Deborah Summers, HÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©lÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¨ne Mulholland, The Guardian
December 2, 2008
British Transport police chief constable to report to acting Met chief in seven days over arrest of Tory frontbencher
MPs today welcomed a decision to appoint a top police officer to review the arrest of Conservative frontbencher Damian Green.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the acting Metropolitan police commissioner, has asked Ian Johnston, a chief constable in the British Transport police, to report to him within seven days to review the handling of the police inquiry into Home Office leaks.
Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, praised Johnston’s appointment and revealed that she sought assurances from Stephenson yesterday that the inquiry was being carried out in a “proportionate” manner.
In a statement, she said: “In view of the gravity and sensitivity of this ongoing investigation, I spoke to Sir Paul yesterday to seek his assurance that the investigation was being pursued diligently, sensitively and in a proportionate manner. Sir Paul informed me of his intention to conduct a review of the handling of the case, which I welcomed.”
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said it was “frankly, the first sensible thing that has happened in this whole exercise”.
“He can look at how disproportionate this was, how heavy-handed it was, how it was actually a criminal offence being laid against somebody who would normally be dealt with by disciplinary proceedings,” Davis said. “He can certainly look very hard at how the protection of parliament was trampled over in this investigation.”
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, added: “It is important that the circumstances and the decisions, actions and handling of the investigation to date are thoroughly examined against existing guidelines.”
The review comes amid political outrage over the arrest of Green, the shadow immigration minister, last week following leaks he received from Christopher Galley, a junior Home Office official.
Stephenson’s decision to sanction Green’s arrest and the search of his home, parliamentary and constituency offices, infuriated MPs on all sides.
David Wilshire, a Conservative backbencher, formally complained that it breached a ban on agents of the crown entering the Commons imposed after Charles I sent soldiers in to arrest MPs in 1642.
However, the Met’s actions have been defended by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who insisted that no one, regardless of their position, should be able to influence a police inquiry.
In the latest twist, ministers have today been accused of trying to shut the Tories out of top-level talks about Commons Speaker Michael Martin’s response to the controversy over Green’s arrest.
A leaked email revealed that Harriet Harman, the leader of the house, is organising a meeting with other ministers, civil servants and Commons officials this afternoon.
It will consider the Speaker’s much-anticipated statement to the Commons’ tomorrow.
Martin is expected to reveal whether he personally authorised police to enter the palace, and what role was played by the serjeant at arms, Jill Pay, and the clerk of the Commons, Malcolm Jack.
It is thought the Conservatives — in particular David Davis — may raise points of order in the hope of forcing a debate on the floor of the Commons, potentially disrupting arrangements for the state opening of the new parliamentary session and the Queen’s speech.
The Tories are demanding to be allowed to take part in today’s meeting.
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said: “I think some sort of stitch-up meeting between the House of Commons authority and the Labour party wouldn’t be right. If we need to have a meeting, all parties should be there.”
The meeting is due to discuss “arrangements of the Queen’s speech and considerations in advance of the Speaker’s statement on police action and parliament”.
Those invited included Smith, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, and the serjeant at arms — but no Conservatives.
Harman’s office insisted they would only discuss the logistics of the event and not the content of the Speaker’s statement.
But Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: “This is a completely improper meeting convened by the government privately with the Commons authorities and senior civil servants to manage the Speaker’s statement without any representation from other parliamentarians. We insist on being present at this meeting along with representatives of all political parties to discuss the issues on the agenda.”
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, warned of a “slippery slope” if the incident was left unchecked.
He told BBC News 24: “In this country opposition MPs already have far fewer rights, far fewer powers, to lift the lid on secrecy in Whitehall, to really scrutinise what ministers do on our behalf.
“That is essential to any democracy if the public want to get the best out of the government, the government they have elected. The government are not just there to lord it over us no questions asked.”
Clegg added: “If we let the Damian Green incident just pass, I think we’ll go down a slippery slope of letting the government do whatever it likes between one election and the next, and that’s not going to help anyone in the country as a whole.”
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