Power of Commanding Officer to Authorise Entry and Search of Certain Premises

Clause 7 – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 2nd April 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

We now know that under clause 6, a Secretary of State can enable a service policeman—who is, of course, not a judicial officer—to obtain access to excluded material or special procedure material, and that that applies to "relevant residential premises", a phrase that the Minister has clarified.

Clause 6 states that "relevant residential premises" has the same meaning as in clause 5, where we find that it means "service living accommodation" or other premises occupied as a residence"— which might be a hotel, for example—by a person who is subject to service law". That would apply to a journalist who had signed the relevant agreement with the Ministry of Defence, or a person who is suspected of having committed while subject to service law an offence in relation to which the warrant is sought. Clause 7 introduces a new circumstance. A journalist can come back to his own home, having finished his duties in theatre, and find that a service policeman within the chain of command from a commanding officer, without any kind of warrant and without judicial reference from a commanding officer, can enter a private home to remove journalistic material. The NUJ was extremely concerned about that, as it represents a substantial step forwards.

It seems extraordinary that, entirely within the chain of command, an officer can instruct not just a service policeman, but a service man or woman who is not necessarily a policeman or woman, to enter someone's home after that person has finished time as a journalist or a media correspondent, if it is believed that those premises contain material that might be the property of the Ministry of Defence or, as I understand it, the intellectual property of the Ministry of Defence.

If there is a belief that the security of the state is being compromised in that way by a journalist, it would be right and proper for the MOD to take appropriate action. However, that bypasses the judicial process. The instructions are given not by a judicial officer within the chain of command, but by the commanding officer of a military unit. That concerns both the NUJ and the Newspaper Society, and I should be grateful if the Minister could reassure us.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

Will the Minister comment on one aspect of the clause, which relates also to clause 8? Clause 7(3) states that a person authorised under subsection (1) may seize and retain anything for which the search under this section was authorised. The Minister will be aware of the case of Major Milos Stankovic, a former member of the Parachute Regiment who has now retired from the Army. He is not one of my constituents, but is represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley). The Minister will know of the anxiety that exists about the seizure of documents and other items that have not yet been returned to Major Stankovic. I know that the Government intend that procedures on judicial matters concerning the armed forces should, as far as possible, reflect the arrangements that apply to civilian life. In the light of that intention, should not there be more specific provision to ensure that where no charges are brought against an individual, it is presumed that any possessions obtained from that person through the use of a search warrant must be returned?

I realise that we shall deal with clause 8 shortly, but I should point out that it contains related provision. Clause 8(2) states: In relation to review under this section —the review will be authorised by a senior officer— a judicial officer shall have such powers and duties as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State by order. Bearing it in mind that we are discussing clause 7, will the Minister comment on the extent to which any orders made under clause 8 might deal with the case of Major Stankovic, which is also relevant to clause 7? Of course, he might not want to speak about an individual case, especially when it is that of Major Stankovic. It would be helpful if he did so, as the matter has been aired a number of times on the Floor of the House. If he cannot provide a further explanation now, however, will he at least address the underlying principle?

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

The clause does not apply to excluded and special procedure material. Subsection (1)(a) applies only when the conditions specified in paragraphs (a) to (e) of clause 5(1) are satisfied. Clause 5(1)(d) imposes a condition ensuring that excluded and special procedure material is not relevant to the offence in question. I suspect that I should leave my reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about clause 8 until we consider that clause, to ensure that we follow the correct procedures. Finally, I can make no specific comments on the case of Major Stankovic.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.