Damien Green is not a political prisoner

I SHARE some of the concerns that have been expressed elsewhere about the arrest and detention of the Tories’ immigration spokesman, Damien Green.

It seems, at the very least, somewhat heavy-handed of the police to treat any MP in this way. And when I say “any MP”, yes, I am suggesting that MPs should be treated differently from other members of the public. Let me explain.

In the aftermath of the Falklands war, civil servant Clive Ponting was arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information about the sinking of the Argentinian ship, the Belgrano. He was acquitted, mainly because the person to whom he had leaked the information was not a journalist but an MP,  Labour’s Tam Dalyell, who subsequently used the information to attack the government.

So, as I understand the law, there is already some precedent for trusting MPs with sensitive information which, in others’ hands, would provoke more serious action. Having said that, MPs, of course, cannot be entirely immune from investigation.

_40600158_damian_green_bbc_203Certainly, Damien has simply been doing his job, rather effectively, in using information given to him to raise valid concerns about immigration policy. I cannot, in all honesty, say that in opposition, I would not have done eactly the same as Damien did.

But some of the reaction has been pretty over the top. Even the usually sensible Iain Dale has invoked the arrival of the police state: “There is no way that this arrest could have happened without the involvement of Government ministers. We need to know who instigated it and if the Prime Minister, Home Secretary or Justice Secretary authorised it.” I trust Iain will follow this claim up with evidence, rather than conjecture.

Phil Woolas, who I suspect knows a bit more about this than Iain, insists there was no ministerial involvement. I would be surprised if there were. As Phil rightly says, the police are independent of government and are obliged to act when they believe a law has been broken. Having said that, it will no doubt emerge that a senior member of the government was informed that the arrest was going to take place. But if that senior member of the government had intervened in police operations to prevent the arrest, how would that have been any more justifiable than initiating it in the first place?

I understand where Iain’s and others’ concerns are coming from, but it is simply not justifiable to claim that there is a politically-motivated witch hunt against Damien Green, who I know as an honest and decent man. There is clearly a police investigation, but the last time I checked, that was a different thing.

It would be dangerous indeed if the Conservative Party were declaring now that under any future Tory government, police requests to arrest and detain any MP would be refused. I seem to recall a lot of people – including, I suspect, many of those who today are filling up various threads with condemnations of the government – demanding the arrest of Tony Blair during the so-called “loans for peerages” “scandal”.

UPDATE at 11.50 am: It has occurred to me, in the light of recent comments here about Labour’s alleged tendency towards secrecy, that remarkably few people give the government any credit for the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. Hardly confirms the accusation that we’re secretive, does it? Oh, let me guess… the FOI Act isn’t strong enough, gets undermined, etc, etc…

UPDATE at 12.35 pm: Douglas Carswell says this on his blog: “If it turns out that the Speaker of the House of Commons gave the go-ahead for this raid, I will be demanding to his face, on every occasion that I can, that Mr Martin now quit.”

And that would be different from every other day he asks for the Speaker’s resignation in what way? DC’s “thing” is that he is campaigning to have the Speaker removed. So how can anyone tell if this time he feels he’s really got a strong case, or if this is just the latest in his long list of greivances against Michael Martin?

UPDATE at 12.39 pm: Hopi Sen has some typically sensible and measured comments to make on this.

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36 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Conservative Party, Government, Parliament

36 responses to “Damien Green is not a political prisoner

  1. Brian

    Old Labour, New Police State?

    Ultimately, the government will always be at fault for the actions of the police force.

  2. If the Damien Green incident was to do with similar circumstances to that of party funding (“loans for peerages”) then I’d be happy with the police action.

    This is different. Its about an increasingly dictatorial government clamping down on freedom of inquiry into the government policies.

    It appears that police useing anti terror laws spent yesterday arresting and searching the offices of an opposition front bench MP, for having revealed to the public information that the Government found embarrassing.

    If an MP uses leaked information to “guide” questioning in the House – whether written or oral – and thereby puts that information into the public domain, then they are protected by the provisions within the 1689 Bill of Rights (Parliamentary privilege).

  3. Nick the Greek

    You can argue about the circumstances of the arrest Tom, but look at what legislation they/you are using Anti-Terrorism.

    They could have probably gone for Green under the Official Secrets Act.

    However, the weapon of choice for Labour is Anti-Terrorism legislation. This is the 21st Century version of the Reichstag Fire Decree, it will catch anyone in its web.

  4. The Tories should know all about this sort of thing, two prominent members of their last administration having ended up in choky.

    Like the social services, our police tend to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t in cases such as these.

    I expect that the usual crop of strange folk will arrive at your blog to tell us how much simpler this case is than I make out and how it proves that speed cameras and yellow lines are indeed steps on the ever-steepening slippery slope to a police state which is, no doubt, controlled by Tony Blair from his bunker.

    We all best keep an ear out for the inevitable knock on the door in the wee small hours…

  5. James

    As far as I can recall, TB was not arrested or under caution when he was interviewed. The third interview was conducted in secret.
    Slightly different from being arrested and having your homes and offices searched and being interviewed for more than 9 hours.
    Still, that’s what you get for telling the truth, under this government.

  6. John

    Ooh, that’s an interesting point at the end there. “Cash for honours” is a criminal offense, and it was rightly investigated by the police. Now tell me, which MP’s were hauled down to the police station for 8 hours of questioning? Which MP’s had their houses searched for incriminating documents? Which MP’s had their offices in Westminister searched for incriminating documents?

    What? NONE? Really? Hmmm…..

    Damian Green has been outright persecuted for doing his job, and pissing off the government in the process. This is vindictive, and the fact that his activities have been deemed to fall foul of the criminal law is a testiment to the activities and attitude of ZanuLabour.

    COUNTER TERRORISM? Really? As Iain Dale says, there is no way in hell the government were not involved in this. Are you really expecting us to believe that COUNTER TERRORISM police would go after a serving MP and the government would not be involved and have no knowledge of it until after the event?

    This reeks of Brown. He’s well known for arrogance and totalitarianism from his Treasury days, and it seems now he’s the Prime Minister he’s brought that attitute to government.

    This is frightening.

    Sorry Tom, but I feel really strongly about this. This absolutely cannot happen.

    Hell, if I was a serving MP, or even a civil servant in Portcullis House and I saw police marching towards YOUR office I would block their path and call for assistance. They would have to arrest me and hopefully others to get past.

    This whole episode is an absolute disgrace.

  7. “Hell, if I was a serving MP, or even a civil servant in Portcullis House and I saw police marching towards YOUR office I would block their path and call for assistance. They would have to arrest me and hopefully others to get past.”

    John if you were an MP, I wouldn’t let you know where my office was…

  8. Northern Colour

    But what anti-terrorism law was broken? Isn’t terrorism something to do with terror? ‘Tis indeed a very scary moment in the history of this nation when this happens. (I just read that 20% of all CCTVs in the world are in the UK – is that to do with terror?). I’m damned worried every time I walk past those police with big guns in Parliament Square – ‘terrified’ you might say.

  9. “But what anti-terrorism law was broken? Isn’t terrorism something to do with terror?”

    Likeyou, I don’t know – that’s what police investigations and any consequent reports are for.

    “I just read that 20% of all CCTVs in the world are in the UK – is that to do with terror?.”

    No. Popular demand.

  10. Brian

    Popular demand for speed cameras,

    Popular demand for anti-terror legislation,

    Popular demand for misuse of said legislation,

    Popular demand for more taxes (people don’t want the money anyway!),

    Popular demand for I.D cards (according to Whackie Jackie)

    Popular demand for increased tractor production

    Amongst the Labour elite perhaps.

    Old Labour, New Zimbabwe?

  11. Johnny Norfolk

    Labour taking us into a Police State.

    You have allowed this to happen on your watch. This is releasing information about imigration that you wanted kept secret, that you have no right to do. Thats all it is about.
    I never thought I would see the day when opposition members would be arrested.
    This IS a police state when this happens.

    Now you can see why David Davies did what he did, this is what it is all about. What will be next. What freedoms are Labour going to take away.

    If you realy are concerned Tom you must join us and condem it out of hand and stop playing party politics.

  12. Tom

    You blog entry did not mention that the Green’s House of Commons Office was search with the approval of the Speaker. I trust that, as an MP, you are endeavouring to find out on what basis the Speaker allowed the search to go ahead.

  13. Sure the police action against Green seems OTT – but the response of (some) Conservatives to claim that we’re sleepwalking into a police state is similarly over the top.

    As I posted here http://takingoutthetrash.typepad.co.uk/taking_out_the_trash/2008/11/you-cant-do-that-im-one-of-you.html – getting your collar felt by the fuzz because you cause the state problems is something trade union activists have long been subject to.

    Where were Tory complaints then?

  14. John

    “John if you were an MP, I wouldn’t let you know where my office was…”

    Hopefully we’ll get to test that out one day! 😛 I really would love the privilage of being an MP, and it is my utmost hope that I get to be one someday.

    You of course would have an open invitation to my office with a bottle of Scotch Whiskey with your name on it 😉

    Please don’t confuse my recent disagreement with your views on the economy etc.. as dislike btw. As i’ve said in the past, I truly think you’re a decent honourable guy, and if you were my MP you could absolutely rely on my vote.

    Now if that doesn’t make you feel all warm inside nothing will 😛

  15. Fair enough – I’ll accept the offer of whisky (only Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e”)

  16. Paul Williams

    If the arrest of an MP by anti-terror Police, for the ‘crime’ of trying to tell the public the truth, is not the actions of a Police State then I would like to know what is.

    As has been pointed out earlier, Labour MPs were only questioned about cash-for-honours, which amounts to allegations of corruption, yet Green is arrested by 9 anti-terror police for the allegations of… er …holding a Government to account and releasing information.

    I would agree that the Police State allegations would be over the top if this were a one off, but it’s not, as there are numerous examples:

    Walter Wolfgang being arrested at a Labour Conference under terror laws for the crime of shouting ‘nonsense’ at Jack Straw,

    the RIP Act being used against householders to see if bins are put out on the right day

    terror laws being invoked against a friendly country – Iceland

    Councillor Spencer Drury being accused of terrorism by Police for taking pictures in London for a ward by-election campaign leaflet.

    …and the list goes on.

    Frankly today’s arrest makes me sick and I don’t believe for one minute that no-one in the Government knew when, the Speaker, Cameron and Boris were all warned in advance.

  17. “If the arrest of an MP by anti-terror Police, for the ‘crime’ of trying to tell the public the truth, is not the actions of a Police State then I would like to know what is…. Green is arrested by 9 anti-terror police for the allegations of… er …holding a Government to account and releasing information.”

    Have the police actually made a statement saying that was the reason Green was arrested? Or is this just your personal conjecture? No-one knows yet the reason green was arrested. Might be a good idea to wait and find out, eh?

  18. ani

    More hysteria than information circulating around the blogosphere.

    Brian Hughes. Thank goodness for your light touch and amusing posts.
    Could you spread yourself around the blogs a bit and try to calm the hyperbole?

  19. Paul Williams

    Have the police actually made a statement saying that was the reason Green was arrested? Or is this just your personal conjecture? No-one knows yet the reason green was arrested. Might be a good idea to wait and find out, eh?

    Sorry, you’re grasping at straws here Tom.

    Metropolitan Police said that Green was “arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office”.

    This following the Home Office calling in the police to help them find who was leaking official information.

    Green said: “I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours under arrest for doing my job. I emphatically deny that I have done anything wrong. I have many times made public information that the government wanted to keep secret, information that the public has a right to know.”

    I’m sure Green would be the man best placed to know why he was arrested.

  20. Jim Baxter

    PhilC is right. During the 1984 miners’ strike two men and a dog in a car were a ‘conspiracy’ and liable to be prevented continuing on their journey, entirely on the whim of the police. And much worse besides.

    True, Tam Dalyell was not arrested but he was threatened by the judge in the Ponting case, who also practically ordered the jury to find Ponting guilty. The jury told the judge where to go.

    But the circumstances of this investigation of Damien Green are shocking, nonetheless. The trouble is that, such is the character of the present Prime Minister, and, by extension, his government, that many of us are much readier to believe the worst of him and them than we might otherwise have been have been.

  21. Zorro

    Was Tam Dalyell arrested in the Clive Ponting affair? Were Robin Cook or Gordon Brown arrested for doing EXACTLY THIS during the last Tory administration? No I didn’t ‘kin think so.

    Seriously do you really believe that no-one in the govt KNEW ABOUT this arrest? DO you really? Because let me tell you this Tom, if you do, you are the only person on the freaking planet who does.

    You really think the Met would arrest a senior opposition front bencher without running that by the Home Sec first? And you think that the Home Sec would not mention this to the PM? Really?

    WELL I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU. And nor does anyone else, apart from 1/2 dozen of Drapers astroturfers. (And I don’t even suppose they actually believe it, just that they’re paid to say they don’t.)

    Do you understand the point of sending you 1984 now?

    No I don’t suppose you do.

    I wish I could make up my mind as to whether you are a fantastic liar or are fantastically stupid.

  22. Zorro

    “that remarkably few people give the government any credit for the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. Hardly confirms the accusation that we’re secretive, does it?”

    Woopee freakin’ do. In 11 years you govt has managed to do two good things, one of which will be reversed by a PM who won’t listen to advice (lowering classification of Cannabis). The other is the FOI act, which is far too weak but I still applaud it.

    I would expect a far better record by pure random legislation.

  23. Zorro

    I just wanted to add, Tom I hope you realise this story is going to seriously bite your ‘government’ on the arse.

    You concede yourself that it’s pretty much inevitable that it will come out that a senior government minister was well aware of this. The original complaint MUST have come from the Home office, I think you know that. I think we ALL know that…

    This is not a good news story for Labour no matter the occasional mention of ‘Tory sleaze’ from people who don’t understand the English language, let alone the basis of our judicial system.

  24. madasafish

    Just as well all Labour MPs are not as blind or subservient as Tom..

    “There was also concern about the arrest on the Labour benches.

    Former minister Denis MacShane said that the Speaker should make clear that MPs were entitled to hold sensitive material in the same way as lawyers and doctors.

    “To send a squad of counter terrorist officers to arrest an MP shows the growing police contempt for Parliament and democratic politics,” he said.

    “The police now believe that MPs are so reduced in public status that they are fair game for over-excited officers to order dawn raids, arrests and searches of confidential files held by MPs or those who work for them.

    “I am not sure this is good for British democracy.” ”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7753763.stm

  25. madasafish

    Tom said “Have the police actually made a statement saying that was the reason Green was arrested?”

    “In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said the arrest was made without any ministerial influence.

    They said: “The investigation into the alleged leak of confidential government material followed the receipt by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) of a complaint from the Cabinet Office.

    “The decision to make today’s arrest was taken solely by the MPS without any ministerial knowledge or approval.” ”

    “Police say Mr Green was held on suspicion of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” and “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” – an obscure and little-used offence under common law. ”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7753763.stm

  26. madasafish

    Police interfereing in Parliament is a police state, says Tony Benn

    13:31 | 28/11/2008

    Tony Benn, Former Energy Secretary
    The World At One, BBC Radio 4

    Mr. Benn condemned the arrest of Damian Green. He said: “It is a total breach of what accord the privleges of parliament and therefore, the electors. His computers have been searched, his e-mail has been frozen.”

    He said that it was tantamount to a Contempt of Parliament. “Once police can interfere in parliament, then we’re into a police state.”

  27. “Have the police actually made a statement saying that was the reason Green was arrested? Or is this just your personal conjecture? No-one knows yet the reason green was arrested. Might be a good idea to wait and find out, eh?”

    A 52 year old man was arrested on suspicion of the common law offence “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”. or that is what was said by the police last night.

    Common law not Terrorist. The question that needs to be asked is why Anti Terror police and not PC plod was used.

    You should also be concerned that these police officers have removed computers and documents from Green’s constancy and parliamentary office. What safeguard the confidential information between MP and Constituant ?

  28. Paul Williams

    Seems other Labour MPs are a little more angry than you, Tom

    Tony Benn condemned the arrest of Damian Green. He said: “It is a total breach of what accord the privleges of parliament and therefore, the electors. His computers have been searched, his e-mail has been frozen.”

    He said that it was tantamount to a Contempt of Parliament. “Once police can interfere in parliament, then we’re into a police state.”

    Former minister Denis MacShane said that the Speaker should make clear that MPs were entitled to hold sensitive material in the same way as lawyers and doctors.

    “To send a squad of counter terrorist officers to arrest an MP shows the growing police contempt for Parliament and democratic politics,” he said.

    “The police now believe that MPs are so reduced in public status that they are fair game for over-excited officers to order dawn raids, arrests and searches of confidential files held by MPs or those who work for them.

    “I am not sure this is good for British democracy.”

  29. William Lack

    You must be so proud, after 11 1/2 years of Labour gestating the architecture of the new police state that is Britain, it came into being yesterday.

    We should be afraid, be very afraid of this Labour Government and apologists like you

  30. Chris' Wills

    I suspect it will be quietly dropped.

    The goverment have made their point, “don’t snitch on us, if we’ll harass an MP just think what we’ll do to those without any power or position”

  31. defender

    so he is going to be fitted up with a crime to justify to use of anti terror. That will work. you sir are a genious an expert in running a police state.
    catch the man and then create the crime.

  32. Everything that Labour has ever done has been Stalinist and Zimbabwean, if you read from the right idiots.

  33. James

    Iain Dale and many others are part of a giant, no doubt sincere, conspiracy to paint this arrest as beyond the pale. Both media and politicians thrive on leaks – it is many politicians’ favoured modus operandi, and the political media’s food and drink – and therefore they have a vested interest in presenting the culture of leaks as “whistleblowing” and therefore in the public interest.

    In fact the Civil Service Code has an official whistleblowing policy which gives all civil servants proper channels to record their unhappiness if they believe they are being asked to do something illegal or immoral, or to suppress information which the public ought to know. Their allegations will then be independently investigated rather than spilt over front pages. What these civil servants have allegedly done is not whistleblowing, it’s leaking. Free speech don’t come into it.

    The simple truth is that if the police are alerted to actions which de facto constitute a criminal offence, they should investigate. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous. It is no defence that this offence is not normally investigated. If MPs are unhappy with the law, they shouldn’t have passed it, and they should pass a new one.

  34. Luke

    The arrest was made as a potential breach of the Official Secret’s Act which would previously have been investigated by Special Branch – now merged with the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command.

    So it’s a quirk of the Met’s organisation, and not heavy handedness, which led to the arrest being made by ‘Counter-terrorism’ police…

    Couple this with the fact he was arrested for a common-law offence and it sounds less over the top, no?

  35. davidboothroyd

    Important correction – Tam Dalyell did not use the information leaked by Clive Ponting to attack the Thatcher government. Instead he gave it to the (Conservative) Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, who in turn gave it back to the Ministry of Defence.

  36. There’s a key difference it seems to me betqween receiving a leak – an entirely blameless activity – and “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office.”

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