Government scrapes home in Green vote

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Indy Politics

The Government narrowly avoided defeat in the Commons tonight over the timing and scope of the inquiry into the Damian Green affair.

MPs rejected by a majority of just four a cross-party move to ensure a specially appointed committee could examine "all the circumstances" surrounding the police raid on Mr Green's parliamentary office.

The amendment, proposed by former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, would also have allowed the inquiry to go ahead without waiting for the completion of any police inquiry or proceedings.

Commons leader Harriet Harman had urged the House to resist any move to have the committee begin its work now, warning the Commons had to avoid any suggestion of "breathing down the police's neck" and avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings.

But Sir Menzies said the committee should not have to wait until the police inquiry was over and complained that the Government's own motion did not "properly reflect" what the Speaker intended in last week's statement.

He dismissed the Government's own timetable - allowing the committee to meet and appoint a chairman before adjourning until the completion of the police investigation - as "risible".

In a knife-edge vote, taken after a tense and sometimes acrimonious debate, in a crowded Commons, the cross-party move was defeated by 285 to 281 votes.

The fallout from the police raid on the Tory immigration spokesman's office and Speaker Michael Martin's subsequent statement acknowledging the officers did not have a warrant and proposing an inquiry sparked angry exchanges in the chamber.

After the Government succeeded in keeping the debate to just three hours, against Opposition wishes, Commons leader Harriet Harman defended the seven-man committee's timetable.

She said the Commons had to avoid the "accusation or perception that we are in any way interfering with or breathing down the police's neck" and avoid "an inadvertent potential prejudice to any future criminal proceedings in court".

Ms Harman said: "We have to look ahead to any future criminal trial. We have to avoid doing or saying anything which could hinder justice - either the prosecution or the defence."

But shadow Commons leader Theresa May accused the Government of trying to "pack" the committee with its supporters and warned they could not support the committee if it did so.

She said: "The Government's motion flies in the face of the Speaker's statement. It is, I believe, not only a gross discourtesy to the Speaker but a flagrant abuse of the power of Executive in relation to the wishes and interests of this House."

Mrs May also hit out at the call for the committee to reflect the Government's majority, saying: "For the Government's own sake there should be nothing that could suggest it is trying in any way to rig the outcome of this committee.

"The leader should be in no doubt that if a committee is set up with a Government majority it would not have the support of the Opposition."

The Liberal Democrats have already said they will boycott the committee, complaining that it has effectively been "neutered" by ministers.

Mr Martin was in the chair for the debate but faced no criticism over his role in the affair despite 32 MPs saying at the weekend that they had lost confidence in him.