Monday, December 01, 2008
a herald was sent to the House of Commons to order that the Five Members be handed over to answer the charges against them. The House refused to comply with the King's command because it was an infringement of parliamentary privilege. The following afternoon, 4 January 1642, Charles marched to Westminster at the head of a body of soldiers and retainers, intending to arrest the Five Members in person.....
Warned of the King's approach by the Earl of Essex, the Five Members had already escaped and gone into hiding in London. Asked by the King whether he saw any of them present or knew where they were, the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, famously replied, ".. I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me."
Not quite the response of today's Speaker Michael Martin, or possibly his assistant - Michael isn't saying.. Personally I find it impossible to believe that the decision to invite the police to turn over Green's office was taken at such a low level. I regard this as worse even than the arrest since it certainly involved a breach of Parliamentary privilege within its walls.
The decision to dispatch counter-terrorism police to arrest Damian Green opens a Pandora's box of political and legal issues.
Information from moles and whistleblowers is the lifeblood of Westminster. Leaked secrets helped Winston Churchill sound a warning over appeasement, Gordon Brown land blows on the Major government, and forced Margaret Thatcher to explain fully British actions in fighting the Falklands war.
But the practice has long existed against a backdrop of laws and punishments designed to deter officials from revealing the workings of government.
Whitehall mandarins have recently dusted off these rules as they seek to close down a series of leaks. Ministers suspect that several moles - including in the Treasury - have been passing information to the Tories.
What has stunned MPs, however, is the relish with which the laws have been deployed against Mr Green, breaking decades of custom on parliamentary privilege.
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday said it was a "Mayday warning for democracy" that highlighted an "unaccountable, secretive" side of government that was more akin to a "tinpot dictatorship".
David Vincent, a professor at the Open University and an expert on how Whitehall has maintained its secrets, said he saw the arrest as intimidation, a warning to Whitehall rather than an attempt to convict.
"As a rule, governments have been very reluctant to test official secrecy legislation in the courts as they prefer not to explore where the public interest lies," he said.
There is only one case of an MP being threatened with legal action for exposing government secrets. In the 1930s, two anonymous officials told Duncan Sandys, Churchill's son-in-law, to stop using classified defence information or face prosecution. He complained and was protected by parliamentary privilege.
This is the other point. This is not, despite Jacqui Smith's pretence, a classified security document. It is not something which runs the slightest risk to national security. Quite the opposite, this is about a document that showed the government itself were manifestly failing to control immigration. If there is a national security interest it is that the public should know of this failure. This is the bureaucracy using the law simply to conceal its incompetence from us & even from MPs.
Michael Martin should be fired by Parliament for failing in his duty to serve the house.
Jacqui Smith should be fired because either she authorised this decision & has behaved improperly or she didn't & has no control over here own department.
And the senior person who authorised this & whoever made the decision not to tell the Minister should, most of all, be fired for this gross abuse of power. They won't be because in our government the "civil servants" don't carry the can but they should.
In one Heinlein book he describes a benevolent dictator's job as being finding cases where officials are engaged in abusing their power to overgovern:
Half my time is used in the negative work of plucking such officious officials and ordering that they never again serve in any official capacity.
Then I usually abolish their jobs and all jobs subordinate to them.
I have never noticed any harm from such pruning save that parasites whose jobs have been eliminated must find some other way to avoid starvation. (They are welcome to starve -- better if they do. But they don't.)
This example is so blatant that even our governing class seems to be noticing it is an abuse.