Saturday, January 24, 2009

Speaker Refuses Meeting With Daniel Kawzcynski

Daniel Kawczynski has come in for a lot of stick following his Commons Statement on the Police Officer who demanded a letter from one of his constituents be handed over. He has been accused of overreacting and worse. He has released a statement today which should cause those who criticised him to think again. In particular, it again calls into question the competence and conduct of the Speaker, who has refused to hold a meeting with Kawczynski, yet was quite happy to pass judgement on him in the House of Commons on Thursday. I'm going to print Daniel's statement in full because I do think it riases some serious issues.

I refer to your Statement to the House in response to my complaint that the Police had entered my office without consulting me and threatened to seize from a young member of my staff and a student intern confidential constituency correspondence. I do feel that it is imperative that I clarify the facts with you regarding what actually happened on Wednesday night.

You mentioned in your Statement that the Police Officer arrived by appointment to see a member of my staff. This is simply not the case; there was no appointment, and the Police Officer in question 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 when the police arrived – less than five minutes after their original call – they were doing so by appointment. The police informed my young researcher who has very limited experience of working in the Commons 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 to come to the office in order for me to be present when the police came. Your previous ruling that the police had to consult with the Serjeant at Arms before entering an MP’s office seems to me to imply that it is imperative for an MP to be present in his office before the police arrive and start to interact with junior staff.

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, relatively inexperienced, 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. He should not have had to come to me; the police should have come to me first.

As a fellow Member of Parliament, you will appreciate well how closely I guard the confidence of my constituents. I deal on a daily basis with highly confidential personal documents. 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 and I maintain that I treated this matter with the level of seriousness its implications demanded.

I am disappointed that in your Statement to the House you said that I had rushed to a conclusion before making my Point of Order. I understand well that the police were doing their job, and that 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. Had the same happened to your office, I think that you too would have been just as concerned as I was.

I met yesterday with 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 that was taken on Wednesday, and about its implications for the work undertaken by all Members of this House.

Mr Speaker, despite the negative media attention that I have received since raising this issue in the House, I still feel justified in doing so and would take the same course of action again were I to be presented with the same set of circumstances. I feel that the action taken by the police was serious, it needed to be raised, and had I not raised it, I would have been doing my constituents a profound disservice. I thank you for introducing new rules and regulations about the way Members and the police interact with one another as a result of all this and I know that I do not stand alone in my gratitude for clarifying some of the important grey areas remaining after the Damian Green incident.

My understanding from your previous ruling on Damian Green was that the police could not enter an MP’s office without first consulting the Serjeant at Arms. As they did not do this before entering my office and as the Police Officer put my young interns under huge pressure to hand over confidential documents without first consulting me, I felt that the Police Officer had broken the rules which you yourself have made. I therefore had no option but to raise the issue as a Point of Order. I am therefore very disappointed and concerned that you have labelled my actions as being hasty. I hope to raise these concerns with you directly and would be grateful for a meeting at your earliest convenience.

When I finally arrived in my office to meet with the Police Officer she had already got sight of the document she wanted. The division bell had rung whilst I was discussing the case with her and so obviously I had to make a decision much sooner than I would have liked as to whether or not it was appropriate to hand over the letter she wanted. I was on a 3 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 to hand over whatever material she needed.

Finally I am deeply concerned that in the morning immediately after the incident members of my staff and I contacted your office to request a meeting. We were unable to secure one. Obviously such a meeting would have given me the opportunity to clearly set out to you, personally and directly, why I felt compelled to raise this Point of Order. You have made a Statement about my actions without allowing me to put my side of the case to you and this greatly disappoints me.

It's not just me who thinks something has gone wrong here. Michael Crick thinks he misjudged events in his Newsnight report on Wednesday night. He cites the evidence of Kawczynski's two young staffers as deeply worrying. I have seen their statements and they do indeed raise questions. Over to Michael Crick...
The statements by the two staff members are worrying. If the two accounts are right, it seems astonishing following the Green affair that a policewoman should have used such methods to try and persuade two very young and inexperienced members of the MP's staff to hand over the letter, without a warrant and without first consulting the MP himself. The fact it was a police officer based at the Commons, rather than an ordinary member of the Met Police (as in the Green affair), makes it worse, as one would expect Westminster police officers to be aware of the Parliamentary privilege which applies to MPs' correspondence.

You can read the statements of Jack Colson and Helen Roberts on Michael Crick's blog. This is not a scandal on the scale of the one involving Damian Green, but there are clearly questions to be answered, not just by the Police but by The Speaker.


Martin S said...

So the Green affair was not an aberration but a clear sign of how MPs are to be policed in the future.

Constituents with complainants against the police would be advised to think very carefully before writing to their MP.

Unknown said...

Although I agree with many that Michael Martin is a complete waste of space, I can't help feeling that if the MP's staff could not handle this then they are not fit to do their jobs.

When they were first called by the police about arriving 5 mins later they should have refused and instead insisted on an appointment to see the MP. If the call was different, and more of a "the police are on their way in about 5 mins", then when the police arrived they should have told them to make an appointment to see the MP to deal with this and that they were unable to help them.

As for threats, and then running down to get the MP urgently etc.... again it shows how inept the MP's staff were.

The lesson from this is to appoint competent individuals as your staff members.

Silent Hunter said...

I think you make a very valid point Iain about Speaker Martin.

How many more times are we to 'overlook' his gaffs; let alone the allegations of sleaze relating to his family members and their payment from the public purse.

The man is a disgrace and should resign.

DespairingLiberal said...

When this first started happening (eg, with Damian Green), I suspected the underlying cause to be inexperience amongst younger police commanders with the regime of Parliamentary privilege, combined with confusion amongst senior officers about the role of anti-terror legislation, plus a managerialist and functionary attitude amongst the H of C management, mistaking their role for being part of the Executive rather than that of an independent Parliament.

Having read through that extremely interesting letter and Michael Crick's, I am now becoming more and more convinced that some sort of deliberate campaign of government harassment using the police against opposition MPs is now under way.

If the Speaker does not apologise to this MP and if things do not change and if this happens again, I think Iain that many of us, including many Tories, are going to have to start to accept that New Labour appear to be conspiring with the police and the civil service to create a de-facto one party police state.

I am not given to exaggeration and I think that severe civil disobediance, public protest and refusal to co-operate with government and the police may soon be needed.

I believe that all opposition MPs should now and immediately walk out of the House until this is resolved to their satisfaction and the public's.

DespairingLiberal said...

John, competent staff would cost a lot more and then MPs would be getting flak for paying out too much in wage bills. In addition, there is a tradition in the House that young bright people interested in politics and with some time on their hands can work as voluntary or semi-voluntary interns. This MP was quite right to challenge the police's method in taking a route they knew to be easy, eg, going to the junior staff rather than the MP.

Hacked Off said...

Having read this, I now withdraw entirely and unreservedly any and all crap I threw at the MP based on earlier reports.

Instead, it is redoubled and soaked with camel piss and tipped on Speaker Martin's useless head.

The Penguin

Rexel No 56 said...

Being a cynic, one supposes that the timing of the visit - when the MP was actively involved in a debate on the floor of the House - was no concidence.


JMB said...

It does make you wonder if the timing of the visit by the plod was coincidental. It seems very convenient that the MP was in commons and a vote was imminent. Presumably a plod based at Westminster would know how to check whether a MP was in the chamber and whether a vote was due.

Sean said...

And its news that Martin is a disgrace to parliament?

Not picked up on Denis healeys interview in the telegragh this morning dale....dynamite

Gordon Brown is using tax on wealthy for purely political reasons, says Denis Healey

JuliaM said...

"..I can't help feeling that if the MP's staff could not handle this then they are not fit to do their jobs."

Indeed. 'My staff didn't know what they were doing' is not much of an excuse. If they'd handed over the letter, though, that would be understandable.

"My researcher took exactly the correct course of action in refusing to hand over the letter..."

But you then handed it over, Daniel. So who's the fool here?

Dungeekin said...

So - with PC Plod back in the Palace of Westminster, and the Speaker up to his usual tricks. . .

. . .I think I'd like to resurrect a little spot of Gilbert & Sullivan I wrote back in December.

"Mister Speaker's Lot Is Not A Happy One"

Still relevant.

Enjoy - D

Scottish Unionist said...

Averse to divisive Welsh and Scottish Nationalism, favour fairness and social justice. I have many phobia which include, obfuscation, hypocrisy, Lies, and ..... Hen Ferchetan (Amlwch to Magor)calls me bigot, we keep different company, her words of wisdom have become my cilice

Unknown said...

Iain, it's a pity you have decided to ignore the story about the Disaster Emergency Committee's appeal to donate to victims of the Gaza conflict.

Anyone who wants to donate to this important cause can visit:

and follow the link

Weygand said...

So the Police have to be wary of contacting the office of an MP during his absence, because despite the huge allowances provided for office staff, it may be that those running it may not have the experience to be approached without supervision?

In this case, those concerned appear to have been up to the task and referred the matter to the MP; and it was he who handed over the document - as he has admitted.

Frankly, if someone cannot deal with the pressure from a police officer pushing her luck (while apparently wanting nothing but evidence of practices that the MP would abhor) then that person has not got the resilience needed to be an MP.

The added information does show the police in a different light but hardly helps save the MP.

I still don't see (and have not so far seen) senior Tories rushing to the barricades.

Jess The Dog said...

This is very worrying. There needs to be a fight back.

The Tories should change the subject of a scheduled Opposition Day debate, and replace it with the theme of the police state, the rights and liberties of the individual, and the privileges of Parliament.

Mr Kawzcynski and Mr Green should turn up and reveal all. They should name the police officers involved (that should screw their promotion prospects) and as much details of the ongoing investigation as they know - under Parliamentary privilege. This would wreck the prosecution chances of two cases. If the police want to play sharp then so should Parliament.

They should put the spotlight firmly on the Speaker, the Home Secretary and lay blame where it is deserved.

Are there any Parliamentary committees that can put the boot in?

Ideal if it the Deputy Speaker in the chair on the day!

Jess The Dog said...

My outrage-ometer is fizzing.

Next time this happens, and there will be a next time, the MP or researcher should send an emergency email to mobilise support from colleagues and the media. The cops should be physically prevented from seizing material or individuals, using force if required. The prospect of cops being sent in to Parliament to back up their colleagues in the full view of TV and real-time reportage is unthinkable.

Mr Mr said...

Seems to me that mr speaker was more prepared to believe Mr plod than Mr conservative MP. It also seems to me that Mr Plod tried to pull a fast one and succeeded.

JuliaM said...

"It also seems to me that Mr Plod tried to pull a fast one and succeeded."

Indeed. Not down to the young assistant with 'very limited experience of working in the Commons', though.

Entirely down to the gutlessness of the MP. So please excuse me if I don't join in the chorus of exoneration...

Turing word: ballsi. What he needed to be....and wasn't.

Guthrum said...

We know Martin is useless whats new, this statement is on the same level as a member of the Upper Sixth whining he has badly treated by the beastly fourth form. At the end of the day he just cravenly handed over the letter. Get out of my office immediately would have been the correct response. Having handed over the letter he consented- story over.

wonkotsane said...

I'm not surprised he won't meet with him. Daniel's normally very placid but he's enormous - I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of him in a bad mood!

Martin S said...

Daniel is a damn good MP from what I have heard from his constituents.

Weygand said...

I wondered whether I was being harsh and insensitive re Mr K, especially when someone says 'he is damn good MP'

I first suspected that the expression itself suggested that somebody was taking the piss - but perhaps that was just me being hard and insensitive all over again.

Well, I could not find any mention of Mr K on the news section of the Conservative Party website, nor on DC's, nor any sympathetic media campaign crying 'shock horror'.

My hero DD has not offered to resign his seat over the issue.

It would seem that, as far as the party is concerned, Mr K is an embarrassment and the sooner he shuts up the better.

I'm sure DC was delighted [not] that some would like to give the episode 'more legs'.

From my perspective, he's a 'damn fool' not a 'damn good MP'.

Unknown said...

None of this makes any difference to my view: it's a fuss and nonsense about nothing. The only minor question here is whether what the policewoman said, about having the power to seize the letter, was correct - I can't track down what power she might have thought she could exercise, but there may be one. She may have thought she could seize it under Part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, though I'm not sure that power was available.

It's only a minor point though because she did not in fact seize the letter. As people rightly keep pointing out, she asked for it and was given it. I fail to see how that's an oppressive use of police power.

Oh, and Michael Crick is wrong to say the letter is subject to Parliamentary privilege - it's not.

Oranjepan said...

Thanks for the link Iain, not sure what it has to do with this post though...

Martin S said...

I would have said something stronger about Daniel's MPship. But I don't know how Iain thinks of swearing, so I limited myself to "damn good."

The previous MP was the delightful (not!) Paul Marsden, who was Labour, no, Liberal, oops, no, pardon me, Labour, again, MP.