Blair 'broke his promise not to tap MPs' phones'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has been accused of misleading MPs and concealing the tapping of politicians' telephones by the security services.

The Prime Minister promised when he came to power in 1997 that no MPs' telephones would be tapped, and to make a statement to the Commons if the policy changed. But two MPs - one a minister - are known to have had their phone conversations recorded by the security services. MI5 was named in reports as having taped conversations between Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, and Mo Mowlam while she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 1997 and 1999.

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, and Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, have written to the Prime Minister requesting that he state whether authorisation had been given to tap the phone of any Member of Parliament since 1 May 1997.

Mr Blair has refused to make a statement on the tapping of phones used by Mr McGuinness and Mo Mowlam despite being asked twice in the House of Commons.

Mr Mackinlay said the Prime Minister had put the "Wilson policy [of not tapping MPs' phones] in reverse" by concealing the matter. "This is very serious," he said. "It goes to the heart of our liberties. This question of tapping legislators' telephones is totally unacceptable."

Mr Baker said the issue was of constitutional importance. "It's quite clear from evidence produced that MPs have been recorded, but it is also quite clear that the Prime Minister has not told Parliament - which the Wilson doctrine requires him to do," he said. "Indeed, he has ducked two opportunities to do so when asked directly by MPs about this matter."

Mr Blair said in 1997 that he would abide by the policy set out by the former prime minister Harold Wilson which has applied to successive governments.

In a parliamentary reply to David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, he said: "This Government's policy on the interception of telephones of Members of Parliament remains as stated in 1966 by the then Prime Minister ...

"Lord Wilson said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament and that, if there were a development which required such a change of policy, he would at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on his own initiative, make a statement in the House about it."