Page last updated at 05:07 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

What happens now in Green row?

By Reeta Chakrabarti
Political correspondent, BBC News

It was meant to be high noon for the Speaker Michael Martin.

Michael Martin
MPs were reluctant to criticise Speaker Michael Martin to his face

But in the end the debate on the police raid on Tory MP Damian Green's offices became mired in issues of Commons procedure and party politics.

There were always many strands to this affair.

The focus on the Speaker had grown over recent days, with a clutch of MPs ignoring traditional loyalty and criticising him openly.

But faced with the prospect of doing the same to his face and on the territory he presides over - the House of Commons chamber - everyone kept their heads carefully under the parapet.

Instead what emerged was closer to politics as usual - a government motion keenly fought by the opposition, and an opposition motion failing to get through on the narrowest of margins - four votes.

What happens next is unclear.

Given that the Conservatives and Lib Dems are now boycotting the "Greengate" committee, the Speaker can only appoint its seven members from among Labour MPs.

The principles at stake following the police raid on an MP's Commons office are important ones - and felt by MPs from across the divide

It will have no cross-party backing, no credibility - and will not even fulfil the terms of the motion that MPs voted for, which said it should reflect the composition of the House - impossible with the boycott.

The more immediate inquiry that many want could happen in other ways, although perhaps in a piecemeal fashion.

The home affairs select committee meets on Tuesday to decide whether to carry out an inquiry of its own.

But it would concentrate on the Home Office and its handling of leaks.

The public administration committee has already announced an inquiry into Whitehall leaks - but again this is more general in scope.

Some are saying the standards and privileges committee should investigate - its remit is wide and the Tories say referring the matter to it is "an option".

There is also the matter of the police-instigated inquiry into its own investigation.

Deeply worried

It is being carried out by the British Transport police and is due to present its interim findings to the Met on Tuesday.

Although these will not be public, if the provisional report criticises the Met strongly, that could bring the police inquiry to a premature halt.

Although party politics dominated the outcome of the debate, the principles at stake following the police raid on an MP's Commons office are important ones, and felt by MPs from across the divide.

Members on all sides have been deeply worried about the potential loss of confidentiality between them and their constituents.

If the police were just allowed - outside a criminal investigation - to look at their files and records - how could they guarantee, they asked, that what constituents told them would remain private?

That is why MPs have been heard talking in such loaded terms about this affair going to the heart of our parliamentary democracy.

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