Daniel Kawczynski MP writes exclusively for the readers of Iain Dale's Diary. In this heartfelt article he declares that the Speaker of the House of Commons has let him down and that the Speaker has banned the Serjeant at Arms from discussing last week's issues with him.
By Daniel Kawczynski MP
When I entered the House of Commons nearly four years ago for the first time as an MP, I was very much in awe of the role of the Speaker. I was impressed by the idea of the independence of this position; whether Labour or Conservative, Speakers down the ages have shown an impressive outward appearance of impartiality, This concept is very important for a junior Opposition backbench MP. No matter what issue or controversy arises the Speaker can act in good faith to resolve disputes and ensure that blockages and frustrations are minimised.
Mr Martin, the current Speaker, has shown a perfectly amiable attitude to me up until now. He smiled pleasantly from time to time and can sometimes restore order in a delicate and yet very effective way. I remember when at PMQs we were having a very heated debate over the tragic death of Baby P. Tempers were high and he managed to calm things down by using the phrase that ‘we must remember that a child has gone before us’. That was a highly skilled way of bringing the robust and increasingly ill mannered debate to some sort of civility.
I have always been concerned about the limited access that we have to the Speaker. He is of course a very busy man but over the last four years I can remember only one occasion when I and a selection of fellow Conservative MPs were called in to see him to discuss issues and that was very soon after the 2005 election. Perhaps the Speaker’s office could organise more of these discussions so that MPs have the opportunity of properly putting their general concerns to the Speaker. It is not a suitable substitute to say that from time to time we can meet him at a reception or drinks party as these occasions are not generally conducive to raising serious issues or seeking clarification and guidance on confidential and serious matters,
My confidence in the Speaker was badly shaken last week. On Wednesday, January 21st I raised a point of order which expressed my deep concern about an incident earlier that evening. Whilst I was speaking in the Chamber, I received an alarming text message from my researcher saying that a Police Officer was in my office and was threatening to seize a constituent’s letter addressed to me. I was shocked by this and abandoning the debate, left the Chamber immediately after finishing my speech to find a Police Officer in my office.
After the Damian Green debacle, the revised procedure for the police had been clearly outlined by the Speaker and I quote from his statement, “a Police Officer needs to have the authority of the Serjeant at Arms before entering an MP’s office”. In this instance the Police Officer had not notified the Serjeant at Arms, nor me, that she was going to visit my office. It transpired that the Police Officer had entered my office and asked a young intern to find her the document she was seeking. When I finally arrived in my office to meet with the Police Officer she had already had sight of the document she wanted. I felt that as the issue being investigated was of such importance that I must reluctantly allow the Police Officer to have the letter. The division bell had rung whilst I was discussing the case with her and so I quickly had to decide what to do. I was on a three line whip to vote as it was an opposition day motion. Clearly the situation was not conducive at all to discussing such a serious matter with a Police Officer. Why could she have not taken the time to arrange to meet with me directly at a mutually convenient time to sit down and raise the issue with me? That way I would have been more than happy to help with her enquiries and discuss releasing whatever material she needed. I would then have had time to seek legal advice.
In behaving in the way she did, the Police Officer broke the rules as set out by the Speaker, put pressure on an intern to find her what she was after, threatened to seize the document and disrupted my work in the Chamber. Fortunately, my researcher had the presence of mind to find me in the Chamber and alert me as to what was happening. I was put in a much weaker position than if the procedures had been followed.
On Thursday the Speaker rebuked me for raising the point of order, criticising me for being “hasty”. He asserted in his statement that the Police Officer arrived by appointment. This is simply not the case; there was no appointment and she arrived at my office after telephoning less than five minutes before. Whilst I appreciate that my staff were told that the police were coming to talk to them, I absolutely do not accept that they were doing so by appointment. The police informed my young researcher that they would be coming and did not seek any agreement. As I was speaking in the Chamber, my researcher obviously could not get hold of me to try and come to the office in order for me to be present when the police came.
In approaching my staff directly, the police put them under undue pressure which they should not have had to bear, and in asking my staff to hand over documents, the Police Officer in question was asking my researcher to make a decision which simply was not his to make. My team are young, and still learning, and I am extremely protective of them. My researcher took exactly the correct course of action in refusing to hand over the letter when he was told it could be seized and in coming to get me from the Chamber. With the benefit of hindsight, I have now advised my staff that should another Police Officer request to see them in my office they should refuse until I have had a chance to meet with the Serjeant at Arms to discuss whether or not we should agree to such a request.
I hope that readers will appreciate how closely MPs have to guard the confidence of their constituents. I deal on a daily basis with highly confidential personal documents, and my constituents as well as those of every other Member of this House must be certain that their personal information will be viewed only by their Member of Parliament and his staff. The police action on Wednesday immediately called this certainty into question. Of course we all want to help the Police to carry out their jobs effectively. Handing over documents is however a very complicated issue and has potentially huge implications. The matter in hand although serious did not have an immediate life threatening nature to it, so I am sure the police officer could have waited for a few extra hours until the proper procedures had been carried out.
I was flabbergasted by the Speaker’s statement to the House when he said that I had rushed to a conclusion before making my Point of Order. I understand well the police were doing their job, and they were undertaking an important investigation with a national security undertone. I do feel however, that in putting pressure on my staff to hand over a document which was not theirs to give, the police acted in a way not befitting this house. It appears the Speaker wishes to protect the police even when they are not following the strict procedures he himself had laid out only weeks before.
I was so concerned over this matter that on Thursday I met the Serjeant at Arms, as well as with Chief Superintendent Bateman, the most senior Police Officer on the Parliamentary estate. Having listened to my concerns, they were in agreement with me about how serious the police action was on Wednesday, and about its implications for the work undertaken by all Members of the House. Chief Superintendent Bateman admitted that a mistake had been made and that from now on the proper procedures would be followed. The Serjeant at Arms came up to me on Wednesday night after my Point of Order deeply shocked at what had happened and embarrassed to find that the Police had again not consulted her before entering an MPs office. In the Thursday meeting she promised me that changes would be made. I suggested to her that she has the pivotal role in all of this and must be the very heart of protecting MPs’ offices from inappropriate entry.
My understanding from the previous ruling on Damian Green was that the Police could not enter an MP’s office without first consulting the Serjeant at Arms, indeed the Speaker stated clearly in his statement on the Damian Green Affair that: “A warrant will always be required when a search of a Member’s office, or access to a Member’s parliamentary papers, is sought. Every case must be referred for my personal decision, as it is my responsibility.” As this did not happen before the Police entered my office and as the Police Officer put my staff under huge pressure to hand over confidential documents without first consulting me, I felt that the Police Officer had broken the rules, I therefore had no option but to raise the issue as a Point of Order. I am therefore very disappointed and concerned that the Speaker labelled my actions as being hasty.
Finally, at the first opportunity on Thursday morning, members of staff and I contacted the Speaker’s office to request a meeting. I had emailed the details of my concerns to his office on Wednesday night just after 10pm. Despite several calls we were unable to secure a meeting. Obviously such a meeting would have given me the opportunity to clearly set out to the Speaker personally and directly why I felt compelled to raise the Point or Order. I am deeply concerned that he made a statement about my actions without allowing me to put my side of the case and this greatly disappoints me. It is this action by the Speaker which has so shaken my confidence in him. How could he pronounce on my case when he did not even meet with me or my staff to hear out concerns over the incident?
The Speaker has to hear a lot of Points of Order over the course of a year. The mechanism can sometimes be abused as a quick and easy way of raising an issue. Nine times out of ten the Speaker says that whatever has been raised is not under the guidelines of a Point of Order and moves on. What the Speaker has to realise is that even if you have heard 10, or 100 or 200 irrelevant Points of Order, a genuine one will always come up from time to time and it must not be taken lightly. The Speaker has let me down and I hope he will restore my faith in him.
I have now been told that the Serjeant at Arms will not see me to discuss my concerns further as the Speaker has stated that the matter is closed. I find this deeply disturbing.
Daniel Kawczynski MP