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Tory MPs slam Jacqui Smith over Damian Green arrest

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith came before the House of Commons yesterday to make a statement on the Damian Green arrest. She was very much on the defensive:

"As the statement issued by Sir David Normington on 28 November made clear, he was informed by the police at about 1.45 pm on 27 November that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition Front Bench. Sir David was subsequently told that an arrest had been made. This was the first time that anybody in the Home Office was informed that a Member of this House was the subject of the police investigation. I have made it clear that neither I nor any other Government Minister knew until after the arrest of the hon. Member that he—or any other hon. Member—was the subject of a police investigation or was to be arrested. I hope that those who have asserted the contrary will now withdraw their claims.

Let me be clear that even if I had been informed, I believe it would have been wholly inappropriate for me to seek to intervene in the operational decisions being taken by the police. I will not do that and I should not do that."

As Quentin Letts writes in the Daily Mail, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve was ruthlessly efficient. This page has already carried his statement. One point that the Home Secretary made in response does need highlighting:

"The hon. and learned Gentleman asserted several times that “there is not the slightest evidence”. He does not know what evidence the police have. I do not know what evidence the police have—but I do know that it is wholly appropriate that the police should use their professional judgment to follow the evidence during the course of a police investigation without fear or favour."

Unfortunately for the Government, no-one is going to give them the benefit of the doubt. If no breach of national security is uncovered, they will look very foolish.

Other Tory MPs were furious too.

Former Home Secretary and Leader of the Opposition Michael Howard asked a very straightforward question:

"Did the Home Secretary at any time give any indication to officials that she did not want to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation?

Jacqui Smith: No."

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis also asked a question that was all the more devastating for its simplicity:

"If the issue was really a serious matter of national security, why were the arrests not carried out under the Official Secrets Act?

Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman is right that there have been circumstances under which issues of national security have resulted in the use of the Official Secrets Act. There have also been occasions on which the offence of misconduct in public office has been appropriate. Of course, there have not yet been any charges in this area and that is, of course, the responsibility of the police in terms of the evidence that they have. I made the point earlier to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that neither he nor I—nor the right hon. Gentleman—have seen the evidence to make the appropriate decisions on the investigation, and, with the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service, on the nature of any charges, which may or may not emerge."

Macclesfield MP Sir Nicholas Winterton was also sceptical:

"Surely the Home Secretary will be aware that leading members of the Labour Governments since 1997 were expert and very successful in using leaked material during the last Conservative Government. In respect of a point made by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), a former Home Secretary, is she not aware that she should have been informed by the police in a case involving a Member of this House? It is an exceptional situation. How many of the 20 leaks that she has mentioned involved national security?

Jacqui Smith: On the first point, about the use of information, I should say that today I have made absolutely clear my view that it always has been the case—and will remain so in future—that hon. Members and others who receive information should be able to use it in the public interest and that hon. Members should be able to carry out their role as Members of the House. However, I do not accept that that implies that there is no responsibility on the Government to investigate when leaks become systematic, happen in Departments that deal with some of the most sensitive issues, including national security, across Government, and risk undermining the principles of the impartiality of the civil service code.

On the point about being informed, I think that I was clear in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) that I was not, and that was a decision for the Metropolitan police."

Stratford-upon-Avon MP John Maples made a historical point:

"Prior to 1989, the Government could have used the Official Secrets Act in this case. The Home Secretary is sitting next to one of the world experts on the Official Secrets Act, who will be able to remind her that in 1989, almost exactly 20 years ago to this day, the then Conservative Government amended the Official Secrets Act to restrict the application of the criminal law to a very narrow band of Government information. It may surprise the Home Secretary to know that the whole Labour party, including the current and former Prime Minister, voted against that legislation on the grounds that it did not go far enough in liberalising the situation and still applied the criminal law to far too much information. As a result, the Government have had to dredge up an old common law offence to put the frighteners on officials, MPs and, presumably, journalists. If they want to criminalise information like this, why do they not amend the legislation by repealing the 1989 Act?

Jacqui Smith: The idea that the Government have dredged up the several circumstances in recent years when the offence of misconduct in public office has been used against public servants is just wrong. The decision on what offence is charged is, of course, for the police, alongside the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees it would be wholly inappropriate in this situation for Ministers to offer an opinion about what any potential charges should be."

Douglas Hogg was perhaps the most outraged of all:

"Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you told us two things in your statement: first, that there was not a warrant; and secondly, that the police failed to tell the Serjeant at Arms that she was entitled to refuse access. That was a breach of code B52 of the statutory codes. Furthermore, on any view, the Serjeant at Arms had no authority to allow access to the hon. Member’s possessions. Consequently, the police were acting unlawfully in all three respects—no warrant, no statement that the Serjeant at Arms was entitled to refuse access, and, in any event, having access to material to which they were not entitled. When did the right hon. Lady first know that the police were guilty of such illegality?

Jacqui Smith: I think, frankly, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing his role as a Member of this House with his presumably desired role as a member of the judiciary. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must calm down."

And John Redwood was at his forensic best:

"Can the Home Secretary explain what was unique about this case that led to them to want the police to be involved, when the police were not invited to investigate the systematic leaking of price-sensitive information about banks and bank capital, or to look into the extraordinary leaking of practically the whole pre-Budget statement, which was really a Budget? Surely that was systematic leaking on a grand scale. What was different about it?

Jacqui Smith: There have been other situations where the police have been asked by the Cabinet Office to help with investigations."


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