Harman sets out her stall for deputy

ONE of the contenders for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party spent Saturday campaigning in Essex before delivering a major speech calling for more openness in Government decision making and more accountability in public office.

By Graham Dines

ONE of the contenders for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party spent Saturday campaigning in Essex before delivering a major speech calling for more openness in Government decision making and more accountability in public office.

Harriet Harman, the former Solicitor General who is now a minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, told Labour Party members in Colchester that central to the party's renewal was the rebuilding of trust in public institutions.

The speech called for a reappraisal of the role of the Attorney General, the Government's chief law officer.


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The post has been plunged into controversy because the current holder Lord Goldsmith, a close personal friend of Tony and Cherie Blair, will have to sanction any prosecutions arising from the so-called cash for peerages investigation which has gone to the heart of the Prime Minister's private office in Downing Street.

Ms Harman said the Attorney General had four different duties to perform.

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“He's legal adviser to the government, legal advisor to parliament, lead minister for the prosecution service, and decision-maker in certain cases, such as prosecution and the referral of unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal.

“In these different roles, the Attorney - and the Solicitor General - sometimes has to act quasi-judicially in the public interest. And in other aspects of their role, they act as a minister and member of the government.”

Speaking at a meeting at Shrub End community centre in Colchester, Ms Harman said two issues needed to be discussed - what decisions should the Attorney General personally take and what should the public be allowed to know about these decisions?

“In particular, the question is being asked: should the Attorney be no longer a political appointee and member of the Government, but instead be 'independent?'.”

She said it was “hard to justify keeping confidential the advice that is being given by a public office holder, in the public interest, to a public authority.”

She is believed to have been referring to Lord Goldsmith's advice to Tony Blair on the legality of military action in Iraq, advice which the Government has consistently refused to publish.

Before her speech, Ms Harman was out and about on the campaign trail in the Colchester and Harwich and Essex North constituencies, visiting Wivenhoe and supporting candidates standing for May's local elections in Tendring and Colchester.

Ms Harman has said she will stand for the deputy leadership of Labour once John Prescott quits at the same time at Mr Blair.

There is expected to be a close contest with a number of other Cabinet members for the job, including International Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Labour Party

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