Tories accuse ministers of 'improper' meeting

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Ministers stood accused today of trying to shut the Tories out of top level talks about Commons Speaker Michael Martin's response to the controversy over Damian Green's arrest.

A leaked email revealed Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, is organising a meeting with other ministers, civil servants and Commons officials this afternoon.

It will consider the Speaker's much-anticipated statement to the Commons, which comes amid MPs' fury that police were allowed to search the offices of Tory frontbencher Mr Green.

His arrest, over a series of leaks from the Home Office, has infuriated many MPs.

The Tories are demanding to be allowed to take part in today's meeting, privately claiming that those present are trying to collude with the Speaker.

One described it as a "stitch-up" which they had only learned of, ironically, via a leak.

The email from Ms Harman's office extended invitations to a meeting about "arrangements of the Queen's Speech and considerations in advance of the Speaker's Statement on Police Action and Parliament".

Those invited included Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell and Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay, but no Conservatives.

Mr Martin, who has been under mounting pressure from MPs on all sides over what they regard as a breach of Parliamentary privilege, is due to make his statement to the Commons tomorrow.

Conservative backbencher David Wilshire has formally complained that the police raid breached a ban on agents of the Crown entering the Commons, imposed after Charles I sent soldiers in to arrest MPs in 1642.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis is planning protest action - possibly through raising points of order in the Commons at the State Opening of the new session on Wednesday.

Ms Harman's office insisted that the advance meeting was only to discuss the logistics as the statement will be on the same day as the Queen's Speech.

But shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: "This is a completely improper meeting convened by the Government privately with the Commons authorities and senior civil servants to manage the Speaker's statement without any representation from other Parliamentarians.

"This is precisely the sort of leak that should make it into the public domain.

"We insist on being present at this meeting along with representatives of all political parties to discuss the issues on the agenda."

But a spokesman for Ms Harman said the content of Mr Martin's: "The content of the Speaker's statement is entirely a matter for the Speaker.

"This meeting has nothing to do with the contents of the Speaker's statement.

"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Parliamentary business and handling of issues that arise from the fact that the Speaker's statement and the Queen's Speech will be happening on the same day."

The row came after the civil servant who passed secret documents to Mr Green, the Tories' immigration spokesman, insisted he acted in the public interest.

Christopher Galley, 26, was arrested in a dawn raid on his home by counter-terrorist police on November 19 in an inquiry into Home Office leaks which led to Mr Green's own arrest last Thursday.

Mr Galley's lawyer, Neil O'May, yesterday questioned whether the police operation was a "proportionate" response to the leaks, adding: "If there was ever a case of 'don't shoot the messenger', then this is it."

Mr Green was held for nine hours, during which Tory sources say he was accused by officers of "grooming" Mr Galley and obtaining up to 20 documents.

The MP, who denies all wrongdoing and has not been charged, was released on bail to return for further questioning in February.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman has acknowledged the case raised "some difficult and very sensitive issues" and did not rule out an eventual inquiry, but urged politicians and the media not to rush to judgment before the full facts are known.

The House of Commons Public Administration Committee is also holding its own inquiry into the wider issue of the handling of leaks from Whitehall departments.