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

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

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

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.