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Parliament: Police Access

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government under what authority the police may access the parliamentary computer system and examine Members’ emails or close email accounts.

My Lords, if an officer is lawfully on any premises, including Parliament, with a consent or under a warrant or for the purpose of making an arrest, he can require information stored in any electronic form and accessible from the premises that can be used in evidence. It is to be provided in a form that the officer can take away or from which it can readily be produced.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is it not the case that the suspension and/or closure of an e-mail account constitutes an interception of communications under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act? On the particular case of Mr Green, can the noble Lord explain how his account was suspended other than by means of access through the main parliamentary server?

My Lords, I should like to repeat the health warning that preceded my supplementary answers to the previous Question. There is a limit to what the Government can say. More particularly, many of the supplementary questions to the last Question were for the Metropolitan Police and, in this case, are for the House authorities. It is of course open to noble Lords to table Questions for the House authorities through the Lord Chairman. This Question is one of those best put to the House authorities and not to the Government.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree with me that no one is above the law? I remind him of another case, that of Ruth Turner, the director of government relations at No. 10 during the inquiry into cash for honours. She was visited early in the morning by six detectives. At the time I did not hear any Member of the Opposition say anything at all about it; indeed, the silence was deafening. I am sure that the whole House would agree—

I asked a question at the beginning of my remarks: whether my noble friend agreed with me. I am sure that the whole House will agree with my noble friend that it would be far better to let these investigations run their course. At that stage, we can draw our conclusions.

My Lords, I will restrict my response simply to saying that I am sure that all Members of this House agree that no Member of Parliament is above the law.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the statement made in answer to my question during a debate on 27 February 2008 that all permissions applied for by the police for warrants to intercept must be made to the Secretary of State? They are scrutinised by officials in the warrant units of their respective departments, but the Secretary of State personally weighs the issues. Did the Secretary of State personally weigh the issues in this case?

My Lords, I am in danger of repeating my answers. This is an inquiry which the Secretary of State did not instigate, does not control and does not seek to interfere with. It is an investigation being undertaken by the Metropolitan Police, who rightfully will gather evidence and report.

My Lords, perhaps I may press the point a little further. It is quite clear that under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act a warrant for any interception, which must include any in this place, has to be sought from the Secretary of State. The question which has been asked was whether the Secretary of State was asked for that warrant. The answer to that question does not jeopardise national security or breach any protocols in this House.

My Lords, the noble Baroness may well be correct, but my response is to ask: to whom should the question be posed? It is not the Home Office; it should be put to the House authorities because we are talking about what happens in this House.

My Lords, my question is closely related to that put by my noble friend. I received a surprising note from the House computer service asking why I have not synched my PDA recently, which showed me that there is a great deal of surveillance. I do not say that that is unhealthy, indeed I am grateful to the service for taking out spam e-mails and so on, but it leads to my question. If the police came here and asked questions about any particular Member, would all the surveillance available in our computer system automatically be made available to officers?

My Lords, to answer the noble Baroness’s question directly, “interception” is defined by Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It includes only a communication in the course of its transmission by means of a public postal service, a public telecommunications service or by virtue of a private telecommunications service.

My Lords, I return to the question that my noble friend on the Front Bench asked and on which the Minister said that the correct addressee was the House authorities. The question related to the conduct of a Cabinet Minister in granting a warrant, which has nothing to do with the House authorities and everything to do with the Government.

My Lords, no warrant was issued; no warrant was required. The investigation in the other place was by consent. PACE regulations applied and were abided by by the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act requires that the Secretary of State—that is, the Home Secretary—should be involved in the issuing of a warrant wherever interception of communication is required for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime. Perhaps the Minister could get us an answer.

My Lords, the Home Secretary indicated in a Statement in the other place on 4 December that the Metropolitan Police were advised that a warrant to enter was not sought and that there were no grounds to consider that consent would not be given. The question, therefore, is what applies when the police are on the premises, and they performed their duties according to PACE.

My Lords, I am sorry, we will have to disagree. If I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Baroness. I shall do that in any event because this matter requires clarification and is clearly an issue in which other Members are interested.