MPS CONDEMN POLICE LOBBYING11:00 - 11 November 2005
Police chiefs were facing a backlash from MPs last night over their "crass and crude" attempt to influence the Commons vote on the Government's controversial plans to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge.At Westminster Conservative MPs tabled a Commons motion condemning the "politicisation" of the police, which they claim led chief constables across the country to lobby MPs on the Government's behalf.In the Westcountry several opposition MPs yesterday showed their irritation at last minute lobbying from Devon and Cornwall Police, who wrote to every MP in the force's area encouraging them to back the contentious 90-day plan. The vote was eventually lost in what became the first ever Commons defeat for Tony Blair.Colin Breed, the Lib-Dem MP for South East Cornwall, said it was "obvious" that the force had been "put up to it" by the Government. "Our local Chief Constable should not have been lobbying on behalf of the Government," he said. "It is the police's job to enforce the law, not to lobby on one side or another on a contentious issue like this."Last night the Home Office confirmed that the Home Secretary Charles Clarke had phoned Ken Jones, chairman of the terrorism committee at the Association of Chief Police Officers, to discuss the possible involvement of chief constables in briefing MPs ahead of Wednesday's vote.Home Office sources said that Mr Clarke had asked that, if chief constables agreed with the 90-day proposal, they should be asked to make themselves available to brief local MPs.Nick Harvey, Lib-Dem MP for North Devon, said that while he did not object to the police lobbying he had been "surprised" by it. "I felt slightly embarrassed on the Chief Constable's behalf that she had been put up to something so crass and so crude."It was certainly unprecedented in my experience. I had a meeting with the Chief Constable only two weeks ago and she did not choose to raise any of this then. It is fairly clear that she and chief constables around the country have been put up to this."Devon and Cornwall Police yesterday refused to say why it had lobbied MPs, although in a previous statement the force acknowledged that this was "unusual".A Downing Street spokesman last night denied that the Government had leaned on chief constables to back the 90-day case. He added: "The police argued their case to the Prime Minister. The police have argued their case in public. That is their right, to do whatever they believe. Any suggestion that we were putting the police up to it is just wrong."The lobbying took the form of a letter from Devon and Cornwall's Assistant Chief Constable Richard Stowe, which was e-mailed to MPs last Friday afternoon. Mr Stowe forwarded a briefing on the issue from the Metropolitan Police.However, in several cases the e-mails were sent to obscure constituency addresses and some MPs were unable to open the attached briefing. A second e-mail was sent by the Chief Constable Maria Wallis's office just hours before Wednesday's vote, after only two MPs responded.Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, was one of several MPs who did not receive the e-mail. "It would have made little difference if it had. I do not accept the case for three months detention and I never have," he said.The Lib-Dem MP for Teignbridge, Richard Younger-Ross, said that although he did not agree with the police he saw no reason why they should not engage in lobbying. "I have no particular issue with it," he said.