Skip to main content

House Committee

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009

Motion to Agree

Moved By

My Lords, today the House is being invited to agree a protocol governing police access to the House of Lords. Noble Lords will recall that this difficult issue arose in the context of a police search of an MP’s office in the House of Commons.

Initially, the Leader of the House asked the Clerk of the Parliaments to submit a memorandum on the conditions governing police access to Parliament. This memorandum was placed in the Library of the House and noble Lords were asked to submit comments. The resulting draft protocol was approved by the Committee for Privileges and the House Committee.

The protocol is annexed to the report, but I will briefly set out its key provisions. In cases where the police seek access to the precincts in order to arrest a Member, Black Rod must be notified. Black Rod or the Yeoman Usher will accompany the police and an arrest will be made only in their presence. That will ensure that, in the making of the arrest, no breach of parliamentary privilege is committed. In cases where the police seek access to the precincts of the House in order to effect a search, and where a warrant may lawfully be required by the House authorities, a warrant must always be obtained.

Before admitting the police to the precincts to undertake a search, Black Rod, having consulted the Clerk of the Parliaments and my legal counsel, will seek the authority of the Lord Speaker. The Lord Speaker will consult, as appropriate, the Leader of the House and others. Any search of a Member’s office or belongings will proceed only in the presence of Black Rod or the Yeoman Usher. Where any material is covered by parliamentary privilege, the police shall be required to sign an undertaking to maintain the confidentiality of that material until any issue of privilege has been resolved.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that this protocol constitutes an appropriate system for dealing with any criminal investigation involving a Member of this House. On the one hand, it shows a willingness to comply fully with any criminal investigations being carried out by the police; on the other, it puts in place a robust and transparent system for ensuring that Members’ rights are respected and that parliamentary privilege is not breached. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees omitted one sentence. He read out from paragraph 5 of the protocol that,

“In cases where the police seek access to the precincts in order to arrest a Member, Black Rod must be notified”.

He then went on to paragraph 6. He left out the sentence:

“Black Rod will in turn notify the Lord Speaker”.

Was it not one of the major criticisms of what happened at the other end that the responsibility for it was left with the Serjeant at Arms, and that the Speaker of the House of Commons somehow managed to avoid any responsibility for what had happened? Is it not of the utmost importance that, in matters of this significance to the functions of the House and the duties of its Members, it must be a Member of the House—in this case, the Lord Speaker—who authorises the police to come in? It should not be left to an Officer.

My Lords, I shall not comment on what happened in another place. I would only repeat my original remark that the Lord Speaker is the person who has to give authority for this. Ultimately, it is up to the Lord Speaker and no one else.

Motion agreed.