As he explained to the House:
"I believe that this a very modest but very sensible proposal. It is extremely difficult for members of the British Legion in some towns and cities to organise their remembrance parades because of the clutter, hustle and bustle of the high street on Sunday. Many people who would wish to pay their respects by standing silently at the local cenotaph are local shop workers. This Bill has the very strong support of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and I am delighted to be able to introduce it.
"The Bill would not affect farm shops, pharmacies, petrol filling stations, shops at airports or railway stations, or shops at exhibitions that are specially staged on a Sunday. Rather, it would mean that large shops-those of 280 square meters, or 3,000 square feet, and above-would not be able to open on Remembrance Sunday. It would also mean that the loading restrictions in force for Easter day and Christmas day would apply.
"When we first debated Sunday trading, I was one of those who strongly opposed the removal of all restrictions. I said in a speech then that, if we abolished all the restrictions, we would end up with a high street Sunday that was a replica of Saturday. Whatever view colleagues take of Sunday trading, no one can deny that that is what has happened. In all our major towns and cities, the hustle and bustle and activity on a Sunday mirror that of the day before, the Saturday. Surely it is not too much to ask that only a second Sunday of the year-and, on those rare occasions when Christmas day falls on a Sunday, a third-should be set aside.
"Christmas day is a great day of family celebration. Easter day is too and, like Christmas, it is also a great religious festival. However, there are very few families in the land who have not been touched in one way or another by the conflicts of the last century."
"We have just gone though the war in Iraq, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. I really feel that we should set aside Remembrance Sunday, so that the remembrance ceremonies can be conducted with proper and due decorum, and so that the ringing of the cash till does not drown out the observance of the silence."
The Bill passed its First Reading without a vote; Sir Patrick is being supported in his bid by fellow Conservatives Chris Chope, Christopher Fraser, Ann Widdecombe and Sir Nicholas Winterton, along with Vince Cable (Lib Dem), Rosie Cooper (Lab), Nigel Dodds (DUP), Kate Hoey (Lab), Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru), Richard Taylor (Ind) and Tony Wright (Lab).
The House of Commons yesterday approved a swathe of reforms which will give far more power to backbenchers, including the election of select committee chairmen and the creation of a Business Committee to set much of the Commons' agenda - measures which are long overdue.
But one other measure included in the reforms proposed by the Wright Committee - so named after its chairman, Tony Wright, the Labour MP for Cannock Chase - was to replace the term "chairman" with "chair" in parliamentary parlance (except, for unclear reasons, in the case of the Chairman of Ways and Means).
I have always viewed the term "chairman" as gender neutral - as is the word Ombudsman, for example - and find it a preposterous suggestion that those words are in any way sexist. A "chair", on the other hand, is a piece of furniture.
The veteran Conservative MP, Sir Patrick Cormack, who is retiring at the general election, made a spirited defence of the existing terminology and took the opportunity to tease Harriet HarMAN in opposing the proposed change:
"If you look in the “Oxford English Dictionary”, as I am sure you regularly do, Mr. Speaker, you will see that one of the definitions of “chairman” is a person who takes the chair at a meeting. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase said in the report that the title “Chairman of Ways and Means” should be maintained. There is a degree of inconsistency in saying that we will have a Chairman of Ways and Means, regardless of the sex or gender of that person, but not a Chairman of any other Committee. It is a time-honoured custom to refer to “Madam Chairman”. Indeed, some of the women whom I have most respected, in this House and outside, have looked on such suggestions as rather silly cosmetics. The former Member, the late, lamented Gwyneth Dunwoody would have given short shrift to the proposal, as would the former Speaker, Baroness Boothroyd, who has strong views on matters of this nature, and has voiced them on an number of occasions — not in the context of the Wright report, but elsewhere.
"There really is no need to make the proposed change. I submit to the House that it is rather silly and demeaning to bother with it when we are moving on other matters that are so grave and important. After all, the Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), has never thought to change her name, even though she has had every opportunity to do so. She could call herself “Har” or “Harperson”, or even think up a name, such as — [Interruption] — absolutely, such as “Dromey”. However, she has not chosen to do that. Frankly, the proposed change is not necessary. As one who both passionately wants sensible reform and loves the traditions of this place, I think that there is just no need for it."
Alas the move was backed by 206 votes to 90 and whilst it was a free vote, only two Conservatives voted for the change: James Brokenshire and Maria Miller. All but eight of those opposing the move were Tory MPs, with the honourable exceptions of two Labour MPs, David Blunkett and Kate Hoey, and six Lib Dems: Sir Alan Beith, Annette Brooke, Jeremy Browne, Nick Harvey, Bob Russell and Matthew Taylor.
Conservative MPs lined up yesterday to oppose Labour's plans for a £80m referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote system for electing the House of Commons. Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve led for the Conservatives.
Richard Shepherd on how AV elects the least objectionable candidates: "I know that the Prime Minister has abolished boom and bust, and I now know that he wants to reform our voting system, but let me make an observation. The first-past-the-post voting system goes back to before time almost. It was the way by which, in ancient societies, in a one-vote system, the individual who had the most votes came first. It was the most simple rubric for determining who should be elected. That is how things were, but there has been a reversion. I am told that the Liberal Democrats support the money resolution and the purposes behind it. They have forgotten the advice of Lord Jenkins in his commission’s report. The system that we are debating cannot be said to be an equal or proportionate system any more than the first-past-the-post system can. It therefore means that the least-objectionable candidate is elected."
John Gummer protests at the £80m cost of a referendum on AV: "My constituents do not have the wherewithal to keep our current systems going, because the Government have taken money from the national health service and local government and spread it elsewhere in order to distribute it to their heartlands. It is therefore a scandal to talk to my constituents about £80 million, and they will not forget it at the election. More importantly, the neighbouring constituencies, which are very marginal, will certainly not forget it. They will return to this House people more willing to care for the public finances."
Dominic Grieve says £80m would fund 15 rape crisis centres: "I do not know where the £80 million is supposed to come from, but on my calculation it would pay for the prison places needed to scrap the early release scheme, which the Secretary of State says is so important to him; it would fund 15 rape crisis centres, if that is what he wants to do out of the justice budget; and it would enable him to drop the disgraceful policy of refusing to meet the legal costs of acquitted defendants who do not enjoy legal aid. All those things could be done, and I have to say to him that that would be money much better spent."
Patrick Cormack says the debate is all about Labour wooing the Liberal Democrats: "The motion not only illustrates the prodigality of the Prime Minister—with his busted reputation for financial acumen, which went down the drain a very long time ago—but shows that the Government have no place in their affections or regard for Parliament. They are thrashing around like a dying tyrant, seeking to use their majority to take the public eye off the things that really matter and, perhaps, to save their skins in what they think might become a deal in the future—we remember the Lib-Lab pact, Mr. Deputy Speaker—with those who might come to their aid and succour."
In his main contribution, Dominic Grieve notes that the left-wing blogosphere oppose AV: "The best starting point would be for the Secretary of State to take a short absence from the Chamber to look at the excellent blog site run by his son, Will Straw, on which there has been extensive polling in left-of-centre areas of radicalism about these proposals. No more than 20 per cent., he has concluded, support the alternative vote proposed by the Government and 29 per cent. want no referendum at all. Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn, particularly from a left-of-centre blog, that the vast majority of the remainder want such disparate things that it is impossible to assess what they desire. I think that the Secretary of State would have done rather well to have considered that blog first."
Dominic Grieve says that few voters want the paralysis of PR: "In my constituency—I make this point also in the context of the Liberal Democrats—I get very few representations about changing the electoral system. I suspect that the same is true for many hon. Members. The more that people study proportional representation systems, including purist systems such as that in Israel, the more they must conclude that such systems saddle countries with impossible legislatures, that no proper governance can be carried out under them and that they bring inertia. For those reasons, PR does not commend itself to me."
Mr Grieve on AV favouring Labour: "The alternative vote system would have delivered more seats than the first-past-the-post system for Labour in 2005, even though it only gained 36 per cent. of the popular vote. That seems to me to be a very poor starting-point for change in that direction."
Frank Field highlights another unfairness of AV: "What worries me about the proposals that we are debating is that it is not difficult to imagine some of our colleagues initially being clear winners against three or four other candidates, but, through a process of elimination, losing their seats because the votes eventually go to the runner-up. There is a terrible illogicality in having a system in which a candidate can have a clear lead in the first-preference votes, but in which the second or third-preference votes become equal to the first-preference votes in further stages of the counting. Clearly, those other votes are not equal to the first-preference votes; if they had been, people would have voted differently in the first place."
John Redwood corrects the idea that the Conservatives use AV in internal leadership elections: "Labour and Liberal Democrat representatives seem keen to say that we use the alternative vote system for our internal party elections, but we do not. The system used for our leadership election is the progressive rounds model, under which one candidate drops out at each stage, with everyone being given a vote on the remaining candidates. That could not conceivably be adopted for general elections, as having six or seven candidates at the start would mean that the election would take about three months. The electorate would get bored, and the costs would be massive."
Grieve quotes Ken Livingstone's opposition to AV: “Many people like myself who have long fought for a truly representative voting system will be left with no alternative but to support first-past-the-post because the AV alternative is even worse…Those voters who have backed one of the two strongest candidates in a constituency get no further say in the process, whereas those who have voted for minor parties and crank candidates then get a second vote to determine the outcome between the two leading parties.”
Chris Grayling: "Independent scientific advice is important, but those who take on formal roles with the Government have to be extremely cautious about the things that they say. Professor Nutt’s comments earlier this year, comparing the risks of ecstasy with those of horse riding, were particularly ill judged. The issues that the council deals with are highly sensitive, and there are very divergent opinions out there, so there is a clear responsibility to act cautiously, and be mindful of the fact that messages given by official advisers can and will influence the behaviour of the public."
Sir Patrick Cormack: "As the Home Secretary comes under attack, will he remind himself that it was Churchill who said that scientists should be on tap and not on top?"
David Davis: "May I give unequivocal support not only to the Home Secretary’s decision but to the reasoning behind it? He is obviously familiar with Professor Robin Murray’s comments, which imply that the ACMD did not do a very good job in surveying the evidence previously. I know that the Home Secretary will want to be diplomatic to the council now, but will he please ensure that he also takes evidence from others when he makes his decisions in future?"
The House of Commons heard a statement from the Speaker about expenses yesterday. Herewith the lowlights:
"Members will be aware of the unauthorised disclosure of material relating to their allowances, which has appeared in the press on Friday and over the weekend. This has caused great public concern.
Leaving aside the legal aspect, to which I shall return in a moment, the House has to make serious change to the system of allowances. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that we have been working to new rules from 1 April. We also know that there will be further changes, with proper, independent audit assurance. But working to the rules and the rules alone is not what is expected of any hon. Member; it is important that the spirit of what is right must be brought in now. We are also setting up an operational assurance unit with independent oversight to secure the proper handling of claims. This will be operating very shortly.
To return to the legal aspect, the Clerk of the House immediately sought advice. He was advised that there was no real basis for seeking an injunction but that there was some basis for considering that a criminal offence or offences may have been committed. As right hon. and hon. Members will know from a communication that they received on Friday afternoon, he accordingly referred the matter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. I can understand hon. Members’ concerns about the revealing of details of bank accounts, style of signature and verbal passwords and their concern that an individual who may have sold the data is also capable of selling this information further. That is why the police have been informed. I am also writing to the publisher of the newspaper, drawing this fact to their attention and reminding them of the serious security implications if personal data that might expose Members and others to risks to their safety were to be published. The letter will be copied to all national newspapers."
It is thanks to the judiciary, not to the Speaker, that some progress is finally being made in tackling expense abuses. Speaker Martin is wholly incapable of dealing with this issue. The release of personal details might well be a problem - but it's hardly the big issue. It is extremely self regarding to think that it is.
Labour MP Kate Hoey made a perfectly sensible point, which the Speaker naturally balked at:
"Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to point out that many of us—I hope from all parts of the House—feel that bringing in the Metropolitan police, who have a huge job to do in London at the moment in dealing with all sorts of problems, to try to find out who has leaked something, when, as has been pointed out, the newspapers have handled the personal details very responsibly by blanking them out, is an awful waste of resources? Will the public not see this, whatever the intention, as a way of hiding—
Mr. Speaker: Let me answer the hon. Lady. I listen to her often when I turn on the television at midnight, and I hear her public utterances and pearls of wisdom on Sky News—it is easy to talk then. Let me put this to the hon. Lady and to every hon. Member in this House: is it the case than an employee of this House should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing? The allegations—I emphasise that they are allegations—are that that information was handed over to a third party in order to find the highest bidder for private information. If I do not ask, or rather if the Clerk of the House does not ask, for the police to be brought in, we are saying that that employee should be left in situ with all the personal information of every hon. Member, including the hon. Lady’s own information and that of her employees. Let me say that anyone who has looked at their own un-redacted information can see that the signatures of employees are exposed, that private ex-directory numbers are exposed and that passwords—telephone passwords—are exposed. I just say to the hon. Lady that it is easy to say to the press, “This should not happen,” but it is a wee bit more difficult when you have to do more than just give quotes to the Express—or the press, rather—and do nothing else; some of us in this House have other responsibilities, other than just talking to the press."
South Staffordshire's own Sir Patrick Cormack at least had a proposal that would have a cleansing effect:
"Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you have your discussions later this week, will you please discuss with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the advisability of bringing in an implement that would be used in virtually every other capital city—the water cannon?
During the debate on MPs' expenses yesterday Derek Conway, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, made a noteworthy contribution. (He is listed as a Conservative in Hansard but is not on the Conservative Party website's list of MPs.)
He compared his own experience after being found to have paid his son for work that was not undertaken to that of the now Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Caroline Spelman. Mrs Spelman was recently cleared of deliberately breaching rules, but agreed to pay back expenses she had used to pay a nanny.
Mr Conway said:
"More than 200 close family members are employed by Members of Parliament. Many more employ lovers, who are not necessarily known to be related, and many more again employ in-laws because of the difference in their surnames. No doubt the total number of relatives employed by Members of the House is 250 rather than the lower estimate. Is that wrong? People will make their own judgments about my case, and they have done so. However, many Members of Parliament find it convenient to employ family members, not necessarily to supplement their income, because many MPs take a drop in salary when they come to this place—I halved my salary when I came back. Many Members employ family because of availability and reliability, and as many Members have experienced before me, family members are often employed for confidentiality and convenience. Is it just the money? I am not sure that that is the case, and it will be interesting to see how the Commission addresses the problems of central employment...
However, the standard of proof varies, and I say to the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee that if his reports are contrasted, they will show that there is a difference in the standards applied, not only by the current Committee but by previous Committees, to the Members before them. The House will recall the treatment that led to the loss of Elizabeth Filkin’s services, in relation to the case of the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), and more recently the comparison between the investigation into my family and that into the employment arrangements of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)...
One wonders whether Committees of the House, as we know from experience, bend over backwards to try to protect Front Benchers if they possibly can."
Both Sir Patrick Cormack and Bernard Jenkin intervened on points of order to claim that as Mr Conway had accepted the findings of the House it was a bit rich to revisit the issue again.
It was Treasury questions yesterday.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne poured scorn on the Budget growth forecasts:
"As the Chancellor knows, the growth forecasts that he gave us in the Budget last week, which predicted a return to boom levels of growth in just two years, and that the economy would stay at those boom levels, were greeted with near-universal derision, yet they were the fiction on which he constructed every other Budget forecast. When he gave those forecasts, did he know that the IMF was planning to contradict them flatly just an hour later?
Mr. Darling: Yes, of course I knew the IMF forecasts. The IMF takes a more pessimistic view, not just of our economy but of every economy across the world. However, we ensure that our forecasts are based on the information that we have. If hon. Members look at the IMF and its forecasting over the past three months, they will see that it has downrated its forecasting three times since last October, which demonstrates the uncertainty in the system. However, I believe that because of the action that we are taking, because of the fact that we have low interest rates, because inflation will be coming down this year, and because of the action that most other countries are taking to look after and support their economies, that will have an effect, which is why I remain confident that we will see growth return towards the end of this year.
Mr. Osborne: Frankly, I do not think the Chancellor is in any position to lecture anyone else about downgrading their forecasts after last week. Is not the truth this—that the dishonest Budget has completely unravelled in the space of just a week? We have seen the IMF produce those growth forecasts, which were wholly different from the ones given an hour earlier to the House of Commons. We have the CBI saying that there is no credible or rigorous plan to deal with the deficit. We have the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing to the black hole, and yesterday a former member of the Cabinet, beside whom the Chancellor sat at the Cabinet table, said that his tax plans were a breach of a manifesto promise that is damaging not just to the Labour party, but to the economy. Today we had the Prime Minister getting a lecture in prudence while he was in Warsaw. We are used to Polish builders telling us to fix the roof when the sun is shining, but not the Polish Prime Minister as well.
Does not the collapse of the Budget in the past week and the damage to the Chancellor’s credibility make an almost unanswerable case for an independent office for Budget responsibility, so that we get independent forecasts on Budget day and the assumptions of the Budget are believed by the public?
It's nice that New Labour haven't scrapped the splendid title Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Yesterday saw questions to the Chancellor and the Cabinet Office.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones asked about the impact of the recession on charity:
"The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Brennan): The Charity Commission recently published its second economic survey of charities, which showed that just over half of the charities surveyed are feeling the impact of the downturn. While 30 per cent. of those surveyed have seen their incomes decrease, 32 per cent. say that they have already taken steps to combat the impact of the downturn. The full results of the survey are available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Jones: As the Minister has indicated, the economic survey revealed that charities were feeling the impact of the downturn, but 20 per cent. of them reported that they were experiencing increasing demand for the services that they offer. Given the increasing importance of the third sector in delivering what are often core services, can he say what the Government are doing to help ensure that those services are maintained in the downturn?
Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. Although the survey showed that 5 per cent. of charities reported that they had had to cut services or were holding off new services as a result of the downturn, only 2 per cent. reported that they had had to reduce staff during the recession. We have introduced our “Real Help Now” recession action plan to meet the demands of organisations in the third sector, as they have made it clear that they are worried about the increase in demand at a time when it is possible that their income will fall. The package includes a modernisation fund to help charities meet the challenges of the recession and a fund to help charities in the front line that are working in the most deprived areas, as well as schemes to increase social enterprise and volunteering."
Yesterday saw Foreign Office questions.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind both asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions:
"The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.
Mr. Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama’s recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?
David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran’s neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?
David Miliband: Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran’s legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned."
The Equitable Life scandal was rightly prioritised by Conservative members, who leapt on Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ian Pearson, who had this to say:
"I am very disappointed that the Public Administration Committee should choose to obscure the real help that it accepts the Government’s payments scheme will deliver under extreme headlines, seemingly driven by an uncritical acceptance of the findings of the ombudsman’s report and by its unjustifiable and irresponsible characterisation of the manner of the Government’s response. [ Interruption. ] As a Government, we do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but— [ Interruption. ]
Ian Pearson: The Government do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but in such an important and complex case we have a clear duty to the taxpayer to ensure that our response is informed by a proper and comprehensive consideration of her report. That is what we have done and, as I have indicated previously, we want to move forward with an ex gratia payment scheme just as quickly as possible. We are talking to Sir John Chadwick about the advice that he is providing."
South Staffordshire's Sir Patrick Cormack (above right) was appalled:
"Is the Minister aware that he has just made one of the most shameful statements to have been made from that Dispatch Box in many years? He has rubbished a Committee presided over by one of his own greatly respected colleagues, and discounted the unprecedented second letter from the ombudsman that we all received this week. He has had no support from the Benches behind him, as not a single Labour Member has risen to echo his words. He should be deeply ashamed of himself, because he is bringing the Government and the whole system into disrepute.
Ian Pearson: I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has a very long track record of upholding standards in this House, but we have departed from the ombudsman’s findings only where we have clear and cogent reasons for doing so. We have applied scrupulously the terms of the Parliamentary Commissioners Act 1967, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal in the Bradley judgment. For no other reasons have we departed from those findings. I have to say that I remain very disappointed indeed that the PAC does not appear to have understood some of the arguments that we have made to it."
(The Public Administration Committee is chaired by Dr Tony Wright.)
It was questions to Communities and Local Government ministers yesterday.
Shadow London Minister Bob Neill asked a good question about centralised housebuilding targets:
"It is five years this month since the Government’s own Barker review identified the problems that arise from reliance on the section 106 system and its attendant complexities as a means of driving development. Since then, the Government have added to those complications with measures such as the community infrastructure levy. Against that background and the decline in receipts, to which reference has been made, is it not better to move away from that complicated regime and a system of top-down development targets to one of incentivising local communities and local authorities to accept development by allowing them to keep some of the proceeds that arise to their own tax base from encouraging development?
Margaret Beckett: I think that the hon. Gentleman left out an important development: in the meantime the Government have made available some £8 billion of resources for investment in housing. That is twice as much as the amount that was available in the previous period, which was itself substantial. I think that he was probably referring to the proposals, in so far as one can call them that, in the Conservative party’s latest publication of its policies —[Interruption.] I accept that it is a very short read. It is perhaps not entirely well-founded in the statistics that it cites, but I am sure that we will be examining it in future in the House."
Hansard has the full report of the Speaker's statement on Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green and subsequent contributions from MPs here. There will be a debate on the issue on Monday.
Some highlights from yesterday are reproduced below.
The Speaker is to be commended for one thing: offering no public comment before addressing Parliament:
"In the past few days there has been much pressure on me to make public comment about these matters, but I felt that it was right and fitting that I should make no comment until Parliament reconvenes, because it is this House and this House alone that I serve, as well as being accountable for the actions of its Officers. I should emphasise from the start that it is not for me to comment on the allegations that have been made against the hon. Member or on the disposal of those allegations in the judicial process."
After making the point that Parliament is not a "haven from the law", Speaker Martin gave an outline of events:
"On Wednesday last, the Metropolitan police informed the Serjeant at Arms that an arrest was contemplated, but did not disclose the identity of the Member. I was told in the strictest confidence by her that a Member might be arrested and charged, but no further details were given to me. I was told that they might be forthcoming the next morning.
At 7 am on Thursday, police called upon the Serjeant at Arms and explained the background to the case, and disclosed to the Serjeant the identity of the Member. The Serjeant at Arms called me, told me the Member’s name and said that a search might take place of his offices in the House. I was not told that the police did not have a warrant. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the Serjeant was not obliged to consent, or that a warrant could have been insisted upon. [ Interruption. ] Order. Let me make the statement. I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant at Arms, without consulting the Clerk of the House.
I must make it clear to the House— [ Interruption. ] Order. I must make it clear to the House that I was not asked the question of whether consent should be given, or whether a warrant should have been insisted on. I did not personally authorise the search. It was later that evening that I was told that the search had gone ahead only on the basis of a consent form. I further regret that I was formally told by the police only yesterday, by letter from Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick, that the hon. Member was arrested on 27 November on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office."