UK: Mandelson accuses Tories of ‘colluding’ with Damian Green over Home Office leaks

By James Chapman, Nicholas Cecil and Niall Firth
December 3 2008

Lord Mandelson

Lord Mandelson arrives for the State Opening of Parliament today

Peter Mandelson today waded into the row over the arrest of MP Damian Green by accusing the Tories of ‘colluding’ in the leaking of information by a Home Office mole.

Lord Mandelson claimed that Tories were using their protests over the raid on Mr Green’s Commons offices as a ‘smokescreen’ to cover their party’s alleged collusion in a breach of the law.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the Business Secretary said much of the furore was a ‘self-serving’ attempt by some Tory MPs to distract attention from their own involvement in the affair.

In comments certain to further inflame the row, Lord Mandelson said: ‘So whilst I recognise that the anger being expressed by some MPs is no doubt sincerely felt by some of them, I also think it is pretty self-serving by Conservative MPs who want to put up a smokescreen to hide their own party’s role in allegedly colluding with a Home Office official in breaking the law.’

His comments came as the acting head of the Met police, Sir Paul Stephenson, denied that it was his officers had been politically influenced in their decision to raid Green’s offices, as has been claimed.

Stephenson told the London assembly that he wanted to correct some of the claims made about the inquiry in the press.

Sir Paul said permission to search the MP’s parliamentary office was obtained from the Serjeant-at-Arms of the Palace of Westminster.

He said: “‘Officers have an obligation to look and secure evidence to avoid any circumstances where potential evidence could be lost.

‘With this in mind, the decision was taken to arrest and search the relevant addresses in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.’

As the war of words over the affair intensified ahead of a possible demonstration after the Queen’s speech today, Jacqui Smith accused David Cameron of being ‘entirely unfit for high office’.

The Home Secretary last night wrote to her Tory shadow Dominic Grieve and said: ‘To assert that the systematic leaking of government material is not serious if it does not relate to national security, as you and David Cameron have done, is not just a cavalier attitude. It is a wholly irresponsible one.’

Mr Grieve has demanded that Miss Smith explain how much was known by the Government about the raid on Mr Green’s Parliamentary office.

The Home Secretary is due to give a statement to Parliament tomorrow over the affair.

On a day of pomp, pageantry and tradition, the Queen told MPs and Peers the Government was committed to ensuring’ the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn’.

But after her speech, attention quickly turned to a possible protest when Speaker Michael Martin addresses the House about the Damian Green affair.

A group of Tory and Lib Dem MPs are planning a joint assault on the authority of Speaker Michael Martin over his role in the police raid.

Tory grandees – including former ministers David Davis, Douglas Hogg and Stephen Dorrell – are expected to mount today’s protest at Mr Green’s detention after the Queen has left the Houses of Parliament.

Senior Liberal Democrats, including former leader Sir Menzies Campbell, Alan Beith and David Heath, are also due to protest if the Speaker fails to explain how such an affront to democracy could have been permitted.

They will raise repeated points of order on the floor of the Commons, delaying the start of the traditional debate on the Government’s new legislative programme, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown is forced to look on.

Meanwhile, Commons Speaker Michael Martin has been warned ‘say sorry or you’re
toast’ over his failure to stop police raiding Green’s office.

Damian Green

Damian Green attends the State Opening of Parliament today

Tory and Lib-Dem grandees were today set to challenge the Speaker if he refuses to allow a proper debate on the decision to let detectives search shadow immigration minister Damian Green’s Commons room.

But backbench MP Richard Bacon, who is rallying support to challenge the Speaker’s authority, issued a blunt warning to him.

Mr Bacon, who sits on the all-party Commons public accounts committee, had sought a meeting with Mr Martin.

He managed to speak only to his secretary Angus Sinclair but left him in no doubt about the anger among MPs over the affair.

‘He needs to say sorry, it should not have happened, I take responsibility and it won’t happen again,’ the Conservative MP said he told Mr Sinclair.

‘If he says anything less than that I think he’s almost certainly toast and he may be toast anyway.’

Former Tory ministers including Ken Clarke and Michael Howard are expected to spearhead the backlash over Mr Green’s detention.

There is growing pressure on the Speaker to head off a row that some MPs believe could force him to quit.

The temperature increased as it emerged police launched their disastrous investigation only after being told by the Cabinet Office that leaks to the Opposition posed a ‘threat to national security’.

In fact, documents alleged to have been passed to the Tory immigration spokesman by a Whitehall whistleblower merely embarrassed the Government by exposing cover-ups and incompetence.

Sources also refused to deny that Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s most
senior civil servant, and other top officials knew in advance that a Tory MP was to be
arrested.

There is widespread outrage in Westminster that centuries of tradition were trampled when counter-terrorism officers were allowed into the Commons to raid Mr Green’s office last week.

He was held for nine hours while his London and Kent homes and constituency office
were also raided, and made to give a DNA sample.

The embattled Speaker also faced renewed pressure today after a former chief prosecutor tore holes in the police inquiry into Mr Green.

The scathing criticism from Sir Ken Macdonald, who stood down as director of public prosecutions just weeks ago, raised further questions over Mr Martin’s
conduct.

The Speaker has bowed to demands for a debate on the row, according to his ally Lord Foulkes, although he said this had been a government decision which will inevitably reinforce the belief that ministers have too much influence over Mr Martin.

Speaking on BBC2’s Newsnight, Sir Ken raised serious doubts over whether any convictions would result from the leak investigation.

He also suggested the Metropolitan Police had blundered by failing to properly consult with the Crown Prosecution Service.

“If the police proceed in a case which is this sensitive without consulting prosecutors, then things will go wrong,” he told the programme.

Yesterday the Met effectively ran up the white flag over the arrest of Mr Green by announcing an urgent external review of whether it had been justified.

It is now expected to be a matter of weeks before police abandon their probe.

Gordon Brown, meanwhile, insisted that ‘no MP is above the law’.

Last night the Tories upped their attack over Mr Green’s treatment by releasing footage of police arriving to carry out the raid.

Mr Grieve said the images documented a “dark day for democracy”.

“MPs are not above the law,” he said. “But they must be allowed to bring the Government to account and to put into the public domain information which may be uncomfortable for ministers.”

Source

Scotland Yard forced into humiliating retreat over Damian Green affair


Caught on film: Video of the moment anti-terror police raided Tory MP Damian Green’s Commons office


MAX HASTINGS: Parliament has been corrupted by this assault on its historic freedoms. How CAN Michael Martin survive?

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