Rob Wilson is MP for Reading East.
Last week Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, came to the House of Commons to explain why she had kept quiet about 5,000 illegal immigrants being cleared to work in the security business, some of them serving in very sensitive areas. She put the case that she had been “open and honest” and hadn’t tried to hide what had happened, even though she knew about it way back in August.
Along with a freelance journalist, Sunjay Kakar, I took a stroll back through Ms Smith’s recent political past and found that she has “form” when it comes to dissembling. In November 2004, Ms Smith made a statement to the House of Commons that she had decided to appoint, Christine Channon, as a Director of the South West Development Agency. She confirmed that “decisions on the appointments have been made following open competition in accordance with the guidelines set down in the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice, and that the Appointments Code had been followed..”
It turned out that this was far from the truth. Subsequently the appointment of Christine Channon was shown to have been made at the expense of a much better qualified candidate, Malcolm Hanney. When pressed by Mr Hanney through an employment tribunal, the High Court of Justice Queens Bench Division compelled the Government to accept it was in contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and it had to repay nearly £18,000 in costs to Mr Hannay. As she was the Minister for Equality and Women, wouldn’t Jacqui Smith have known that she was breaking the law by choosing an inferior candidate? She had assured the House the appointments were legitimate and that she had taken the proper advice. It is clear that she quite glibly gave a misleading impression to the House of Commons and may have contravened the Ministerial code of conduct.
Has she come back to the House to correct her error? Nowhere can I
find an apology, a correction or even a statement acknowledging her
mistake. I raised this yesterday as a Point of Order with the Speaker
of the House, but unfortunately it seems he doesn’t see this as within
his remit. I also wrote to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell,
because what Ms Smith did appears to be a flagrant breach of the
guidelines set down in both the Commissioner for Public Appointments’
Code of Practice as well as the Sex Discrimination Act.
Jacqui Smith is now Home Secretary and is responsible for the rule of
law in this country, yet it appears she was a law-breaker in this
instance. We need a statement from her to the House about her role in
this affair and why she hasn’t corrected her inaccurate previous
statement. I hope that Sir Gus O’Donnell will look at this thoroughly,
because we cannot have a Home Secretary prepared to break the law at
his or her own convenience.
This incident and the row over illegal immigrants is certainly
suggestive of a pattern of behaviour from Ms Smith in withholding
information and not taking responsibility for her actions. It is clear
that her failure to tell Parliament about security breaches last week
was not an isolated incident. It is going to be interesting to watch
her instincts kick-in as other thorny problems land in the Home Secretary’s lap.