Sketch: Sometimes you need a man in tights

Click to follow

The chamber was packed. The crowd was high. We'd just had the Queen in. The previous week we'd had the police in. It was the start of the legislative year and yet there are only nine legislating days before Christmas. The combination of excitements was too much.

At the cry of "Speaker!" a Labour MP made one of those ghastly yelps, or whoops we hear on TV.

All eyes were on the Speaker and his frilly cuffs. Reading carefully from his text, Mr Martin went through the recent events in order to make his point-by-point case.

The main features were ... that he'd been under a lot of pressure but he'd been very brave, that he had done nothing wrong, that it was all the fault of the Serjeant-at-Arms, that he was the real victim, that he hadn't been told anything, he hadn't consented to the arrest, and that it wouldn't happen again because he was going to be in charge. He was going to form a committee. Oh, and the Tories may or may not be criminals.

It caused more than one sensation but particularly when he said: "I was not told the police did not have a warrant." The uproar stopped him, and Labour's Andrew MacKinlay leapt up pointing and shouting, "I told you! I told you!"

Blimey! The Parliamentary office of an MP had been searched by anti-terror policemen who did not even have a warrant? Then Speaker Martin said that the Serjeant-at-Arms had not been obliged to give her consent to the police coming into Parliament and had given it anyway – without consulting the Speaker or his Clerk.

The diminutive official was actually present, sitting there in her huge, high-backed chair at the bar of the House. She looks a bit like a Thunderbird puppet. She's a career civil servant. Full marks for best practice and benchmarking. A less than perfect score on protecting the rights of Parliament.

The previous Serjeant-at-Arms had been "let go". He was one of the much-mocked "Men in Tights" with multiple names and an effete, English manner. But the culture of the Palace of Westminster vibrated in him, and I doubt he would have prostrated himself before the Metropolitan Police and let them walk all over his supine body.

As for the Speaker ("I was told in strictest confidence"), it's hard to say whether he discredited Speakers or steelworkers more. They are tough guys up where he's from.

At the very least, he could have called in his advisers to examine the request, or required a more senior policeman to authorise it, or even asked to see the warrant, as any householder might when the police come knocking. But no. That bird has definitely flown.

Comments