Richard Bacon is Conservative MP for South Norfolk and a Member of the Public Accounts Committee. In this piece he contends that "a string of resignations" may be necessary to rectify the attack on Parliamentary sovereignty that last week's raid on Damian Green's Commons office represented.
The arrest of Damian Green is a catastrophe. It raises exceptionally serious questions about the behaviour of the police, the actions of both ministers and senior civil servants in the Home Office and the conduct of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The right to oppose the government of the day is vastly more important than which political party happens to hold office. It is the cardinal fact which defines us as a free country.
If Damian Green were suspected of murdering someone, there would be no objection to gathering evidence where ever necessary. But this is not the case. He is an effective Opposition politician who has exposed facts which the government finds embarrassing and which the public has a right to know.
Ministers say they were kept in the dark about Green’s arrest. This is barely credible but if it is true then what were civil servants up to? Sir David Normington, the permanent under-secretary at the Home Office, is in the firing line because he should not have triggered the police investigation. And the police – in the person of Sir Paul Stephenson, the acting head of the Met Police – should have refused Normington’s request, telling him that leaks of unclassified documents were not a matter for the police.
Neither seems to have understood that we don’t do political arrests in this country and that the legitimate job of the Opposition – paid for by taxpayers – is to annoy the government and hold it to account. The fact that civil servants thought ministers being annoyed was a reason to call in the police is bad enough. The fact that the police should think that ministers and senior civil servants being annoyed was enough to warrant police action is truly alarming. Stephenson has shown that he lacks sound judgement.
What is worst of all – profoundly shocking – is that the police should
search an MP’s office looking for material given to that MP by civil
servants. In common with other MPs, I have been sent material by civil
servants which it was in the public interest for everyone to know
about. As a member of the public accounts committee, I was sent a
dossier in 2006 by a civil servant who was distressed that foreign
workers were abusing the tax credit system to buy homes abroad. The
insider sent me documentary evidence that immigrants from eastern
Europe were coming to the UK, taking low-paid jobs and then applying
for tax credits. Once the claim had been set up, the fraudsters were
returning to their home country but the tax credit payments continued
to be paid into their bank accounts. They then used the money to buy
property in eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the experienced anti-fraud teams
in HM Revenue and Customs who could have helped the situation were
being made redundant to meet government efficiency targets.