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Dear Helen,

Re the Damian Green affair.

I have on previous occasions reminded you that after the primary duty of representing your constituents, your secondary duty is to hold the government to account. I have so far not detected this in your dealings with Ministers. I trust that even you can see the seriousness of this affair and will change your apparent habit of never questioning the government about a controversial matter.

The Damian Green affair is extremely worrying for our democracy and the constitutional position of the House of Commons. I sincerely hope that you will now ask some questions of Ministers and the Speaker George Martin.

1. No one has yet, as far as I can tell, specifically asked Jacqui Smith if she knew of the arrest of Damian Green before it took place. We have had vague comments from government officials that no minister knew in advance but that’s doesn’t preclude the fact that they may have been consulted whilst the police took a decision whether to arrest or not. These are weasel words and need to be examined in detail. Please do not confuse this with the independency of the Police. It is right that they are independent of government ministers since they are essentially a citizens police force and must make decisions independent of Ministers. But that does not mean that in an obviously serious case like the arrest of an MP that the Home Secretary should not be consulted for advice. Even Boris Johnson for heavens sake knew about the police involvement, and I cannot believe that Jacqui Smith was unaware. Will you therefore specifically put down a question in the House, to Jacqui Smith, asking this specific question. Was she or any civil servant in her department consulted about, told in advance, or in any way made aware of the possibility of the arrest?

2. I understand that George Martin authorised the police to search the office in Parliament of Damian Green? This is intolerable. The House of Commons is in our constitutional arrangement a court of law, and carries the special privileges that attach to any court. Amongst which is the security of information contained within the court. Will you also put down a question asking the Speaker why he has failed to uphold the status of Parliament and why he permitted the police to raid the office of an MP?

These events cause me great concern. There is something wrong with our democracy when the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used for a case like this, when clearly Damian Green is no threat to the security of the realm. I’m not altogether surprised at this slide in our freedom.

We’ve seen how this same Act has been used to suppress a poor woman who wanted to read out in Downing Street the names of the Iraqi dead. We had the disgraceful case of the 82 year old Walter Wolfgang being arrested under the Terrorism Act at your Labour conference for having the temerity to heckle Jack Straw, and of course we’ve had the government wanting to lift the detention period of suspects arrested under the Terrorism Act from 28 days to 90 days.

I look forward to your response and confirmation that you will deal with points 1 & 2 above and ask those questions in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

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I recently had need to apply for a visa to to visit India and was suprised to find that the Indian High Commission in London have dispensed with their postal application system, and require applicants to contact their appointed agents around the UK. These agents seem to be mainly travel agents, mostly Indian it appears, and other Indian community groups.

To obtain a visa it is therefore necessary to post your passport to these agencies, who then act as couriers, taking them to Indian High Commission offices in either London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, and returning with them two or three weeks later when they have been processed.

Passports are extremely valuable documents, and I am extremely concerned that organisations and people, over which the UK has no control or systematic knowledge, are handling UK passports. I believe there are significant attendant security risks. I’m sure that many of the agencies are no doubt perfectly genuine and risk-free, however there could be others who aren’t, and the bottom line is that UK passports should not be handled and treated in this rather lax way. It is not inconceivable that passports could be copied, or data lifted from them.

I therefore wrote to my MP expressing my concern, and asked her to take the matter up with the minister concerned. I was surprised therefore to receive a response from Lord Malloch-Brown, the minister for Asia suggesting that if I was concerned I should take the matter up with the Indian High Commission, and he indicated that officials would contact the Indian High Commission about this matter.

I was also surprised that my MP felt that the minister for Asia was the appropriate minister. It seems to me that since this matter is primarily concerned with potential identity fraud and hence security matters it should have been taken up with Jacqui Smith’s Home Office department. I have written to my MP again asking her to put this matter to the Home Office.

The Labour government talks tough on national security and the need to defeat terrorism, and is even and disgracefully wanting to double detention without trial for these matters from the current 28 days, but in this particular aspect seems remarkably laissez faire.

I’ll keep the blog updated with future responses.

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