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Members of the House: Police Access

Volume 706: debated on Monday 8 December 2008

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government from whom the police would need to seek permission before they searched the offices of a Member of the House of Lords or intercepted their telephone or e-mail communications on the Parliamentary Estate or at home.

My Lords, consent to search a Member’s office is a matter for the House authorities, but I would anticipate that any request by the police to search your Lordships’ House with consent would be made in the first instance to Black Rod. A warrant authorised by the Secretary of State would be required to intercept telephone or e-mail communications. The Wilson doctrine applies to Members of the Lords.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will ensure that the police have clear guidance. Although the noble Lord has laid out a few of the parameters, is he aware of how many grey areas there are? The Wilson doctrine covers communication in transit, but once those e-mails are stored on a computer I do not believe that they are covered. Will the Minister, and perhaps the Leader of the House, ensure that all these grey areas are dealt with in the forthcoming review, including the matter of noble Lords’ homes?

My Lords, I am very willing to say that I will look at this in much more detail. As the noble Baroness rightly points out, there are some real complexities with the electronic surveillance by security and intelligence agencies, and whether the surveillance is being done for intrusive or directed purposes. I am happy to undertake to look at this and see whether we can discover areas that need to be clarified a little more.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act draws a clear distinction between access to a Member’s office and access to his papers? Does he agree that, for access to the papers, it would always be necessary for the police to obtain a warrant? Does he also agree that, if the papers are confidential and are therefore excluded material under the Act, the warrant would have to be granted by either a High Court or a circuit judge?

My Lords, as I understand it, once a constable goes into an office with authority to do so, he may seize documents for a number of reasons; for example, if he believes that they may be pertinent to the precise details of the case that he is investigating. There are other reasons, such as material being relevant. It does not include items subject to legal privilege. There is a list of things, so it is not true to say that he cannot seize some of them. Therefore, I cannot agree with the noble and learned Lord on that point.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General is by custom and tradition available and obliged to advise the authorities in Parliament when requested. Will the Minister confirm that this duty specifically includes the Lord Speaker?

My Lords, as I mentioned last week when I repeated the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, as I understand it, Black Rod would speak to the Lord Speaker, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Leader of the House. The Lord Speaker has access to the Attorney-General, and the Attorney-General would normally speak to her.

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the precise answer to the noble Baroness’s question. I imagine that if Black Rod were indisposed for some reason, there must be a basis on which he can delegate his authorities, but I am not sure of the answer if he were actually within the precincts of the House. If I may, I shall get back to her in writing.

My Lords, does the Minister have any plans to review the Counter-Terrorism Act, bearing in mind that we have the examples of Walter Wolfgang being evicted from the Labour Party conference and of an MP’s office being raided by Special Branch officers with counterterrorist officers, which seem to me to bring the law into disrepute?

My Lords, as I mentioned last week when I repeated the Statement made by my right honourable friend, this was not done on the basis of the Counter-Terrorism Act; the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was the basis of the Metropolitan Police’s actions. We have no intention at the moment of reviewing the Counter-Terrorism Act. However, there may have been cases where local councils have used the counterterrorism legislation incorrectly and very clear guidance has gone out to ensure that this does not happen.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Section 8(3)(c) of the Act states that a warrant to search premises will always be required if,

“entry to the premises will not be granted unless a warrant is produced”.

Will Black Rod and the authorities of this House be armed with that refusal?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. They would come here if they felt that they were going to get consent without a warrant. So, for example, as I understand happened in the other place, I imagine that they would talk to Black Rod, who would take advice, and he might say, “No, I am not going to let you in”, in which case they would have to get a warrant. That is what I imagine would happen. But if, of course, he was advised that he should let them in, I think that he would let them in on that advice. But I imagine that he would demand a warrant.

My Lords, if it is for the Attorney-General in certain circumstances to advise the Speaker in the Lords, as was suggested to my noble and learned friend Lord Morris, does that mean that exactly the same position exists with regard to the House of Commons; that the Attorney-General would be in a position to advise the Speaker of the House of Commons similarly?

My Lords, as I understand it, the Attorney-General is available to advise the other place, but I do not want to go into detail about whether or not it would require that in the circumstances that have just passed.

My Lords, if Black Rod granted permission for the police to enter the premises, that surely would not allow them to enter an individual office of an individual Peer without permission from that Peer or without having a warrant to enter that office?

My Lords, as I understand it, if it is a criminal investigation for a criminal act, they would have access.