Monday, 1 December 2008
Why it Matters!
I'm not a big fan of Damien Green. I object to Tory civil servants (who are supposed to be neutral in the performance of their job) leaking information just to embarass the political party they personally don't think should be governing...
The arrest and search of Damien Green raises important issues central to Parliament. At the heart of the struggles between the Crown and Parliament in history was the fight over an MP's ability to act and speak without fear of intimidation by the Executive. It is at the heart of the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament which takes place on Wednesday. When Black Rod approaches the Commons the door will be slammed in his face - and only after knocking 3 times will he be allowed to enter. It was the attempt by Charles I to arrest some MPs which was thwarted by the Speaker - which lies behind this Commons tradition.
One of the ancient privileges of MPs is freedom from arrest. This doesn't cover arrest for criminal activity - but for the enforcement of civil debt. However, when an MP is arrested - or the police want to search his offices - the Speaker is informed - and it would be a contempt of Parliament for the police to search an Mp's office without the permission of the Speaker.
I agree with those MPs who are outraged at what has happened. The Speaker should have declined permission - constituents should expect that their mail to MPs cannot be read. MPs should not have to fear police raids and arrest whilst carrying out their parliamentary activities. That is why in almost every parliament, including Congress, these rights are protected and fiercely defended.