PM wants 'full facts' on MP's arrest

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Gordon Brown will wait until he knows the "full facts" about the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green before deciding whether there should be any sort of inquiry into the handling of the case, the Prime Minister's spokesman indicated today.

The spokesman said that there "may well" be a case for looking into issues arising from the arrest, but stressed that this must not be done in a way which might undermine an ongoing police investigation.

Commons leader Harriet Harman said yesterday that there needed to be an urgent review of parliamentary procedures to ensure the protection of "big constitutional principles".

Her comments came as pressure mounted on Commons Speaker Michael Martin to explain why police were allowed to raid Mr Green's parliamentary office following his arrest last Thursday.

Amid speculation anger could erupt into protest, Mr Martin's office has announced he will make a statement on Wednesday when the House returns for the State Opening of the new session.

Politicians from all sides have condemned the police action, former Labour minister Denis MacShane dubbing it "a mammoth breach in the core democratic doctrine of parliamentary privilege".

And Ms Harman said: "We have got to be sure that whilst MPs are not above the law, that actually they are able to get on with their job without unwarranted interference by the law.

"These are very, very big constitutional principles, we have to make sure they are protected."

Mr Green was held for nine hours over alleged leaks of Home Office documents and was, Tory sources were quoted as complaining last night, accused by officers of "grooming" a Whitehall mole and obtaining up to 20 documents.

His treatment has provoked angry suggestions from MPs of all sides that he was being pursued for simply doing his job of holding the Government to account.

Asked today whether Mr Brown thought an inquiry was needed, the PM's spokesman told a regular press briefing: "There may well be a time when it is right to look at any specific issues arising from this case. That is the point Harriet Harman was making yesterday.

"But we can't do that without knowing what the facts of this case or in a way that might undermine the operational independence of the police."

He urged politicians and the media not to "rush to judgment" over the case.

Mr Green was held for nine hours on "suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office".

The homes and offices of the Ashford MP were searched and his computer, phone and other communications equipment seized in the raids.

It followed the earlier arrest and suspension of a junior official, believed to be 26-year-old Chris Galley, who is reported to have unsuccessfully sought a job with the Conservative Party.

Conservative backbencher David Wilshire today made a formal complaint to the Speaker that the police breached a ban on the agents of the Crown entering the Commons without permission, which was imposed after Charles I sent soldiers in to arrest a number of MPs in 1642.

If the Speaker accepts the complaint, it will have to be debated in the House of Commons and then considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Mr Wilshire described the search of Mr Green's office as "an outrageous assault on the right and ability of MPs to hold the Government to account and to represent their constituents".

The Spelthorne MP added: "Of course MPs must not be above the law in their personal lives, but when doing the work they were elected to do they must not be subjected to interference, control or censorship by anyone."

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, is reported to be at the centre of efforts to co-ordinate protest action - possibly through raising points of order in the Commons.

Asked about the Green case today, Mr Brown's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that this is a matter for the police and it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case.

"The Prime Minister does believe that there are a number of important principles that need to be considered.

"The first is, as the Leader of the House was saying yesterday, that the law shouldn't interfere with MPs doing their job. But it is also the case that MPs are not above the law.

"The third principle is that the impartiality and professionalism of the civil service should not be undermined.

"And finally, the police should be operationally independent.

"There are a number of important principles here that do need to be considered, and there will be a time when specific issues arising from this investigation can be discussed.

"But it wouldn't be appropriate to get into a discussion now on the specifics of this case because that could potentially undermine an ongoing police investigation and it is important that we don't compromise the operational independence of the police.

"We don't know the full facts of this case and therefore it is important that we don't rush to judgment. We need to be very careful we know what the full facts are before reaching any judgment on this."

Mr Brown's spokesman said that the PM was aware in general terms that a leak inquiry was being carried out at the Home Office and had been informed of the arrest of a civil servant last month, but had no prior warning of Mr Green's arrest.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today repeated her assurance that she did not know in advance that Mr Green would be arrested.

Asked during a visit to Slough whether she had been aware of any MP being under investigation in relation to the Home Office mole hunt, Ms Smith said: "I didn't know that Damian Green was going to be arrested."

She added: "I think it is a serious issue when an elected politician or senior political figure is arrested.

"I think police should carry out their investigations without fear or favour and that ministers shouldn't interfere in the operational independence of the police... The principle of operational independence of the police has to exist, however tricky the circumstances."

Ms Smith has refused to apologise for Mr Green's arrest and has denied he was being pursued simply for doing his job of holding the Government to account. She said yesterday that police were investigating a "systematic series of leaks" of potentially sensitive Home Office material.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who was with Ms Smith in Slough, acknowledged that the Green case raised issues about police ability to enter Parliament.

"There are plainly issues about access to Parliament that I am sure some people will deal with," he told reporters.

"If the Speaker is going to make a statement on Wednesday or Thursday, what I can't do is pre-empt what he is going to say.

"All of us understand the concerns of colleagues. If, on the other hand, there was a rule which allowed MPs to be differently treated, then there would also be concerns."

The House of Commons Public Administration Committee is set to launch its own inquiry into the issue of leaks, chairman Tony Wright said today.

The inquiry will not focus exclusively on the Green case, but will look more generally at the principles surrounding the unauthorised release of information from Whitehall departments.

Dr Wright told the Press Association: "I am going to suggest to the committee that we do an inquiry into the issue of leaks and how they are handled in Whitehall.

"I think the time is right to look at the whole question."

The inquiry is likely to look into the issues of how departmental mole hunts are conducted, when police should be called in and what sanctions there should be against those leaking and receiving secret information.

Dr Wright said the inquiry would also look at the issue of when police get involved in investigating leaks.

Asked whether parliamentary privilege was violated in the current case, he said the police appeared to have overreacted.

"I think that on the face of it something very serious happened," Dr Wright told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"I think my reaction was the same as everybody else's, which was one of the police going completely over the top.

"If the charge was simply that Damian Green had been the recipient of leaked information and had used it, then this kind of response seems entirely disproportionate and it is therefore perfectly right to ask questions about how on Earth could it happen, who gave approval for it to have happened, and so on."

Dr Wright said that even if Mr Green was being accused of "grooming" the civil servant, the police response still needed to be questioned.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve told the programme MPs should not be above the law but that the law needed to be applied with common sense.

The police had every right to arrest MPs if they believed a crime had been committed, he said, but that had to be balanced against the nature of allegations made against them.

And in this case they amounted to "nothing at all", Mr Grieve added.

He also hit out at Ms Smith, saying: "The first person who is responsible for the actions of the police is the Home Secretary.

"That's why I find it so astonishing that she has been washing her hands of this in the fashion that she has been doing over the last 72 hours.

"She is the person who has to account for police failures, which is why saying that she sort of decided to close her eyes to what was going on I do find really quite astonishing."

He added: "It would have been Stalinist and wrong if she had sought to direct the police operationally. It was part of her job to ask searching questions and make sure that procedures were being properly followed before police decided to erupt into the Houses of Parliament."