Richard Ottoway (Croydon South): "We have a situation where police from the Met appear to have fabricated evidence against a Cabinet Minister; the Met Commissioner is put in charge of the investigation and admits to discussing the case with journalists; in breach of his own rules, he fails to keep a note of the discussion; and, six months later, we do not even have a report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commissioner has a lot of questions to answer?"
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East): "After a terribly bruising encounter at the hands of the media, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) attempted to clear his name in the press. It now seems apparent that he was the victim of media spin at the highest level of the Metropolitan police. Does the Minister understand that this case is particularly important not because the wronged party was a Member of Parliament but because it could happen to any one of our constituents who do not have the vehicle to put things right?"
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Matthew Barrett
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Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.
Origins of the Group:
The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.
Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."
Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".
By Joseph Willits
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In Parliament yesterday, Immigration Minister Damian Green responded to an urgent question tabled by his Labour counterpart Chris Bryant after reports that 4,238 foreign criminals awaiting deportation were still committing crimes. In May of this year, 3,775 foreign criminals were awaiting deportation, but by September the number had increased by almost 500.
Green said that in 2010, the Government had "removed more than 5,000 foreign criminals, 43% by the end of their prison sentence", adding that "where there are barriers to early removal, the agency seeks to detain them to protect the public".
However, the removal of foreign criminals is effected by legal issues Green said, saying that the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) had to "operate within the law". The UKBA "must release foreign offenders when ordered to do so by the courts and release low-risk offenders where there is no realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable period". Green said that "challenges under human rights legislation, the situation in the offender’s home country, and lack of co-operation by the offender or his home Government in getting essential travel documents" could all delay the deportation process. Whilst the deportation process was still ongoing, "the UKBA works closely with the police and the National Offender Management Service to reduce the risk of reoffending".
By Matthew Barrett
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As the Feltham and Heston by-election reaches its later stages - it is set to take place next Thursday - senior Conservative MPs have been paying visits to the constituency. In the last few days, the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, the Minister of State for Immigration, Damian Green, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, and the Prime Minister, have all been campaigning in the seat, to try and help Cllr Mark Bowen.
We have some pictures (see right, click to expand), and Bob Blackman MP has another frontline report:
"One week out from polling day in Feltham and Heston the campaign is shifting up a gear. We have run a strong campaign from the off and with the Prime Minister, the International Development Secretary and the Immigration Minister in the constituency today, as well as dozens of MPs, councillors and activists, today has been a high visibility day. The PM got a great reception at a Cameron Direct at the local DHL depot. It’s clear from feedback on the ground that our local candidate is well respected as a hard-working councillor. We are listening to local people’s concerns. Our key messages of controlling immigration, taking the necessary action to reduce the deficit and reforming welfare to end Labour’s something for nothing culture are really resonating with people on the doorstep. As we enter the final week we will be fighting hard for every vote."
Update 2.15pm: Dr Andrew Murrison MP has sent us this account of his experience campaigning in the seat:
"I’ve just been canvassing in Feltham and Heston with the candidate Cllr Mark Bowen and was there all day last Thursday. I have rarely met a candidate who is so well plugged in to the local community. In such a complex and diverse seat, being comprehensively tuned in is a challenge and one that the other candidates do not appear to have mastered. Being able to get by in a number of languages relevant to the area is a distinct advantage and a real plus on the doorstep. Mark definitely deserves to win."
by Paul Goodman
I was the first journalist to write that Quilliam is to close, but the think-tank's doing its best to defy my prediction. For those who haven't followed the story, Quilliam is Britain's sole counter-extremism think-tank. It's funded by government (though it's long been seaching for private and voluntary sector money to replace it). The Home Office is about to end its financing - which mean that, if replacement money isn't found, Quilliam will be no more.
Paul Goggins, a former Labour Minister, led a Westminster Hall debate yesterday. Every speaker supported Quilliam. Julian Lewis spoke from the Conservative backbenches -
By Jonathan Isaby
Answering an Urgent Question from Ed Balls - in his last outing as shadow home secretary - Home Office Minister Damian Green yesterday confirmed that the Government is next week reducing the maximum period for pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects from 28 days to 14 days.
Here's how he made the announcement to the Commons:
"On 13 July last year, the Home Secretary announced that she was renewing the current order for 28-day pre-charge detention for six months, while the powers were considered as part of a wider review of counter-terrorism powers. As the Home Secretary will be giving a full statement to the House on Wednesday on the outcome of that review, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt her statement by giving details of the review today.
"This Government are clear that the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to 28 days’ detention before they were charged or released was meant to be an exceptional power—that was always Parliament’s intention. But under the last Government, it became the norm, with the renewal of 28 days repeatedly brought before the House, despite the power rarely being used. Since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite the many terrorists arrested since then. That is a testament to the efforts of our prosecutors, our police and our intelligence agencies.
"As I said, the Home Secretary will, next Wednesday, announce to the House the findings from the wider review of counter-terrorism and security powers. She will set out the detailed considerations of the Government in determining whether the current regime of 28 days should be renewed and, if not, what should be put in its place. In the interim, I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit and, accordingly, the current order will lapse on 25 January and the maximum limit of pre-charge detention will, from that time, revert to 14 days. We are clear that 14 days should be the norm and that the law should reflect that. However, we will place draft emergency legislation in the House Library to extend the maximum period to 28 days to prepare for the very exceptional circumstances when a longer period may be required. If Parliament approved, the maximum period of pre-charge detention could be extended by that method.
"In the Government’s announcement on the wider review, the Home Secretary will set out what contingency measures should be introduced in order to ensure that our ability to bring terrorists to justice is as effective as possible. This country continues to face a real and serious threat from terrorism. That threat is unlikely to diminish any time soon. The Government are clear that we need appropriate powers to deal with that threat but that those powers must not interfere with the hard-won civil liberties of the British people. There is a difficult balance to be struck between protecting our security and defending our civil liberties. The outcome of our counter-terrorism powers review will strike that balance, and it is this Government’s sincere hope that it will form the basis of a lasting political consensus across the House on this fundamentally important issue."
The statement was widey welcomed by Conservative MPs with Dominc Raab, for example, saying:
By Jonathan Isaby
At Home Office questions yesterday, Immigration MInister Damian Green answered a selection of questions on non-EU migration, further to the recent announcement that there will be a reduction in the number of visas issued next year from 28,000 to 21,700.
As a supplementary question, Sheryll Murray, the new MP for South East Cornwall specifically asked how many migrant workers are from within the EU and how many are from elsewhere, to which the minister replied:
"I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question, because it enables me to puncture one of the great urban myths in the immigration debate, which is that most immigration comes from within the European Union. The net migration figures - which we will get down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament - show that the vast bulk of immigrants come from outside the European Union. She asked about the numbers. In 2009, 292,000 non-European economic area migrants entered the UK and only 109,000 left. The House will see that the vast majority of net immigration comes from outside the European Union. Such immigration is precisely what we will take action on."
There were several other supplementaries from Tory MPs on the subject:
Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands): Will the Minister assure the House that the new proposals to control immigration will protect the interests of legitimate businesses?
Damian Green: I give that assurance to the House and, beyond that, to business. We held something that has been unusual in recent years: a consultation that genuinely consulted. We listened to business and changed the rules on inter-company transfers. That is also why we got rid of most of tier 1 and left a small remainder for the very exceptional. We now have a system that will not only enable us to get immigration to sustainable levels, but protect businesses and educational institutions that are vital to our future prosperity.
Robert Buckland (Swindon South): What evidence has he found of abuse in the points-based immigration system that was introduced by the previous Government?
Damian Green: Regrettably, there is large-scale abuse. For instance, we looked at a sample of the migrants who came here last year in tier 1, which is meant to cover the brightest and the best of highly skilled migrants, and nearly a third of them were doing completely unskilled jobs. We have also found widespread abuse in the student system. That tells us that we must refine and smarten the points-based system that was left to us by the previous Government so that it does the job of ensuring that we get immigration numbers down to sustainable levels.
A special Commons committee convened to consider the events surrounding the arrest of Damian Green and search of his Commons office (with regard to leaks he had received from a Home Office civil servant) has published its report this afternoon.
You can read it in its entirety here, but suffice to say it is critical of the former Speaker, Michael Martin, the police, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, among others.
The report concludes that Home Office officials were at fault "in allowing an exaggerated impression to be formed by the Cabinet Office of the damage done by the leaks". In turn, the Cabinet Office's references to national security having been compromised were deemed to be "hyperbolic and unhelpful".
The arrest of Mr Green was "disproportionate" and "poorly executed", the committee concludes, with the use if electronic surveillance also being condemned.
The search warrants were obtained on the back of written informations with "sloppy wording", with the police's failure to advise the Serjeant at Arms of the right to refuse consent for a search "symptomatic of the sloppy approach of the police in this case".
There was "seriously inadequate communication" between the Speaker, Clerk of the House and Serjeant at Arms, but "Mr Speaker Martin failed to exercise the ultimate responsibility, which was his alone, to take control and not merely to expect to be kept informed."
Damian Green has responded with the following brief statement:
“This report exposes serious failures at the heart of Government, the police, and the Parliamentary authorities. The ultimate responsibility for this wretched attempt at authoritarian Government lies with Ministers, and in a few weeks the British people will be able to pass judgement on them.”
Anthony Steen, the Conservative MP for Totnes and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on human trafficking, saw his Private Member's Bill to establish a national anti-slavery day go through all its Commons stages yesterday.
In a passionate speech, he explained that despite the abolition of slavery in 1833, there are hundreds of thousands of people trafficked around the world for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic slavery or organised crime and he highlighted some of the distressing cases that had reached his attention.
"The important thing is to let men, women and children know that modern-day slavery exists here in Britain and needs to be stamped out. We must reinforce the focus and understanding of the public. Slavery did not disappear when Wilberforce passed his legislation through this House. That is why we need an annual anti-slavery day.
"A national anti-slavery day would continue to draw attention to the evils of human trafficking post-Wilberforce and how it is manifesting itself in British society. We would not be the first country to establish a day of awareness of human trafficking and modern-day slavery; the United States has already done this. In June 2007, the US Senate passed a resolution establishing a national day of human trafficking awareness on 11 January each year. The aim of the day is to raise awareness of and opposition to human trafficking and modern-day slavery, both domestically and across the globe. Various events are organised each year in the US on that day, including public debates, press conferences and a film screening, along with news items and media reports."
"Similarly, schools in Britain could be encouraged to incorporate this topic into their curriculum to raise awareness among students. That would encourage teachers to receive special training to help their students learn about modern-day slavery in a sensitive and engaging way. Specialist training would also be a priority for social workers and the police, so they could develop expertise in the area and play an instrumental role in raising awareness among local communities. Thus, people across the board would start waking up; just as Holocaust memorial day was held earlier this week, so we would have a day to raise awareness of slavery, modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The efforts made by individuals, business, organisations, educational institutions and governing bodies to promote the observance of an anti-slavery day each year would represent one of the many examples of an ongoing commitment in the UK to raise awareness of human trafficking and to oppose such trafficking actively."
From the Opposition front bench, Damian Green gave the Bill the Conservative Party's official backing:
The Serjeant-at-Arms, Jill Pay, has today apologised for her role in the the events leading to the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green last year. She appeared before the Commons committee investigating the circumstances of the search, to give her version of events.
"I am very sorry that my actions have caused anxiety and distress among members," she said. "I deeply regret that error of judgement". Ms Pay said she felt under "considerable pressure" from police investigating Mr Green, and that they had "convinced" her that a warrant would not be needed.
She claimed officers told her that given the nature of the charges against Mr Green, he could face a possible sentence of 20 to 25 years, leading her to believe she "would be obstructing a criminal investigation" if she did not consent to the search.
Yesterday Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes, successfully tabled an urgent question to the Home Secretary over his decision not to intervene to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon, his constituent, to the United States.
Mr Burrowes said that he wanted Alan Johnson to consider one particular aspect of the case:
"I want him
to focus on the medical evidence, which he has considered and not
disputed, and the limited human rights discretion that he accepts he
has. Does the Home Secretary not accept that Professor
Jeremy Turk’s report of 8 October raised new and material evidence,
namely that Gary McKinnon “is now suffering from an
exacerbation of his very serious Major Depressive Disorder… aggravated
and complicated by anxiety and panic attacks” aligned to his having Asperger’s syndrome?
"Given that he now places Gary McKinnon at an “even higher risk of self-harm and suicide” than after his earlier report, and concludes that “suicide is now a real probability and will be an almost certain inevitability should he experience extradition”, and that there is a high probability that he “will require inpatient psychiatric containment”, surely he has established a real risk of human rights being breached should extradition proceed. Putting it more bluntly, how ill and vulnerable does Gary McKinnon need to be not to be extradited to the United States?
"The Home Secretary wants to rely on previous court judgments. Given that Lord Justice Stanley Burnton indicated that if Gary McKinnon were not extradited he could be prosecuted in this country, how can it be proportionate to allow the extradition of a UK citizen who is suicidal and sectionable? Is it not the case that far from being powerless to stop Gary McKinnon’s extradition, in the light of the medical evidence the Home Secretary has shown himself and his Government to be spineless?"
Shadow Home Affairs minister Damian Green also weighed in with a series of points from the front bench:
Back in December 2008, Mr Maude was told that the Security Commission - a Cabinet Office body dedicated to investigating security breaches in Whitehall - had looked into two cases since 1997. Reports were published. One of these was about the Ministry of Defence; the other related to Buckingham Palace.
However, the Treasury was oddly unconcerned by another event:
"Mr. Maude: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will request the Security Commission to undertake an investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of information relating to taxation measures in the Pre-Budget Report 2008. 
And yet the Security Commission has actually published reports of other inquiries.
Details of the 2008 Pre-Budget Report were widely trailed in the media. Martin Broughton, President of the CBI, said "The Treasury appears to be leaking like a sieve". Bookmakers stopped taking bets on major policy changes before the Report officially came out.
All of this contrasts rather strikingly - and indeed suspiciously - with the East German approach taken to the Damian Green case.
The Government was sensationally and splendidly defeated yesterday in the House of Commons.
A Liberal Democrat motion backed by the Conservatives and 27 Labour MPs was supported by a vote of 267 to 246. It offered all Gurkhas equal right of residence, which the Government had wanted to restrict. David Cameron later commented that "Today is a historic day where Parliament took the right decision ... The government now has got to come back with immediate proposals so that the Gurkhas can have an answer."
During the debate, Michael Howard made an impassioned speech:
"The 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at Shorncliffe, in my constituency. In a bitter irony, soldiers from that battalion returned to Shorncliffe on Sunday 19 April, 10 days ago—just five days before the Government made their announcement—from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was a tour of duty in which, yet again, they demonstrated their heroism and valour, and during which they lost two of their comrades. On Tuesday 4 November, Rifleman Yubraj Rai received a gunshot wound from enemy fire. He received medical treatment at the scene but he died a short time later from his wounds. Only a few days later, on Saturday 15 November, Colour Sergeant Krishnabahadur Dura was taking part in a road move in the Musa Qala district of Helmand, when the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle in which he was travelling was struck by an explosive device.
Those Gurkha soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for our country. When they died, the Prime Minister told the House that we should never forget the sacrifice that they had made, just as he did some three hours ago in respect of the death of the Welsh Guardsman who lost his life yesterday. However, those words must be accompanied by deeds.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell has tabled an Early Day Motion on Damian Green. It has been signed by Michael Howard, Bill Cash, Peter Bottomley, Bernard Jenkin and David Davis.
Herewith the text of EDM 1307:
"That this House notes the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions on 16 April 2009 announcing his decision that no charges would be brought against the hon. Member for Ashford in relation to the documents leaked and stating that, `Mr Green's purpose in using the documents was apparently to hold the Government to account'; and calls for the House to be given the opportunity to debate a motion to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges."
Update: Alan Duncan and Bernard Jenkin both raised this matter at Business Questions today - and got a rise out of Harriet Harman.
Mr Duncan said:
"Most of us in the House will be pleased that the case of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has now been satisfactorily resolved. Even though the issue became rather heated, surely we should now stand back and study the implications of what happened. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to reflect on early-day motion 1307?
Will the Leader of the House support the motion that was originally tabled on the Order Paper before the Easter recess to ensure that the House can refer this matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges as soon as possible? Now is the best time to learn the lessons of this affair so that all the confusion can be cleared up for the future. It is no good her saying that the Attorney-General’s opinion was that there was no confusion, because there was. There is a perfectly good process available to us, and we should invoke it; will she confirm that she will co-operate in doing so?"
The Leader of the House of Commons replied:
"Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked about the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the issues of parliamentary privilege that arose from it. The House has already made a resolution to refer the matter to a Committee of the Speaker, and I do not think that it would be a good idea to set up a twin-track approach. All the issues about entry on to the premises of Parliament, the searching of parliamentary offices and constituency correspondence and what is, or should be, available to the court can be considered by the Speaker’s Committee, which the House agreed should start its work after the criminal proceedings had come to a conclusion. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should set up a twin-track approach and a separate inquiry into the same issues via the Standards and Privileges Committee.
Alan Duncan: Different issues.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman says that, but he would need to explain why the Speaker’s Committee could not consider the issues that he is concerned about and believes need to be looked into. I am obviously keen for the House to be able to have all the issues that it wants resolved looked into, and I have no vested interest in the House not looking into them and coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I just do not want there to be a twin-track proposal or for us to undermine a resolution that the House has already made at your request, Mr. Speaker, that there should be a Speaker’s Committee to look into the matter."