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Points of Order

Volume 487: debated on Monday 2 February 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that hon. Members will have noticed today’s inclement weather and the transport difficulties it has caused. We should be particularly mindful of the interests of those who work in the House, many of whom made great efforts to be here today and many of whom will have a very difficult journey home this evening. Accordingly, it might help if I notify the House that we intend to conclude our first debate at 6.30 pm this evening and the second debate at 9 pm to enable members of staff to get home safely.

That is very considerate of the hon. Gentleman. The staff of this House have, under very difficult circumstances, come in to look after the House and to enable the Chamber to sit. I am glad that hon. Members are thinking of the staff. I note that the Adjournment debate is very tight and that no one other than the hon. Gentleman who will promote it will be able to contribute, with the exception of the Minister, of course.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your statement on 3 December at the state opening of Parliament, you said:

“From now on, a warrant will always be required when a search…of a Member’s office, or access to a Member’s parliamentary papers, is sought.”

You went on to say:

“Every case must be referred for my personal decision, as it is my responsibility.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 3.]

However, in your statement made a week ago last Thursday you said that the police need only

“advise the Serjeant at Arms”—[Official Report, 22 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 897.]

and that the Serjeant at Arms would then approach the Member concerned directly. First, why have you changed your view, if you have changed your view? I believe that colleagues would be far more reassured by your first statement than by the subsequent one. Secondly, if it is ultimately to be left to the Member concerned to decide what to do in such circumstances, that might place them under undue pressure. Surely matters of privilege should rest with the House as a whole, according to the statement made by Speaker Lenthall in 1642.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. In my statement on Thursday 22 January, I confirmed that, in relation to the visit to the office of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), the police officer exercised no compulsory powers to enter the office or to require any document to be supplied. It was not a matter that involved the seeking of a search warrant. I also confirmed that, in future, any police officer in the House seeking the assistance of a Member and the staff in a Member’s office must advise the Serjeant at Arms, who, in turn, will approach the Member concerned and obtain his or her consent before any action is taken. These requirements are separate from the procedure laid down in my protocol relating to circumstances in which the police seek to search a Member’s office under a warrant.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek further clarification because my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has been approached by the Metropolitan police and asked for access to e-mails between him and me as Front Benchers of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. Has the Serjeant at Arms been notified of this, and does it come under your ruling that such requests will require a warrant and will be referred to you for your personal decision?

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, since the occasion on which the office of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was searched, approaches have been made to the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to release certain information?

That is exactly correct. I understand that a request has been made for electronic communications—e-mails—between me and my hon. Friend, presumably relating to the time when he worked under me on the Front Bench of the loyal Opposition.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to my attention. This is news to me, and I will investigate whether the proper protocol and the procedures that I have laid down for situations without a warrant have been gone through. I will report back to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your statement, and in the protocol, there is reference to search warrants. Will you take advice on whether—as has been indicated to me—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, on which any search warrant might be based, applies to this House, for the reasons that have just been given? Will you confirm that this is a matter for the whole House and, furthermore, that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act does not apply and that a search warrant issued under that Act would be void and invalid?

I will have to deal with that point of order in the same way; I will look into the matter and get back to the hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that you are investigating this matter. When you have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), will you consider whether you and he should put in the public domain all the information that the police are requesting from Members’ computers that relates to other Members of this House?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that a resolution of this House says that, while criminal charges are proceeding, the matter should not be discussed—[Interruption.] Order. Mr. Penning, try not to do my job. We have just spoken a few minutes ago about how trade unionists should be trade unionists, and one thing that we do not do is try to do the Chairman’s job for him when we are Back Benchers. I was saying that there is a resolution of the House that deals with criminal proceedings, and that I am bound by that resolution. That is the spirit in which I reply to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).

Further to my original point of order, and to the subsequent comments that have been made, Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for your clarification. With the greatest respect, may I put it to you that there are people outside the House who do not attach sufficient importance to what you have said? Until the House has debated these matters, and referred them to the Privileges Committee for proper consideration before bringing them back to the House to be resolved, we are pulling our punches and the police are failing to respect your word. That is a serious slight on this House.