Police Searches on the Parliamentary Estate - Committee on Issue of Privilege Contents

1  Introduction

What this Report is about

1.  At about 2.08 pm on Thursday 27 November 2008, officers from SO15, the Counter Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), began a search of the offices of Damian Green, the Member of Parliament for Ashford, in Portcullis House on the Parliamentary Estate.

2.  Our terms of reference, as set out in an Order of the House of 13 July 2009, are to review the internal processes of the House administration for the granting of permission for the search of a Member's office on the Parliamentary Estate by the police and the seizure of material therein, to consider any matter relating to privilege arising from the police operation, and to make recommendations for the future.

3.  This Report examines the background to the police search, and its aftermath. We comment upon the conduct of certain persons, and we make recommendations for the future. In addition to the oral and written evidence taken by this Committee, we have benefitted greatly from four earlier reports on aspects of the matter before us:

Fourth Report of Session 2008-09 from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Policing Process of Home Office Leaks Inquiry, HC 157, published 16 April 2009[1]

Tenth Report of Session 2008-09 from the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, Leaks and Whistleblowing in Whitehall, HC 83, published 10 August 2009[2]

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Review of the lessons learned from the Metropolitan Police Service's investigation of Home Office leaks, by Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary (the O'Connor Report) published 12 October 2009[3]

Review of Operation Miser by (now Sir) Ian Johnston, Head of ACPO Crime Business Area and Chief Constable of British Transport Police, dated 14 December 2008 (the Johnston Report), published 12 October 2009.[4]

4.  Parliamentary privilege is an essential and sometimes misunderstood component of the British constitution. It is essential for Members of Parliament to be free from the threat of prosecution for what they say in Parliament, and for Parliament itself to control its own proceedings and its own premises, in order to fulfil its democratic function. There is no personal immunity from the criminal law for a person just because they are a Member of Parliament. How to reconcile freedom and responsibility remains as topical a subject now as at any time in the past centuries of democratic development in this country.

5.  It is necessary to examine each link in the chain that led from some Home Office leaks to the Metropolitan Police search of a Member's office in Parliament. It may help if we indicate in short form the sequence of the principal events:

Wednesday 8 October 2008 Chris Wright, Cabinet Office, writes to Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick
Wednesday 29 October 2008 Chris Wright writes to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick
Wednesday 19 November 2008 Christopher Galley arrested
Wednesday 26 November 2008 Serjeant at Arms talks privately to Speaker

Police "Gold Group" meets twice

Police visit Serjeant at Arms

Serjeant at Arms calls on Clerk of the House

Serjeant at Arms completes conversation with police

Serjeant at Arms phones Speaker

Prorogation of Parliament

Thursday 27 November 2008 Serjeant at Arms phones Speaker

Serjeant at Arms signs consent form

Damian Green arrested

Damian Green's parliamentary office searched by police

Clerk of the House summons Serjeant at Arms

Speaker's Office phones Speaker

Wednesday 3 December 2008 State Opening

Speaker makes statement to the House

Monday 8 December 2008 Speaker issues Protocol

House votes to establish Committee

Thursday 2 April 2009 Last sift by House officials of material seized by police to indentify proceedings in Parliament
Thursday 9 April 2009 Metropolitan Police pass file to Director of Public Prosecutions
Thursday 16 April 2009 Director of Public Prosecutions announces decision not to charge either Christopher Galley or Damian Green

6.  At the outset of his evidence to this Committee Malcolm Jack, the Clerk of the House and Chief Executive of the House of Commons Service, made an apology without reservation—

I would like to put something on the record because this is the first opportunity I have had to say anything in public. As head of the House service I would like to say that I am sorry that this matter was not better handled. I think I ought to put that on record. I hope the Committee will accept that apology. In accepting the apology, I hope the Committee will also accept from me, and I am sure that many Members here will recognise what I am going to say, that the staff here are very loyal; loyalty is one of the main characteristics of the House staff. They act, to the best of their abilities in good faith and impartially. I just thought I ought to put that on the record as the head of the service but I make the apology without reservation.[5]

7.  The Serjeant at Arms, Jill Pay, also apologised at the commencement of her evidence—

I assure the Committee that I acted in good faith and I take full responsibility for my actions. However, I am very sorry that my actions have caused anxiety and distress among Members. With hindsight it is clear to me that I should not have accepted the duty of confidentiality placed on me by the police. I should have discussed the matter fully with the Clerk of the House on the evening of Wednesday 26 November, after I met with the investigating police officers. I deeply regret that error of judgment.[6]

8.  It is also important to underline that, while the civil servant in the case was dismissed for gross misconduct, criminal charges were not brought against him or against Damian Green who is in law entirely innocent in this matter.

1   Cited in footnotes to this Report as HAC Report Back

2   Cited in footnotes to this Report as PASC Report Back

3   Cited in footnotes to this Report as O'Connor Report Back

4   Cited in footnotes to this Report as Johnston Report; the Review of Operation Miser, dated 14 December 2008, was published in slightly redacted form on 12 October 2009 as Annex A to HMIC Review of the lessons learned from the Metropolitan Police Service's investigation of Home Office leaks (the O'Connor Report) - most of the redactions are of names of officials below ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) rank and also cover legal advice and certain other sensitive matters.  Back

5   Q 216 Back

6   Q 699 Back

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Prepared 22 March 2010