Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Sunday, 30 November 2008

Harman 'concerned' by MP's arrest

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman: Big issues have been raised

Leader of the Commons Harriet Harman has said she is "very concerned" by the arrest of Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green.

Ms Harman also said she understood MPs' anger at the way police officers had raided Mr Green's Parliamentary and constituency bases.

And she said protection of MPs' offices from police raids must be reviewed.

Her comments came as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith refused to condemn the police for making Thursday's arrest.

Mr Green was arrested, but not charged, by police investigating alleged leaks from the Home Office. The Ashford MP, who denies any wrongdoing, was held for nine hours while his homes and offices were searched.

'Systematic leaks'

Ms Harman said there were "big constitutional principles" at stake as a result of the police action, telling Sky that while MPs could not be "above the law" they should also not face unwarranted interference.

Ms Harman told Sky's Sunday Live: "I think the Speaker might well want to review the processes by which authorisation is given to search the Palace of Westminster, but there was also the question of the search of his home and the constituency office.

"We have got to be sure that whilst MPs are not above the law, that actually they are able to get on with their job without unwarranted interference by the law.

While Jacqui Smith might be able to brush aside Conservative criticisms, she will find it much more difficult to deal with a tongue lashing from the Labour benches
Iain Watson
BBC Political Correspondent

"These are very, very big constitutional principles, we have to make sure they are protected."

She added: "I think we should hold fire until after this investigation and then we can look at the complete picture..."

But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith defended the right of police to arrest Mr Green, dismissing suggestions from MPs of all sides that he was being pursued just for doing his job.

She insisted that officers were investigating a "systematic series of leaks" and it would be wrong for politicians to intervene.

Ms Smith told BBC One's Andrew Marr programme: "There have been a lot of charges thrown around here - the idea that, you know, this is Stalinism, this is a police state.

"In my book, Stalinism and a police state happens when ministers direct and interfere with specific investigations that the police are carrying out.

'Not good enough'

"I have been very clear that in my view the police should have operational independence, they should be able to pursue those investigations in the way in which their professional judgment suggests.

"I do not know what evidence they are looking at - neither do any of the other people who are commenting."

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said Ms Harman's comments did not directly contradict those of her Cabinet colleague, but that they significantly differed in tone.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith defended the police action

Conservative leader David Cameron, writing in the News of the World, challenged ministers to condemn the arrest and said the prime minister's stance so far was "not good enough".

And shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said he believed Ms Smith "knew very well" that an MP was being drawn into the investigation, but had "just decided to sit back on her hands".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he was worried by the precedent the raids created.

He said: "This is breaking with centuries of tradition about the independence of Parliament, the confidentiality of information kept by MPs. And to do that on the nod, because the police say they want to, without telling your political masters? It's either implausible or its extraordinarily incompetent."

Commons statement

The incident has also angered MPs within the Labour Party. David Winnick - a Labour member of the home affairs select committee - said he wanted an "immediate statement" from the minister when Parliament resumes on Wednesday.

Commons Speaker Michael Martin has also come under fire, with MPs keen to know whether he personally authorised the police action. His office said he would address the Commons about the controversy on Wednesday.

Amid a deluge of claims about the case, Ms Smith said reports that Mr Green's conversations had been bugged, an act she would have had to sanction, were "conspiracy theory".

And the Metropolitan Police, who have also faced serious criticism for their tactics, strongly denied a report that attempts were made to entrap Mr Green using phone calls from an official after he was arrested.

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