Cameron challenges Brown to call election

 

BRITISH CONSERVATIVE leader David Cameron challenged prime minister Gordon Brown to "get on and call an election" yesterday as the Labour government unveiled its legislative programme for the final session of this parliament, writes Frank Millar, London Editor

Opening the traditional debate on the queen's speech in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron accused Mr Brown of treating the British public "like fools", while digging a black economic hole that would only be filled by tax rises.

"He's wrong in recession, and wrong for recovery," charged Mr Cameron, against a widely held assumption at Westminster that Mr Brown would like to call the general election next spring or summer if he believes Labour has a chance of winning a fourth term.

Queen Elizabeth travelled to Westminster amid all the traditional pomp and ceremony to tell MPs and peers that her government's "overriding priority" in the year ahead would be to battle the economic downturn. Measures to prevent another banking crisis and to protect depositors dominated a slimmed-down legislative programme of 13 Bills.

The prime minister congratulated the Northern Ireland parties on the recent resumption of Executive meetings at Stormont and promised further measures - likely to concern the financing of a new devolved policing and justice settlement - to "facilitate sustained devolved government".

The queen's speech was overshadowed by exchanges in the Commons during which some senior MPs suggested that police officers responsible for the arrest of Tory Immigration spokesman Damien Green and the subsequent search of his Westminster office should be called before the House to explain their actions.

Labour MP David Winnick claimed the police action last Thursday amounted to "a breach of parliamentary convention" and won loud support when he said he would like to hear an explanation from senior officers.

Conservative Douglas Hogg described the police action as "a scandal" after Commons Speaker Michael Martin shocked MPs with the revelation that he had not authorised the raid on Mr Green's office, which police had conducted without a warrant but on the basis of a "consent form" signed by serjeant-at-arms Jill Pay.

Mr Martin also told the House the police had failed in their obligation to inform the serjeant that the search could be refused in the absence of a warrant. "They did not do so. They were wrong," he said, as he announced that in future a warrant would be required for police searches of Commons property.

Mr Martin said "parliamentary privilege has never prevented the operation of the criminal law" and that a 1999 commission had affirmed that the precincts at Westminster "are not and should not be a haven from the law".

However, he now wanted a committee of seven "senior and experienced" MPs to investigate the matter.

Mr Green was arrested and held for nine hours by anti-terrorist police as part of an inquiry into Home Office leaks. Conservative leader David Cameron has strongly backed him for "doing his job" and putting into the public domain information embarrassing to the government, including "that the security industry was riddled with illegal immigrants".

Mr Green stressed he did not consider MPs above the law, before adding: "Those who have real power in this country - ministers, senior civil servants, and the police - are also not beyond the law and beyond scrutiny. An MP endangering national security would be a disgrace. An MP exposing embarrassing facts about Home Office policy is doing a job in the public interest."