Tories and Lib Dems boycott Green arrest inquiry

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will boycott the inquiry into the arrest of shadow immigration Damian Green, derailing the entire political process surrounding the arrest.

The government survived a vote on the committee, narrowly defeating attempts by opposition MPs to widen its remit and allow it to conduct its inquiries immediately.

But immediately afterwards, Simon Hughes for the Liberal Democrats and Theresa May for the Conservatives raised points of order to tell the speaker they would boycott the inquiry.

Both opposition parties are angry at the majority of Labour MPs on the committee, with four out of seven places going to the governing party. They are also irritated by the fact it was immediately adjourned for the police investigation to finish.

An amendment tabled by former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell to make the inquest immediate and widen its remit was narrowly defeated by 285 to 281 votes.

The motion backed set out by the government was passed by 293 to 270.

The House saw angry scenes throughout the debate.

At one point, tensions became so enflamed a Tory MP had to be censored by the speaker for describing the argument of the leader of the House, Harriet Harman, as “weasel words”.

Ms Harman’s opposite number, Ms May, said it was “a blatant attempt by the government to pack the committee, stymie its debate and delay its work until the controversy has blown over”.

She added: “This House, this parliament, deserves better than its leader.”

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith asked why it was OK for the police to conduct an investigation on themselves while the criminal investigation was ongoing.

“Why is it the police can decide what’s right and wrong but this House cannot?” he asked.

“There a rule for the police and another for us. We in this House have no courage. The government has no courage that this place will behave sensibly.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who is also chair of the home affairs committee, came down against the government.

“I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment that has been put down,” he said.

Earlier, the government defeated attempts to extend the time for debate from three to six hours.

MPs expressed anger at the time given for the debate, with former chancellor Ken Clarke saying MPs should be able to debate the subject until 22:00 GMT if they so chose.

Senior Conservative Richard Shepherd said: “To truncate debate on such a matter misjudges what this house is about. The quietest voice from the furthest corner of this House might enlighten something we have missed.

“Why would I vote for a House that is worth nothing?”

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews said the benches were filled with people due to surreptitious attempts by the government to make Labour MPs vote for the motion, in what he described as a three-line whip in all but name.

If so, Mr Marshall-Andrews was a definite rebel. He has already set out his stall on the subject by openly calling for the speaker to step down.

Mr Martin remains in a tenuous position. Thirty-two MPs have told the BBC they have lost confidence in him, while 50 said he was at fault for the arrest.

Conservative leader David Cameron toed a fine line over the weekend, stopping short of breaking convention and criticising the speaker, but making it clear that action was needed to restore confidence to the office.

“Clearly mistakes have been made,” he said. “I want to have confidence in the speaker, in the speaker’s office.

“Things need to be done to put right the situation and I know the speaker is working hard to do that.”

Even former deputy speaker Michael Morris – now Lord Naseby – waded in against Mr Martin, saying he had “let the House of Commons down” and should now stand down “with a degree of dignity”.

Bookmakers William Hills are offering odds of just 4/1 he will lose his job before Christmas.

“He doesn’t seem to have the unanimous support of his party, let alone the House as a whole and we have taken a string of bets for him to be gone by Christmas,” said spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Children’s secretary Ed Balls, in an attempt to defend the speaker from Tory discontent, argued the continued speculation was damaging British democracy.

“I think, in the end, the drip, drip, drip has undermined the office of speaker and parliament, and I don’t think it does democracy any good,” he said.

In a separate development, it has emerged that police conducting the search of Mr Green’s office did not follow the law accurately themselves.

The police needed to be as “specific as possible” about what item they were searching for under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but no officer informed the serjeant at arms what they were looking for.