Permanent Secretary of the Home Office left holding parcel

The Home Affairs Committee has published its report on the Damian Green debacle, and it would appear that no-one is to be charged. Although there is some criticism of the police in the report, it also states that “in seeking consent before applying for a warrant [to search Damian Green’s Parliamentary office], the police were following the procedure set down in statute.” Which would leave two losers in this from the three identified at the time by Philip Webster. As for that parcel, in the BBC report Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, has said that he understood the civil servants‘ frustration.. And the Minister’s? [Adds The Wardman Wire’s Carl Gardner has the detail on that – “Jacqui Smith is responsible”.] From the body of the report, here’s a telling paragraph.

7. We asked Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, to explain the background to the police investigation. He said that he and Ministers had become increasingly concerned by a succession of unauthorised disclosures to the press of sensitive government information held in the Home Office over a period of about two years. The frequency of such disclosures caused him to suspect that a Home Office official might be “deliberately and maliciously leaking material for political purposes”.[5] He emphasised that even now he does not know for sure what has been leaked, only what has appeared in the press, but his department had identified “just over 20 leaks of documents, e-mails or information over 2007-8”.[6] These leaks were damaging trust within and confidence in the Home Office, and particularly harming the relationship between Ministers and officials.[7] Moreover, there were concerns that “since it was clear that the leaker or leakers was close to the heart of the Home Office there was a potential risk to national security”.[8]

From the Committee report’s conclusions.

1. We do not condone the unauthorised disclosure of departmental information; this is an abuse by officials of their positions of trust, and we support the use of disciplinary action in such instances. We also understand the corrosive effect that persistent leaking of information has on the efficient working of departments, not least as it sows mistrust between Ministers and officials. The Home Secretary made plain to us her anger at the leaks. (Paragraph 13)

2. In this case the Home Office appears to have followed best practice for investigating leaks, as set out in the Cabinet Office’s Memorandum to our sister Committee. Nevertheless, we are concerned that growing frustration in both the Home Office and the Cabinet Office may have led officials to give an exaggerated impression of the damage done by the leaks that could reasonably be presumed to have emanated from the Home Office. (Paragraph 13)

3. There is a clear mismatch between Sir David’s description of the sort of material that he suspected had been leaked from the Home Office and the Cabinet Office’s letter to the police stating “there has been considerable damage to national security already as a result of some of these leaks”. Sir David suggested that this phrase reflected the concerns not about the 20-plus items he had identified but about the other material that had been leaked from somewhere in Government. However, the Cabinet Office letter did not refer to other departments: only to the Home Office. (Paragraph 14)