secretary, is she not aware that she should have been informed by the police in a case involving a Member of this House? It is an exceptional situation. How many of the 20 leaks that she has mentioned involved national security?

Jacqui Smith: On the first point, about the use of information, I should say that today I have made absolutely clear my view that it always has been the case—and will remain so in future—that hon. Members and others who receive information should be able to use it in the public interest and that hon. Members should be able to carry out their role as Members of the House. However, I do not accept that that implies that there is no responsibility on the Government to investigate when leaks become systematic, happen in Departments that deal with some of the most sensitive issues, including national security, across Government, and risk undermining the principles of the impartiality of the civil service code.

On the point about being informed, I think that I was clear in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) that I was not, and that was a decision for the Metropolitan police.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned, but I have been made to feel nauseous on so many occasions since this event broke. The statements made by people have often demonstrated their self-importance rather than tried to solve the problem. To be constructive, may I ask the Home Secretary whether the advice to Back Benchers of any political party should be that one telephone call from a civil servant on an issue of national security should be reported immediately to the security people, and one telephone call on an issue not of national security should lead to a fatherly or motherly talk to the individual—“Look sonny, don’t do this. Go and get another job if you don’t like it”?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend offers me the opportunity to give advice. Hon. Members are very aware of their responsibilities, with respect both to their own roles and to the impartiality of the civil service. That is how Members of this House should and do act.

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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Following the intervention from the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid)—the Home Secretary’s distinguished predecessor who sits behind her and said that he would have liked to have been tipped off that his opposite number was about to be arrested—what lessons has the Home Secretary learned from this incident about the future? Does she think that in future it might be wise for the Home Secretary to be informed if an Opposition spokesman was about to be arrested for doing his job?

Jacqui Smith: What I have learned is that if we believe in the principle of the operational independence of policing, we should put that into practice, however difficult and tricky the circumstances.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I want to comment on exactly that theme. Had my right hon. Friend been informed and attempted to interfere with that operational freedom, she would have faced legitimate demands for her resignation. Opposition Members—former Home Secretaries—have said that they would have interfered with police operational independence. My right hon. Friend has done exactly the right thing and will be supported by people throughout the country on that basis.

Jacqui Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think that it would have been wholly inappropriate for any Home Secretary to intervene in a police investigation in the way that some have tried to imply they would have done.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The shadow Home Secretary asked the Home Secretary a number of questions that she failed to respond to. Let me try a couple of them again. First, did the police apply to a magistrate for a search warrant to enter the House of Commons? If not, why not? If they did, were they turned down? Secondly, is she personally satisfied that this operation was carried out under the terms of—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Jacqui Smith: On the first point—the only point—I have made it clear that I asked some of those questions yesterday evening. Bob Quick, the Assistant Commissioner, responded to me today, and I have placed that letter in the Library. [Hon. Members: “Answer!”]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I usually let a statement run for an hour, but if there are such levels of shouting I will cease the statement now. That is the danger that right hon. and hon. Members run. Shouting like that is not something that I will tolerate.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I share the fairly widespread concern about the allegations of, or suspicion of, criminal activity by an hon. Member and about the tendency of the police in recent years to take a more dramatic role in political controversy than we would wish. However, we are not considering one aspect, which is non-criminal. Does the Home Secretary agree that if any hon. Member seeks systematically to encourage a breach of the civil service code, regardless of whether it is criminal, it is a reason for shame?

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Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. It is important for all political parties and for anybody who believes that they may, at some point, form the Government of this country, that we uphold the political impartiality of the civil service as set down in the civil service code. That is one of the four important principles that are brought into sharp relief in this situation.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Where does the literally unwarranted—apparently—intrusion into the parliamentary office of a Member of this House leave the whole concept of parliamentary privilege and the Bill of Rights, which is surely a fundamental part of our constitution? Will the Home Secretary issue guidance to the police that when a Member of this House is to be arrested in relation to his political activities as such, the advice of the Law Officers should be requested in order to see whether it constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege?

Jacqui Smith: Mr. Speaker made very clear yesterday the situation with regard to parliamentary privilege. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 lays down the requirements for search and for arrest.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position that she has been invited to adopt is that civil servants should be allowed to treat her Department as an Aladdin’s cave of secrets that they should be free to leak, and that civil servants’ judgment alone will determine what is in the public domain and what is not? Did the level at which these leaks came from her Department suggest to her that the person who leaked may have had access to information relating to national security? Can we be sure that all the leaks—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Jacqui Smith: There were concerns at a point at which it was unclear as to how many people were involved in leaking, but it was clear that there had been systematic leaking. That was, of course, the reason for asking the police to investigate. Some of the other issues that my hon. Friend raises should be left to be the subject of a police investigation. However, he is absolutely right in his suggestion that everybody in this House should be in a position of upholding the civil service code.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Returning to the letter from Mr. Quick to the Home Secretary yesterday, relating to the lack of writ that was provided when the search took place of the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), there is a clear difference of opinion, or a major difference of fact, between what the Speaker said yesterday and what Mr. Quick said. Who does the Home Secretary believe? I know who I believe, and it ain’t Mr. Quick.

Jacqui Smith: Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am not so quick to jump to judgment. That is why I believe that Ian Johnston’s review, set up by Sir Paul Stephenson, and the ability of this House to consider the issue through Mr. Speaker’s Committee, are both important.

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Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House agrees that it is absolutely right that civil servants should hold political views, that they should join political parties, and that they should take part in legitimate political activity in their own time. However, in light of the fact that they need to behave in a professional manner at all times and to uphold the civil service code, and in light of what my right hon. Friend has called the “systematic leaking” of information, are there grounds for an inquiry to see whether there are any leaking Tory moles placed in other Government Departments?

Jacqui Smith: I do not think that that is an issue for me to comment on today.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Prior to 1989, the Government could have used the Official Secrets Act in this case. The Home Secretary is sitting next to one of the world experts on the Official Secrets Act, who will be able to remind her that in 1989, almost exactly 20 years ago to this day, the then Conservative Government amended the Official Secrets Act to restrict the application of the criminal law to a very narrow band of Government information. It may surprise the Home Secretary to know that the whole Labour party, including the current and former Prime Minister, voted against that legislation on the grounds that it did not go far enough in liberalising the situation and still applied the criminal law to far too much information. As a result, the Government have had to dredge up an old common law offence to put the frighteners on officials, MPs and, presumably, journalists. If they want to criminalise information like this, why do they not amend the legislation by repealing the 1989 Act?

Jacqui Smith: The idea that the Government have dredged up the several circumstances in recent years when the offence of misconduct in public office has been used against public servants is just wrong. The decision on what offence is charged is, of course, for the police, alongside the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees it would be wholly inappropriate in this situation for Ministers to offer an opinion about what any potential charges should be.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): With regard to the cash for honours investigation, the Leader of the Opposition said that it was right that these matters should be investigated and that the police and the CPS should make decisions about how to proceed. If that principle was right in that case, surely it should apply in this case, and should not be influenced by the contrived outrage of the Conservatives.

Jacqui Smith: I believe that that should be the principle in all cases.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you told us two things in your statement: first, that there was not a warrant; and secondly, that the police failed to tell the Serjeant at Arms that she was entitled to refuse access. That was a breach of code B52 of the statutory codes. Furthermore, on any view, the Serjeant at Arms had no authority to allow access to the hon. Member’s possessions. Consequently, the police were acting unlawfully in all
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three respects—no warrant, no statement that the Serjeant at Arms was entitled to refuse access, and, in any event, having access to material to which they were not entitled. When did the right hon. Lady first know that the police were guilty of such illegality?

Jacqui Smith: I think, frankly, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing his role as a Member of this House with his presumably desired role as a member of the judiciary. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must calm down.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): The police must be free to follow the evidence. However, our constituents sometimes complain to us that when they have been the subject of an investigation, the question arises as to whether the police’s methods were proportionate to the seriousness of the criminality that is suspected. Sometimes we get the answer to that years or months later as the result of a trial; sometimes we get it as the result of an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At this early stage of this case, the only question to which I want to know the answer is whether the police had legal advice about the seriousness of the criminality that they suspected in order to make that judgment about proportionality before they made the decision to act. Does the Home Secretary know whether the police had legal advice?

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Jacqui Smith: Sir Paul Stephenson has stated publicly the point at which the police consulted the CPS. Secondly, on the issue of proportionality, as I said, I welcome the fact that Sir Paul Stephenson is asking Ian Johnston to review the appropriateness and proportionality of the investigation.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Home Secretary explain what was unique about this case that led them to want the police to be involved, when the police were not invited to investigate the systematic leaking of price-sensitive information about banks and bank capital, or to look into the extraordinary leaking of practically the whole pre-Budget statement, which was really a Budget? Surely that was systematic leaking on a grand scale. What was different about it?

Jacqui Smith: There have been other situations where the police have been asked by the Cabinet Office to help with investigations.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): The Home Secretary has been clear and unambiguous today. Will she go further on the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about the Wilson doctrine? Can she reassure all hon. Members that our home numbers, work mobiles and the phones that we use in this House are covered by the Wilson doctrine, as well as our e-mail accounts?

Jacqui Smith: As I have suggested, the Wilson doctrine applies, and it applies as outlined by the Prime Minister.

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Points of Order

12.21 pm

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I invite the Home Secretary to correct a factual inaccuracy in her statement. She said that I was arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office.” I have a copy of my arrest warrant here, and the phrase “counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” does not occur. I was not arrested for counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office. She will understand the seriousness of her mistake, and I invite her to withdraw those words immediately.

Mr. Speaker: I ask the Home Secretary to reply.

Jacqui Smith: I would certainly be prepared to take that up with the Metropolitan police—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should allow the Home Secretary to answer in the way that she wants to answer. It is not for me to tell the Home Secretary—or any other hon. Member—how she should answer. Home Secretary, have you anything to add?

Jacqui Smith: I was quoting from a public statement made by the Metropolitan police on 28 November.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to one of the questions that was asked, namely whether an application had been made to a magistrates court for a warrant to come on to these premises, the Home Secretary replied that we should be referred to the letter of Mr. Quick, which she had placed in the Library. But the letter from Mr. Quick does not go into that in any way at all. Is it not a contempt of this House to be treated in this fashion?

Mr. Speaker: We are now extending the question session given to the Home Secretary.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that the House has power, if necessary and on matters of national security, to go into private session, as it did during the war, for example, to be briefed by the Prime Minister? Secondly, given that we have heard a ruling from the European Court this morning which says that the retention of DNA samples is not legal, can you ask the Home Secretary before she begins her contribution to the following debate when she will announce the Government’s response to that? That matter appears to be relevant to the case of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green).

Mr. Speaker: The second point is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman can seek that information from the Home Secretary at any time through the various facilities we have. On his other point, the House can sit in private if it deems it necessary.

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