Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 13:30 UK

Sir Menzies to head Green probe

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell will chair an eight-strong panel

Sir Menzies Campbell is to chair an inquiry into the police raid on the Commons office of Tory MP Damian Green.

The former Lib Dem leader will review how the Commons authorities deal with search requests from the police.

The cross-party panel also includes former home secretaries David Blunkett and Michael Howard and ex-foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Commons leader Harriet Harman, who has set up the panel, will ask MPs to approve its terms of reference.

She has asked it to report by the end of the year.

Mr Green was arrested last year as part of an inquiry over Home Office leaks. He always maintained his innocence and was told in April that he would not face charges.

Civil servant Christopher Galley, who passed on the information, forwarded to the press, which related to immigration and crime, will not face prosecution either but has been sacked from his job at the Home Office.

Ancient rights

The row led, in part, to Michael Martin being forced to step down as Commons Speaker, after MPs criticised him for allowing the police to search Mr Green's offices without a warrant.

The committee will probe whether the search broke ancient rules of Parliamentary privilege designed to protect freedom of speech and allow MPs to assert their rights against the power of the sovereign.

The powers were put in place after Charles I sent soldiers to arrest MPs in 1642. On that occasion the Speaker refused to co-operate.

It will also look at whether the proper House of Commons procedures were followed in granting permission for a search.

Consent

Some MPs have raised concerns that police might be able to seize material given to them by their constituents, including information critical of the police.

The Tories said the material police were searching for had been used in the Commons by Mr Green, and therefore should be covered by Parliamentary privilege and not be used in a prosecution.

Mr Martin said one of his staff, the Serjeant-at-Arms Jill Pay, had allowed the police into Mr Green's office without a warrant.

Instead, she signed a consent form allowing the action. Mr Martin was told a search of Mr Green's office might take place several hours before it happened and he insisted he had not been told the police did not have a warrant.

The committee will have the power to call witnesses, which could include Mr Martin and Mr Green, and see official papers.

Its other members will include Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith and Labour MPs Ann Coffey, Doug Henderson and Patricia Hewitt.



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