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

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 160-179)



  Q160  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: You have informed us, Lord Martin, that after that telephone conversation at 7.30 on the morning Mr Green was arrested that you left for your constituency in Glasgow.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: That is correct.

  Q161  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: You have chosen in paragraph 17 of your memorandum to say that you were disappointed that the Clerk of the House had gone to a conference in Ireland despite the serious situation in the House.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: No, I did not say the Clerk of the House.

  Q162  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Speaker's Counsel, I am sorry.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I make no criticism of the Speaker's Counsel.

  Q163  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: It is the Clerk of the House. In paragraph 17 you say: "I am disappointed that the Clerk of the House, who also holds the office of Chief Executive, was out of the country when there was so serious a situation in the House."

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Bear this in mind, Sir Malcolm: we now have what they call seven-day a week 24-hour media and by then the word was out and the television, the media and all that were really seriously going at the matter. The Leader of the Opposition had had his say. The Leader of the House, as I say, was appearing on television. The Speaker cannot appear on television. The Speaker cannot rebut anything; it is not the done thing. Others can criticise but the Speaker cannot rebut. Here was a crisis going on and, okay, I was up in Glasgow but that is well within travelling distance of London. The Chief Executive—and I did not give him that title, the House gave him that title; Tebbit said that this Clerk will be the Chief Executive—of the organisation left to go on holiday abroad and, yes, I was deeply disappointed that that happened.

  Q164  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Just a final question. I am genuinely puzzled, Lord Martin. Do you not think in retrospect that perhaps it would have been appropriate for you, having been informed on the day of the arrest that a Member of Parliament was going to be arrested later that day and his office was going to be searched it might have been more appropriate for you as Speaker to immediately call a meeting of your senior advisers to be advised as to what is the proper procedure when that might be about to happen in order that you could be satisfied that all the steps, not just people being informed, were being taken that could be taken and do you not accept that if you had done that it is likely that you would have been informed that a warrant was necessary?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: If we could all turn the clock back that would be great. Everybody is great at saying what you should have done after the event. Let me say this: I also had the worry—and I have said this to Sir Alan—that it was an investigation by an anti-terrorist squad and I might have been seen to be interfering with an anti-terrorist group, but at the end of the day what I would say is I expected a senior official in charge of security to let the other officers know, particularly Speaker's Counsel.

  Q165  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Forgive me Lord Martin but you are saying with the benefit of hindsight certain things might have been done differently by you but you are not offering that excuse to the Clerk of the House or to the Serjeant at Arms. You are being very critical of the way they behaved and suggesting they should have behaved in a different way.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Sir Malcolm, I understand you are an advocate.

  Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Not since 1979.

  Q166  Mr Blunkett: It shows!

  Lord Martin of Springburn: You do not forget where you came from. Bear this in mind: any Speaker I know of or any Member holding office in the House of Commons is a lay man and woman who was elected, cabinet ministers are the same, and the professionals around you are there to look after your interests and to advise you and to see that things do not go wrong and, okay, a terrible mistake was made but for the Chief Executive to go abroad, well, I will leave that for you to draw your own conclusion on.

  Q167  Mr Henderson: Lord Martin, I am trying to get to grips with the gist of your statement up to this point. As I understand it, you say in paragraph 7: "It was my understanding that such matters would always be discussed with senior officers as necessary before I was informed." I think we would all recognise that there are many issues that come before the Speaker every day and that it is not always possible to investigate every issue in great detail and the gist of your statement is that the Speaker is heavily dependent on advice from the Clerk, from the Speaker's Counsel, and from the Serjeant. Can I ask two questions about that. If that is to be a credible argument, then did you have confidence in the structure of the relationship among those officers, between the Clerk, the Speaker's Counsel and the Serjeant at Arms? That is my first question. My second question, which is linked to that, is were you confident about the competence of the Serjeant at Arms in relation to those structures, in other words the relationship with the other officers, and in relation to carrying out her everyday tasks at that point?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Well, let me say, Mr Henderson, that the office of Serjeant was held by a person who had been 17 years a servant of the House of Commons. In fact I recall she was the personal assistant to the Serjeant at Arms when the very building we are in, Portcullis House, opened up in the year 2000, the year I became Speaker, because one of my first duties was to open this building and there is a booklet telling you about all the people involved. Also that confidence was there in the sense that, as I said previously, the Serjeant had arrived on a short list of five people and had been honed down to two people. Certainly you might use the word "confidence" but my expectation would be that the Serjeant should have known to involve the other officers, particularly when the two senior clerks were her immediate superiors and she was answerable to them. For previous Serjeants it was different.

  Q168  Mr Henderson: Given what you knew about those relationships and what you knew about the Serjeant, were you confident that that would have been done in this instance? Hindsight tells us something different.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: You use the word confidence. I would have expected that would have been done.

  Q169  Mr Henderson: But were you confident that it would have been done?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: All I can say is that in the circumstances at the time when this was put to me, and it was put to me on a confidential basis, yes, I think the term `confident' would fit with what my feeling of my expectation was that that should have happened.

  Q170  Ms Hewitt: Lord Martin, you have told us that the Serjeant at Arms reports to the Clerk Assistant and from him to the Clerk of the House. Who does the Clerk of the House report to?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Well, the Clerk of the House reports to the Speaker and the Clerk of the House has several roles, Ms Hewitt. He is the accounting officer in charge of all the accounts of the House of Commons and he also has the role of Chief Executive. Let me tell you in the days of Robin Cook—God rest him—that when he was Leader of the House there was a feeling that the role of Chief Executive and the Clerk should have been separate because the Clerk was—

  Q171  Ms Hewitt: I remember that.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: The Clerk was seen as a procedural officer and a procedural expert and that perhaps the organisation had got so big that we should now get a Chief Executive in. The then Clerk fought very hard against that idea. I have made reference to the Tebbit Report. There was a report called the Braithwaite Report and the then Clerk Sir William McKay said no, that role has got to be one and the other. So who is the Clerk accountable to? Well, the elected Member that he would deal with mostly would be the Speaker but not exclusively because bear in mind that the Speaker would not have a right to tell him what to do in terms of being the accounting officer. He is responsible for all the accounts of the House and the Speaker would not be able to overrule a Clerk in many areas of his work. I would say in answer to you, Mr Henderson, as well, talking about confidence—and it is not for me, I have left the role of Speaker to Speaker Bercow—the House has a responsibility to look after this. We are now dealing with this seven-day a week 24-hour a day media. The Clerks are excellent procedural experts and I found as Speaker that on a Monday to a Friday there was that solid advice that I could tap into, but I think it is a fair criticism to say that the Clerks still live in that era when people like the Speaker and others in that role were left alone and were not bothered at the weekend. When the media got started was on a Friday afternoon and I found—and I made a criticism of that—that getting hold of a Clerk at the weekend was very, very difficult to do.

  Q172  Ms Hewitt: That is a very helpful clarification, thank you, but on that point can you remember when the Clerk of the House went abroad that week of the 26/27/28 November?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Well, it all broke on the Thursday. Certainly by the Friday morning he was at his home in Portugal; he was not here. And, by the way, when I met with Speaker's Counsel on 2 December, okay, we are talking calmly now, but I was not talking calmly then about all of this going on. On 2 December the first thing I put to the Clerk was that he should not have left the country. It was not the first time that that had happened.

  Mr Blunkett: Chairman, that is what I was trying to clarify a little when Michael Howard was questioning the Speaker because I think it is quite important we know when and where and at what point the Clerk was available and when he was not.

  Chairman: We will be taking evidence from him in due course and we will be able to deal with that matter then.

  Q173  Ms Hewitt: Just one more question on that matter. Lord Martin, at that meeting on 2 December I think you made it clear, and there seems to be general agreement, that there had been serious failures in communication and in the management of and response to this very serious issue. We have been talking a lot about the benefit of hindsight. I just wonder whether, given the benefit of hindsight, you can tell the Committee how you think matters should have been handled once the police told the Serjeant that there might be the arrest of a Member?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I had no knowledge of the fact that an approach was made on the 20th, six days before I was approached, that the police were interested in this particular situation and, with hindsight, that is when the Serjeant should have gone to her immediate superior and said this is happening and then things would have fallen into place because I would have probably found that rather than saying whether I should have gone for advice that what would have happened is that the Clerks would have then said, "This is something we had better take to the Speaker," so it was being done in the normal way. On 2 December I was not even getting the full story. I was being told that the approach was made the night before to the Serjeant but the Johnston Report tells me that it was made on the 20th. With hindsight, that is the way it should have been done. I am still trying to work out to this day, bear in mind I was told in the morning, okay, there was this problem and I said, "Please phone me," and bear in mind that the business of the House on a Wednesday is earlier and that afternoon I was out of the building on a personal matter but I had given my mobile number and the residence number and at 5 o'clock I was back in the residence and a phone call was made to me to say that there was no name that could be provided. What I cannot understand is why I was not told that there was a meeting at 3.30 that day in the Serjeant's office discussing entry into the House of Commons. Mr Howard and Sir Malcolm said why did you not do this. All of these things would have got my alarm bells going. I would have said, "Wait a minute, what is this meeting with the police?" I cannot understand why I was not told, "By the way, I have had a meeting with four officers including Chief Superintendent Bateman." The Clerk has a responsibility on the Parliamentary Estate. I also find it hard to take in that a Serjeant or a junior person comes into a Clerk Assistant and says, "Do I have a right to bring in the police?" Let me put it to you, Patricia, if I came into the tea room and said to you, "Do I have a right to bring the police in?" the first thing you would say is, "Michael, why are you asking me these questions? Is there something going on?" The Clerk Assistant then put it on to the most senior Clerk and the Clerk said yes she had authority but that authority was with certain conditions. But still, neither of those most two senior officers in the House asked why these questions were being put. I find it hard to take in that two experts in procedure would just say you have got the authority. One passed it on up the line to the other without asking why was the question being posed and the other said yes you have and left it at that.

  Q174  Ms Hewitt: Indeed, despite being experts in procedure, neither the Clerk nor the Clerk Assistant seem to have looked at the Sir William McKay memorandum designed to deal with exactly this situation arising written back in 2000.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: This is where the Speaker is dependent on those around him who have that expertise. By the way, once the serious situation had arrived—I am talking about from 1 December onwards—you heard evidence there were letters to and from Damian Green saying he did not understand why the matter could not have been discussed on the Floor of the House. All the procedural expertise was brought into being then, so, with hindsight, if we had had that type of expertise before the event it would have been very helpful indeed.

  Q175  Chairman: Just before I bring Ann Coffey in, there is one matter I think I ought to put to you, Lord Martin, and it is this: in paragraph 29 of your statement, still referring to the meeting on 2 December about which you have told us number of things, you tell us in the second sentence: "I asked the Serjeant why she had conducted herself in this manner" and then you go on to say: "The Clerk of the House intervened to say that Chief Superintendent Bateman had bamboozled the Serjeant and tricked her into keeping the matter from her immediate superiors. The Clerk went on to say that, while Chief Superintendent Bateman was a Metropolitan Police officer, he also had a duty towards the House." May I take it that would you would not have reproduced those sentences unless you had a clear recollection that that was what the Clerk said in the course of that meeting?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I have got a clear recollection. The position was this, if I just refer to my notes, that present at that meeting was myself, obviously, the Clerk, the Serjeant, and I insisted that Speaker's Counsel be there and Angus Sinclair, the Speaker's Secretary, was there. Of course, as I said to Mrs Hewitt, I was appalled at the idea of this "what if" scenario, leaving police officers sitting in a room and saying, "Right, I will go away and find out," and this was done in a clandestine manner as far as I was concerned. We are talking calmly here but I was not so calm in that meeting. I said, "Why did you conduct yourself in this manner?" Clearly at that stage before the Serjeant at Arms could answer that question, the Clerk came in and said that Chief Superintendent Bateman had bamboozled the Serjeant and tricked her into keeping the matter from her immediate superiors. He also said that whilst Chief Superintendent Bateman was an officer of the Metropolitan Police because of his secondment to the Parliamentary Estate he had a duty to keep everyone right. The Serjeant did not dissent from that remark that was made. Could I be allowed to double check that those present were present. Speaker's Counsel was there.

  Q176  Chairman: The reason I am asking you this question, Lord Martin, as I am sure you will understand, is that this is a very serious charge indeed to make about the Chief Superintendent because you did not make the charge but it was a charge which was made by the Clerk in your presence which you noted and which you have placed now before the Committee in evidence.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I am placing that before the Committee. Let me say that I had met Chief Superintendent Bateman on a number of occasions and I have always found him to be professional and courteous. I would not say I had met him on a regular basis. And, yes, I felt that putting that in my statement I had to make it clear that blame was being put here in saying that there was an admission at that meeting that the Serjeant had kept matters back but she was doing so because she had been tricked by Chief Superintendent Bateman.

  Q177  Chairman: An allegation—because we must treat it as that for this purpose—that a senior police officer had tricked the Serjeant at Arms of the House of Commons would be an allegation of the utmost seriousness.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: It is very serious. Let me say, Sir Menzies, that I have known everyone round this table for at least two decades perhaps even longer. I even knew your father before you.

  Chairman: That of course is a well-known Scottish introduction.

  Q178  Mr Henderson: That is where that phrase came from.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I kent your father well! Let me say this: I think people know me well enough. I consider myself speaking here as if I am speaking on oath although I have not been asked to take an oath. I think people know me well enough to know I would not say something like that about someone who is a career officer unless it was said in that room. The only reason I mention it was that I was deeply concerned about the information being kept from me and blame was being put on to someone else.

  Chairman: I am very grateful for that explanation, Lord Martin. Ann Coffey?

  Q179  Ann Coffey: Do you think that the Speaker or the Serjeant ever should be allowed to consent to the search of a Member's personal office on the Parliamentary Estate without the Member's agreement?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: What I would say, Ann, is that there is now a Protocol. We have all been talking about hindsight. This situation did not turn up on every occasion and some Speakers have been very lucky that nothing like that has ever happened to them. You will understand that in my statement on 3 December that a Protocol has been put in place which I hope would avoid that. The other thing is that I do understand from the Johnston Report or the other report that was done by Denis O'Connor that a Protocol has actually been put up for departments to adhere to and to take into due consideration the House of Commons if an investigation takes place. I think that what you put to me there is should a search take place without the Member's consent. My understanding, and I went through it with Speaker's Counsel and Speaker's Counsel is emphatic and it is maybe something you should put to him, is that you cannot stop a warrant and therefore in a sense that would be without the Member's permission. If a Member let the police search then you would not need a warrant but a Speaker could not stop a warrant. From this day on I think a warrant would be signed by a judge as opposed to a lay magistrate living in a flat in Pimlico. It would have to be a judge that would have to get certain proof.

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