Two developments this morning:
- The 7-member committee announced by the Speaker yesterday may now not in fact meet for months, until after the police inquiry has finished – rather than being the "speedy and immediate" inquiry that was expected.
- The membership of the committee will not after all be the decision of the Speaker, but rather will reflect the composition of the House, presumably meaning that it will be made up of 4 Labour MPs, 2 Conservatives and 1 Liberal Democrat.
In the Commons earlier, Dominic Grieve was not short of further questions for Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Here’s what he had to say:
“Mr Speaker, the issues at stake are serious.
They involve basic Ministerial oversight over counter-terrorism police operations against a Member of this House. Heavy-handed and incompetent at best, at worst an unwarranted assault on our democracy.
Let us be equally clear what is not at stake. We can all agree that MPs are not above the law and that the police have no place in politics.
Nor Mr Speaker has this got anything to do with national security. There is not the slightest hint of this and Her Majesty’s Opposition takes the integrity of official secrets as seriously as the government despite attempts by government spokespersons to smear and spin to the contrary.
The Home Secretary has regularly briefed me and my predecessor on matters of national security. Can she name one occasion where she has raised any concern that her confidence was not kept?
Can she now confirm that no known leaks from her department connected to the Honourable Member for Ashford relate to national security?
Mr Speaker, this episode has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with political embarrassment.
Nor is it about confidentiality in the workplace matters for which employment law provides a perfectly adequate remedy.
If there have been 20 leaks, as the government is briefing, then this extends well beyond any facts relevant to the My Honourable Friend, the Member for Ashford.
It heralds a systematic breakdown in trust between officials and Ministers arising from the Home Secretary’s willingness to conceal failings in her department on matters of manifest public interest.
The Home Secretary has stated that she was unaware at any point before the arrest that any Member of this House was part of the police investigation.
Can she clarify some detail?
What was the exact remit of the investigation requested by the Cabinet Office of the police?
Was it strictly confined to a request to investigate the commission of any criminal offence?
Will she put a copy of the written referrals from the Home Office, and subsequently from the Cabinet Office to the police, in the Library of the House?
When did she or her officials receive updates on the police investigation?
Who provided them?
What did they cover?
Did she at no point ask who the subjects of the investigation were?
Did she ask any questions at all?
Mr Speaker, the Home Office initiated this leak inquiry, and knew that opposition Members had commented on four disclosures reported in the media.
Is it the case that for 8 days after the arrest of Mr Galley the police were investigating my Honourable Friend but the Home Secretary hadn’t the faintest idea about it?
If she was cut out of the loop, when was the Minister for the Cabinet Office or any other Minister or official there informed by police that a Member was part of their investigation?
If the Cabinet Office was kept updated, why wasn’t she?
Were counter-terrorism police operating without any Home Office Ministerial notification, oversight or accountability from start to finish?
Does the Home Secretary still cling to her utterly flawed defence that there is nothing she could have said or done in advance of the arrest even if she had been aware?
She undermined this implausible excuse on Tuesday by seeking assurances from the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner that the investigation was being pursued ‘diligently, sensitively and proportionately’.
If she can ask those basic questions after the arrest of My Honourable Friend, why not before?
Why could she not have asked whether police had asked to interview My Honourable Friend on a voluntary basis?
Whether the deployment of over 20 counter-terrorism police officers to arrest a Member of this House search his Parliamentary office and seize documents, phones and computers was proportionate and necessary?
Whether the DPP was consulted on the grounds for the arrest and search which we now know was unlawfully and improperly carried out?
Did the police try to obtain a warrant to search the House of Commons office?
Were they refused by a magistrate?
Were the police acting in compliance with PACE and its Codes?
Have they given the Home Secretary a view on this point since arrest?
Can she now at least provide answers to these common sense questions?
Mr Speaker, of course Home Secretaries make statements about police operations.
As the Rt Hon Member for Norwich South did immediately after the 7/7 attacks.
As the Home Secretary herself did after the Glasgow and Haymarket attacks.
Does she now accept, based on her own practice that this can be done without prejudicing an investigation and should be done in serious cases to maintain public confidence?
Finally Mr Speaker, seeing what is now emerging does the Home Secretary regret her wilful ignorance in this whole affair and the decision to wash her hands of the basic responsibilities that come with her office?”