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Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick is the Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She has been a political journalist for seven years, previously working at the Press Association and the Daily Mail

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Harman breaks ranks

Posted by Jane Merrick
  • Sunday, 30 November 2008 at 12:42 pm
At last - a government minister finally expresses concern over the arrest of Damian Green. Harriet Harman, interviewed on Sky News this morning, could barely contain her anger at the way nine anti-terror police were allowed to go into the Portcullis House office of the Tory frontbencher last week and take his computer and documents.
Green may be a Conservative, and he may have been feeding stories embarrassing the government to the press, but Harman was clearly livid at the way Parliament's portcullis was so easily raised for police by those in charge - the serjeant at arms, and possibly the Speaker, who is under pressure to clear up what his role was.

Since the arrest on Thursday, Downing Street, Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith have all defended the police, insisting they need to get on with their job. But privately, some Cabinet ministers are furious at the heavy-handed nature of the police raids, and the erosion of the fundamental principle of parliamentary privilege. Harman is the first to say publicly there are concerns. More may speak out.

Harman said MPs must not be above the law, which of course is right, but she urged Speaker Michael Martin to hold an urgent review of procedures. She bristled with irritation when she said MPs must be allowed to get on with their jobs, "without let or hindrance".

The Leader of the Commons also let slip what sounds like a great story. Cleaners who were sacked from MI5 told her they were not allowed to speak to her. Harman rightly told the cleaners that it is a contempt of parliament to ban anyone from speaking to their MP.

As the Independent on Sunday reports today, there are also calls for a review of the 40-year-old Wilson Doctrine, which bans phone-tapping of MPs but not other forms of surveillance. It is extraordinary, as we report, that the Tories - and I don't doubt some Labour and Lib Dems - are so concerned about their privacy and confidentiality being breached they regularly sweep their offices for bugs. Normally this would be dismissed as paranoia or conspiracy theorising, but a week ago who would have guessed an MP would find himself detained for nine hours by anti-terror police?

Perhaps if there were a stronger defence of Parliament from those in charge, these sort of precautions would not need to be taken.</div>


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