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.
Certainly, 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.