Speaker's Committee on the Search of Offices on the Parliamentary Estate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 8th December 2008.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras 3:53 pm, 8th December 2008

No, I have given way already.

It has to be said that the Serjeant at Arms is unlikely to see the Metropolitan police as jackbooted storm-troopers of the police state; she sees them as working colleagues. They may very well have exploited that in their relations with her by not making clear that she was entitled to ask them for a warrant. The police got the consent of the Serjeant at Arms, and went to the offices of the hon. Member for Ashford, where they were challenged by a representative of the Leader of the Opposition, who again, does not seem to have asked whether they had a warrant. The whole situation is a mess, and we are responsible for it.

Contrary to a lot of the media coverage that seems to suggest that the Speaker makes the rules, the Speaker does not make the rules—we make them, and the Speaker is there to carry them out. The big problem is that the rules are not clear. We all agree that there is something called parliamentary privilege, but hardly anybody agrees exactly what it amounts to. It is apparent from reading articles by apparently learned academics in the news media that they do not agree either on the boundaries of our parliamentary privilege.

If we are serious about parliamentary privilege, we need to clarify what we mean by it. We should turn it into statute law to show that we take it seriously and that anyone who breaches it will be dealt with seriously. I would also include in such a law the Wilson doctrine that prohibits our phones being tapped. It was not very long ago that the previous Prime Minister was going to undermine that doctrine, and he was only prevented from doing so by a Cabinet revolt. Conventions should not be set aside at the behest of a Prime Minister or any individual, which is why we need to shift the rules on parliamentary privilege to statute law.

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