Special Provisions as to Access

Part of Clause 6 – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 2 April 2001.

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 6:39, 2 April 2001

Sir Alan, I should be grateful if you would forgive my impertinence in failing to recognise your status. I should be even more grateful if the Government would clarify one point in clause 6. It concerns reservations expressed by the Newspaper Society and the National Union of Journalists, who have sought clarification of the implications of the clause.

The Bill contains special provisions for access to excluded material or special procedure material. In the Select Committee, the director general of service personnel policy, Mr. Miller, stated that the point of the clause was to introduce the same I protection as applies in civilian law to such searches. The clause allows for provisions that will almost certainly be equivalent to those under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow such material to be seized. Mr. Miller thought that this was not important, as it applied only to people covered by the service discipline Acts.

Since then, however, it has become clear that people covered by the service discipline Acts can include war correspondents and journalists accompanying UK forces into the theatres of operation. In the so-called Green Book, which contains the regulations for correspondents, annexe A, entitled "Working arrangements with the media in times of emergency, tension, conflict or war", states that accredited correspondents will be subject to service law while accompanying an operational force and while travelling to and from the operational area in service transport". Journalists cannot be accredited, and therefore cannot enjoy the resulting privileged status, if they refuse to sign an undertaking to comply with the regulations. If they sign such an undertaking, I assume that that is a contract and that they come under the service discipline Acts. The Newspaper Society, in particular, is keen to discover whether, during the period that journalists accompany an operational force, premises used by an accredited correspondent as temporary living accommodation would constitute "relevant residential premises" under the Bill. That is an important point, which we hope the Government will clarify.

Given that members of the Ministry of Defence police have the powers and privileges of constables in any part of the United Kingdom in matters related to anything done under a contract entered into by the Secretary of State for Defence for the purposes of his Department or the Defence Council, it seems to us that in the case of a journalist under contract, the Ministry of Defence police will be able to enter "relevant residential premises".

The NUJ gave the Select Committee a great deal of evidence relating to notorious cases in which people's homes were raided, but the case against them was subsequently dropped. That is a matter of concern, and I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the position.