The House of Commons distinguished itself this afternoon. There was no ranting, no raving, no play acting, and most of all not too much sign of party politics. It was an occasion when the House of Commons rose to the occasion and showed that it can behave itself when it needs to.
The Speaker's statement was far more controversial than most of us were expecting. Effectively he fingered the Police, as well as demonstrating that the Serjeant at Arms is clearly not up to her job. Martin said he did not consent to the searching of the offices and said Jill Pay should not have approved the search without asking for a warrant. He said the Police should have told her she was able to deny permission without a warrant. Clearly, she should have known that.
Michael Martin was clearly angry about what had happened, but he did not make clear that the buck stopped with him, and not Jill Pay. He was informed on Wednesday evening of the fact that an MP's office might be searched. Martin has told us what Jill Pay told him, but not what he said to her. Did he just listen? Did he not ask Jill Pay about the warrant issue? If not, he should have done so.
This statement is clearly damaging the Speaker even more than I thought possible. But it is also hugely damaging to the Metropolitan Police. Several MPs raised Points of Order (including Labour's David Winnick) demanding that the senior policemen responsible should be brought to the Bar of the House to explain their behaviour.
The granting of a debate on the issue on Monday and the creation of a Committee of Seven Wise MPs may buy Speaker Martin time. But he is a broken man, both politically and personally. One could almost feel the sympathy MPs felt for him. No one was willing to stick the boot in. But surely even his doughtiest defender would admit that his status and credibility is now terminally damaged.
Jill Pay is a convenient scapegoat. She was clearly underinformed and made a bad call. But if she is made to pay for this with her job, then I am afraid she should not be the only one.