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The situation is as follows. A civil servant, Christopher Galley, has been arrested for persistent leaking of information from the Home Office. He has admitted that on television, and says that what he did was the right thing to do. The shadow Home Secretary has accepted what Mr. Galley says, and says that he should be dismissed from his post. But part of what Mr. Galley did was to communicate information to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and it was on that basis that the police arrested him. As far as I can tell, the
right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) saidI quote her words this afternoonthat, within that situation, the hon. Member for Ashford was doing his job. Therefore, many of the allegations that have been made about the situation seem to have been accepted on all sides. It is a question of what is done as a result of them.
If it is true that the civil servant did thatas he said that he did, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead said that he did, and as the shadow Home Secretary said that he didit was incumbent on the police to arrest Christopher Galley, and there is a case
Sir Gerald Kaufman: May I be allowed to develop my argument? There is consequently a case for the police having arrested the hon. Member for Ashford. The hon. Gentlemans party, and sections of the press, have caused a ludicrous furore about this arrest and its consequences
The hon. Gentlemans party and sections of the press seem to be seeking to create a new privilege for Members of Parliament, which has never existed before and ought not to exist nownamely that it is in some way a breach of parliamentary privilege for the police to search the office of a Member of Parliament without a warrant, and that a Member of Parliaments correspondence with his or her constituents has some special privilege which the police have violated. All that is nonsense.
Since the passage of the Official Secrets Act 1989, the leaking of material not concerning national security has ceased to be a criminal offence. On what basis, therefore, is a civil servant arrested for that, and on what conceivable basis is my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) arrested? If the right hon. Gentleman starts by asking himself that questionwhich relates to a gift to civil liberty from the last Conservative Governmenthe will start to conclude very quickly that the basis for the polices erupting into this place and searching a Member of Parliaments offices is shaky in the extreme. That is why he should be very concerned about what has happened, particularly because all the normal processes and protections that should have operatedincluding the consulting of the Director of Public Prosecutionsnever occurred.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: What puzzles me, in view of that bout of rodomontade from the hon. and learned Gentleman, is why he says that Christopher Galley should be sacked, because Christopher Galley appears to have been doing something which is hugely praiseworthy.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The hon. and learned Gentleman has been widely quoted by the press as having said that the man should be sacked [Interruption.] He was quoted by the Tory press, and I see no reason for that denial.
All the parliamentary documents that I have been able to examine, including Erskine May and Standing Orders, contain nothing relevant to this controversy, and confirm no privilege of any kind in such circumstances. The nearest we can come to anything relevant to this huge unwarranted fuss is contained in the excellent briefing for this debate prepared by the House of Commons Library. A statement by one Professor Bradley
Professor Bradley, professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh university, says that there is, effectively, protection for MPs correspondence in certain circumstances, but this is no more than a common-law right based on case law. In fact, the police had a perfect right to search the hon. Gentlemans correspondence without a warrant, and indeed without anyones permission.
The shadow Home Secretary spoke of a statute that was a gift from the Conservative party. Let me quote from another statute that was a gift from the Conservative party, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Section 18(1) states that, following arrest,
a constable may enter and search any premises occupied or controlled by a person who is under arrest for an arrestable offence, if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting [Interruption.]
who is under arrest for an arrestable offence, if
he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is on the premises [Interruption.]
that there is on the premises evidence, other than items subject to legal privilege,
some other arrestable offence which is connected with...that offence
The police did what they had a perfect right to do under a statute passed by the very party that is trying to con us all into believing that some impropriety has been committed when no impropriety has been committed by anyone, either in the police or with responsibilities in this House. Yes, both Mr. Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms have behaved with perfect propriety in this matter, and it is a scandal that they are being reviled. In particular, those who have always hated
Sir Gerald Kaufman: No, I will not give way, as I have only two minutes left. Those who have always hated the idea of the current Speaker occupying the Chair of this House have abused this situation to seek further to undermine him.
What I say to the House of Commons is this: the Tory party has created a bogus controversy about the abuse of privileges that do not exist and the need for a warrant that is not required. We are wasting this afternoon when it could have been used for this House to debate serious and relevant issues about which our constituents care deeply. They do not care in the slightest [Interruption.] These interruptions show what the Tories believe about whistleblowing and free speech. They do not care about free speech. They want to divert the electorates attention from the real issues to this bogus issue of what the hon. Member for Ashford did or did not do, about which, frankly, our constituents do not give a damn.
I wish it had not been necessary to table this amendment. It is not just the recollection of the precise language that you, Mr. Speaker, used last Wednesday, but our recollection of the spirit in which your suggestion was received, that makes me believe that the motion before us does not properly reflect what you intended or what the House believed to be right.
I think we can agree that we are in unique and disturbing circumstances. Earlier, some Members were rather dismissive of the importance of the issues we are discussing, pointing to our overwhelming obligation to represent our constituents on issues such as economics and council housing, but I firmly believe the matters we are discussing are precisely what give us the power and the influence to deal with issues such as economics, council housing and the like. Our responsibilities involve both the scrutiny of Government and the redress of grievance. If we cannot be confident that our communications with our constituents are confidential, there is necessarily an inhibition in our ability to fulfil those responsibilities.
There has been much discussion about the operational independence of the police, but that cannot be interpreted as being a shield against accountability. The police are accountable for their actions to the Home Secretary, and the Home Secretary is, in turn, accountable to this House of Commons. It is also saidI have said it myselfthat we are not above the law, but that does not mean that we can be subject to illegality. It does not mean that we can be treated differently from other citizens. Equality before the law is a matter not only of responsibility, but of right, duty and privilege.
It is profoundly disappointing that the motion does not meet what is required. The remit is far too narrowthis House is surely entitled to investigate the whole circumstances surrounding this unfortunate affair. The time scale it sets out is risible; can one imagine what the publics response will be when we tell them that this important Committee, which is made up of seven wise men and women, has met and appointed a Chairman, but has then adjourned indefinitely? That is a real indication of hands-on government; we will be laughed out of court if that is how we proceed, but that is what the motion will impose upon us.
If the Committee chooses to sit in private, it will do so in exercise of its judgment. The whole point about your being encouragedpermitted, if you liketo pick seven experienced Members of the House, Mr. Speaker, is that they will have exactly the judgment and experience to know when it is necessary to meet in private. The amendment asserts that the Committee would be subject to our normal rule of sub judice.
The motions third defect is that it would restrict your discretion, Mr Speaker. What is the point of that? Why do the Government believe that they must have a majority in this matter? I never thought I would hear myself make this next point. When Opposition Members get concerned about civil liberties, the often repeated remark we hear is, If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. If the Government have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from seven independent Members of Parliament chosen by you, Mr. Speaker.
In this matter, the Leader of the House has special responsibilities. She is a Government Minister, but she also has responsibilities to the House, so I ask her to reflect on something. It is generally accepted that John Biffen and Robin Cook, both, sadly, no longer with us, were the epitomethe best examplesof Leader of the House in recent times. What would John Biffen and Robin Cook have done in similar circumstances? I believe that they would have asserted the independence of this House of Commons.
This motions purpose is to deal not only with the issues of remit, membership and the ludicrous imposition in relation to time, but to provide Members of this House of Commons with an opportunity to assert their independence and that of the House. They could, as an alternative, subordinate themselves to the Government, but we will give them the opportunity to vote for independence.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
I shall not be giving way, because of the time constraints. I wish to kick off with some slightly controversial comments.
First, I challenge people to reflect on the fact that if this had happened in Moscow or Minsk, there would have been one hell of a row and the British ambassadors would have been making representations. Secondly, leaks are food and drink to me as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament, and I do not want to stop them coming to meI do not say that in a flip way, because it is very important. My only flip point is to ask people to send me this information on rice paper, so that I can eat it before the police get it. I am open all hours to leaks.
This is a serious matter. We need to support and endorse the office of Speaker, and ensure that it is properly facilitated over the next 10 or 20 years, because as part of the increasingly political role of the Speakerit is not party political, but it is politicalhe or she must safeguard the rights and interests of this House and, I believe, of our democracy. I urge hon. Members to read the Speakers document that has been handed round, because the protocols set out new modalities for dealing with what are the ancient rights and duties of the Speaker to protect our interest. I commend it to the House. Some aspects may be new, but the principle is that the Speaker is the safeguard in respect of two thingsfirst, the rights and independence of the House of Commons, and second, the idea that Members are not above the law. When I criticised something that a colleaguehe is no longer in his placehad said earlier, he said, Well, what about paedophilia? I said that if an hon. Member were guilty of a serious crime, such as pushing drugs or being a member of the Mafia, the Speaker could take cognisance of a legitimate representation made to him by law enforcement officers and would say, Yes, of course you must proceed forthwith. The role of the Speaker is to be a safeguard, and that is what we must ensure. Let us kill the lie now: no one is asking for special privileges for Members of Parliament. We want any bad Member to be prosecuted with vigour, but we need to safeguard people from arbitrary action by the executive arm of Government.
I remember people laughing at me when I protested when we did away with Sessional Orders. That was treated with levity by Members, but those Sessional Orders reaffirmed the point that people must not interfere with this place. I hope that the House returns to the proposals made in 1999 that people who give evidence to this House and its Committees should not be influenced or leaned on by anyone else and should tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as happens in the Congress of the United States.
The Bill of Rights, which too few Members have studied, makes it clear that this place has comity with the courts. That is a very important principle. What is more, the logical interpretation of article 9, which says that no court shall be able to look into the deliberations of this House, must extend to our documents. In 1689, Members of Parliament did not have the same volume of documents or technology as we have now. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said, we should think about putting that protection into statute.
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