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On 4 December, the Home Secretary read out in good faith what she understood to be the reasons for the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). He got up and said that those were not the reasons why he was arrested, and that he had the document giving those reasons, given to him by
the Metropolitan police. The Home Secretary said that that was what she had been told by the police. What a cavalier approach from the police, in their disregard of Parliament and of the Home Secretary. I find it breathtaking that she did not think that she should be indignant about that. She got it wrong, through no fault of her own, but because of the complacent arrogance of the Metropolitan police.
Mr. Prentice: The Metropolitan police told the Home Secretary, in a letter dated 3 December, that a warrant is not needed to search a parliamentary office. We now have the Speakers protocol, which says that in cases of the police wishing to search in Parliament, a warrant must be obtained. How does my Friend square those two statements?
Andrew Mackinlay: Mr. Speaker is correct, and he has reaffirmed what must always have been the norm. He has restated the modalities and what will happen from now onperhaps he should paint that on the eyelids of the Metropolitan police.
I support the amendments because of the need for urgency. I understand that the policeman in charge of this is called Quick. Well, I predict that there will never be a slower man. We need only look at the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). It took 14 or 15 months before he was told that there was no case against him. We all knew that, but it was dragged out, and these blighters will drag this case out too. They know that they can kick it into touch until after the next general election. In any event, I am absolutely certain that the hon. Member for Ashford will not be charged. I come back to article 9 of the Bill of Rights. It will be impossible for a prosecutor or defence counsel to deal with the matter without referring to intent. If individuals have certain information, it relates to their work as a Member of Parliament or to their deliberations in Parliament, so the case will not go anywhere. I know that, and the police know that, but they are failing to recognise that they have bitten off more than they can chew and that they have trespassed on our rights and independence.
It was put out that this was a matter of national security. Of course, it is noteveryone knows thatbecause if it was, there would be action under the Official Secrets Act. Under the clerkship of Mr. Bill McKay, there was an attempt by the Ministry of Defence police to come in here and get one of our Committee Clerks, who had received some unsolicited secret information. Mr. Bill McKay saw to it that it was made quite clear to the police how far they could go. I understand that our Clerk was questioned under caution. That was the end of the matterthey backed offbut they have tried it before and it is time that we asserted and reaffirmed our rights and duties.
I was very grateful when Roger Sands, the previous Clerk, made the importance of article 9 quite clear to Lord Justice Hutton. To Lord Justice Huttons credit, he acknowledged those rights and acknowledged that in his inquiry he could not trespass on the proceedings of
Parliament. That was an important acknowledgment, generously given by the courts. They understand article 9, but the problem is that too many hon. Members do not understand the importance of article 9 and the Bill of Rights. We fought civil wars to create it and overturned a king. King Billy was not all bad; he had some redeeming features, and they need to be reaffirmed today.
I hope to be brief and I want to make just two points. First, I endorse what was said by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and most eloquently by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about the differences between what Mr. Speaker said on Wednesday and what the Government motion provides for today. I do not need to go through the differences.
The Government are inviting the House to overrule Mr. Speaker. That is the long and the short of it. What Mr. Speaker said on Wednesday about the terms of reference of the inquiry, its composition and its length was right, whereas the provisions of the Government motion are wrong. They seek to overrule Mr. Speaker, and I cannot recall an occasion when the independence of the Speaker and the independence of this House have been drawn into sharper focus. The House has an opportunity this afternoon to stand up for its liberties and independence. I hope that it will do so by voting for the amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife.
to investigate suspected criminal offences in relation to a substantial series of leaks from the Home Office potentially involving national security and the impeding of the efficient and effective conduct of government.
I particularly want to draw the Houses attention to that last phrase. So far as I am aware, it has never been a criminal offence to impede the efficient and effective conduct of government and nor should it be. I do not think that the police should have been called in to investigate on that basis, and they should not have agreed to do so.
I have written to Mr. Ian Johnston, the chief constable of the British Transport police who is carrying out an inquiry into the polices handling of the matter, and asked him to consider this point in his inquiry. I have written to the Minister in charge at the Cabinet Office to ask who in the Cabinet Office called in the police on that extraordinary basis and whether the Minister authorised or knew of that action.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con):
I do not want to distract my right hon. and learned Friend, but he has just made a point that is
worth dwelling on for a second. He reminds us that the police themselves have started an inquiry. How is it that the House of Commons will not be allowed to inquire, because of a mistaken view of what is sub judice, yet at the same time the police can inquire into their actions without fear or favour?
Clive Efford: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, although usually Members resume their seat when another Member speakshe has been here long enough to know that. [Hon. Members: Get on with it.] Excuse me.
If the principles that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just applied to the leaking of information had applied when Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting were prosecuted, does he believe that those prosecutions would have gone ahead?
Mr. Howard: I am afraid that, as was only to be expected, the hon. Gentleman fails to understand the difference between the Official Secrets Act and what is under discussion in relation to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford.
For the reasons given earlier in the debate, we need the Committee that Mr. Speaker proposed last Wednesday, not the feeble substitute for it that the Government are offering us today. That is why I urge Members to vote for the amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell).
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I promise to be even briefer than he was. I rise to support the motion tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for two reasons.
I do not think that the initial stages of the debate went as well as they should have done. We hope that our constituents have some interest in what we do in this place, but they would have found it impossible to understand the first three quarters of an hour of our deliberations. It was wholly proper for the Government to put a time limit on the debate and we should have accepted it and got on with the debate.
A consensus is emerging from the debate and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is listening to it. If she responds to it, we may all come out of the debate with real credit. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras
(Frank Dobson) pointed out, one of the problems is that many of our constituents, and at least some of us, are confused about what our privileges are and why we have them. It would not only be useful for them to be set out again but, as the shadow Leader of the House said, it might be good to see whether we should move to a statutory basis for those privileges. Their purpose is not to boost us and our egos butwe hopeto allow us to carry out our duties in a way that furthers the interests of our constituents.
My second point is that the motion tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife manages to divide the two issues that concern the Government. The first issue, with which I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House agrees, is that we need to take note of what our privileges are, why we have them and how we should protect them.
Running alongside that, however, is the question of whether there was something different about the leak to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and I hope I shall not cross the line in what I am about to say. I draw a distinction from my experience. I was not a Member of Parliament at the time but an outsider, so I should have been treated differentlyas I was.
The previous Labour Government had a commitment to introduce child benefit. They decided to rat on the commitment, and papers were leaked to me showing that members of the Cabinet were not being totally truthful to one another. The Government threatened all sorts of things, through the Official Secrets Act and so on, but were far too sensible to go down that route. The Bill was not only introduced but became an Act. In addition, the Government spent huge resources on child benefit and, in the general election, said that it was one of their greatest achievements, so sometimes leaks can have a very good effect on Governments.
At some stage, the House needs to look at the circumstances of the leak relating to the hon. Member for Ashford, which I read about in the papers. My really good Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) says that he would love everything to be put on rice paper. I must say that if I got a whole series of leaks from someone whom, it was alleged I had employed, and with whom I had contact, I as a Member of Parliament might question what was going on, particularly if I thought that that person might wish to further their career in the Opposition party. I beg Opposition Members to consider that point; it is not the usual suspects who are expressing concern about the issue. I do not usually regard myself as one of the usual suspects, and I am concerned about the matter. I make that point because I imagine that many outsiders following the debate will be concerned about the issue. It will not go away; it can come up in different circumstances. I think that it should be pursued.
I make the following plea to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House: the shadow Leader of the House has said that she is withdrawing the Oppositions official amendment, so there is a chance for the House to come together on the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. If we did that, we might just scoop some credit from our constituents for this affair.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I want to raise two sets of points about the proposal. I support amendment (e), tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), and I agree with everything he said in his excellent speech.
Everybody agrees that nobody is above the lawnot Members of Parliament, the police or the Government. I will not spend long discussing the police; I just point out the coruscating comments made about them by Geoffrey Robertson QC last week, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) reiterated. As for Members of Parliament, I cannot find an example in the past century of a Member of Parliament who has escaped the law, or proper prosecution, as a result of privilege, and I do not expect that to change as a result of what we do today.
I come to the point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman); I am sorry to say that he is not present. [Hon. Members: Hes over there.] Good; he may want to pay attention, because he said something that is completely wrong. When talking about the sequence of events that led to todays debate, he said that it was incumbent on police to arrest Galley for what most of us would view as a disciplinary offence. Frankly, I find that use of the offence of misconduct in public office very worrying. I received an e-mail todayperfectly legallyfrom a recently retired senior police officer, who said the following about misconduct in public office:
This is a catch-all or fall-back, flavour of the month, supposed offence that the Met, Thames Valley and at least one other police force
They have used it to contrive allegations of criminal conduct against a large number of public servants. Overwhelmingly, those investigated have faced years of debilitating investigation that has damaged their lives as well as their careers and the lives of their families but have faced no criminal charges of any kind or, even, disciplinary charges related to the supposed misconduct investigated.
In the vary rare convictions for the supposed serious criminal offence, the sentences have been the lightest tap on the wrist and all costs have had to be met by the Crown.
I do not know whether or not that is true, but I must tell the Leader of the House that the Government should look at this carefully. If our Government or, more accurately, our police authorities are using that law as a weapon of intimidation that almost never comes to fruition, the country should be ashamed of that.
Mr. Grieve: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if that is happening, it is entirely contrary to the intention expressed in Parliament in 1989, when the revised Official Secrets Act was enacted, that, save in cases of national security, it would be an internal disciplinary matter? The departure from those principles enunciated from the Dispatch Box by the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, is an extraordinary development that undermines civil liberties in this country.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The right hon. Gentleman, in discussing the appropriateness of arrest, seems to be making a persuasive point, but it applies beyond the situation that has led to todays debate. For example, what about the arrest of Ruth Turner, an aide at No. 10 Downing street, to whom the police went in the early hours of the morning? They took her away, and did not allow her to get dressed, except in the presence of a police officer, but then there were no charges against her at all.
Returning to the point that I was making, not only did we receive that piece of evidence from a retired police officer but, only two weeks ago, we heard about the case of the journalist, Ms Murrer. The judge dismissed the case against her, saying that vast amounts of legal writ from Britain and Europe state that it should never have been brought because of protection under articles 9 and 10. If a journalist can receive that protection, surely a Member of Parliament can do so. That point is of some note when we look at the interpretation of privilege by ourselves and by the authorities under two laws passed in the past couple of decades. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for example, specifically protected editors and the files and records of editors and journalists. We did not give that protection to ourselves, because we thought that we already had it. Similarly, when the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, to which the Leader of the House referred, was passed, we gave protection to whistleblowers who approached journalists. There is no such protection for whistleblowers who approach Members of Parliament. That is an absolute flaw in our laws, and it must be put right. It cannot be put right by a Standing Order, but it must be put right at some point in future.
The privilege of freedom of speech enjoyed by Members of Parliament is in truth the privilege of their constituents. It is secured to Members not for their personal benefit but to enable them to discharge the functions of their office without fear of prosecution, civil or criminal.
Those are the words of the House of Commons Privileges Committee in 1939, ruling on the Duncan Sandys case. I remind the House that he was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act not simply because he had received highly sensitive information about military weaknesses in the country but because he refused to help the authorities to identify the source of the leak. The Privileges Committee ruled in his favour, and ruled that he could not be prosecuted.
We have to create a Committee today, hopefully under the amendment that I support, that will address that issue. Let us remind ourselves of what happens elsewhere in Europe. I am the last person to draw European analogies in the House of Commons, but the simple truth is that those countries that have had totalitarian Governments in the past invariably have absolute privilege, including protection from arrest. A German MP cannot be arrested without a motion from the Bundestag, and that arises from previous abuse and intimidation of German Members of Parliament. I am not recommending such privilege here, as that can in turn be abused. But what we have is one of the weakest sets of protections of democracy, as they should be called, in Europe.
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