House of Lords: Police Searches — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 12th March 2009.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 11:15 am, 12th March 2009

To ask the Chairman of Committees whether the House Committee, the Administration and Works Committee and the Committee for Privileges intend to consider the draft Protocol on Police Searches in the Precincts of the House of Lords; and, if so, when.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, the Lord President's consultation on the paper of the Clerk of the Parliaments on police access to the House of Lords, and the draft protocol, closed at the end of February. The draft protocol will be considered by the House Committee on 24 March and by the Committee for Privileges on 30 March. It is expected that reports from the two committees will then be put before the House for joint consideration. I have no plans to put the protocol to the Administration and Works Committee.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees recognise that the draft protocol marginalises the role of the Lord Speaker by giving Black Rod ultimate power to decide on police access to this House for the purpose of searching Members' offices? In the House of Commons it is the Speaker who decides. Should the Committee on Speakership not now be reconvened to consider the powers of both the Lord Speaker and Black Rod to decide on such matters and whether any Leader of the House—a politician—should have responsibility for influencing a decision on whether the offices of opposition Members, or indeed of any Member, should be searched by the police? That is a very dangerous proposition. The draft protocol is ill conceived, it treats the Speaker of this House shabbily, and I object.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, it is clear to me that the final decision should lie not with Black Rod but with the Lord Speaker and/or the Leader of the House, depending on what the House Committee, and eventually the House, decides.

I agree that the word "normally" could be seen as misleading, and I understand that it may well be removed from the final version of the protocol, subject to the decisions of the two committees and then, of course, the House. In any case, I will ensure that the noble Lord's concerns about the ambiguities in the drafting of the protocol are heeded by both committees.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees appreciate the concern still widely felt on this side of the House about the police entry into the offices of Mr Damian Green and the way in which it was authorised? We all need to understand exactly what would happen here. Therefore, is not the Leader of the House is to be congratulated on having speedily brought together a group and published a document in draft that has been given the widest possible consultation in all parts of the House before being brought to the House Committee and the Privileges Committee? Should we not ensure firm political control on access to this House so that we can learn from the mistakes that were made by the House authorities in another place during the course of the Green affair?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, the points made by the Leader of the Opposition will be discussed by the House Committee and, if it is a case of parliamentary privilege, by the Privileges Committee, and everything that is said in the House today will be taken into account by those two committees where relevant. I do not want to comment on the case of Damian Green; that is a matter for another place. However, the noble Lord will note that the Speaker of the House of Commons has also published his own protocol on this issue.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs , Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that in the response on behalf of these Benches I have suggested that a single person should be responsible, and that that should be the Lord Speaker? Does he not also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that now might be a good opportunity to bring together a committee of this House, perhaps an ad hoc committee, to review the powers of the Lord Speaker, the Lord President as Leader of the House and the Chairman of Committees, to see whether, with our experience of a few years of the Lord Speaker, we have got the balance right in terms of the responsibilities of these offices?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, as I said earlier, as far as this protocol is concerned, one of the issues, which will have to be decided by the House Committee and, ultimately, by the House itself, is whether it should be for the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House, or both, to take the final decision. That is one of the issues raised in the Lord President's original letter to Members when this first came up. As regards the powers of the Speakership, I take on board what the noble Lord says, but I cannot give any undertakings.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, what exactly is the fundamental constitutional basis of our privileges? Do they rest on the fact of the precincts of the House being a Royal Palace, on Article 9 of the Bill of Rights of 1689 or on the inherent authority and jurisdiction of the High Court of Parliament?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, that is a very interesting question, but one which it is presently above my pay grade to answer.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, perhaps it is opportune for me to ask the noble Lord at this juncture to confirm that the Attorney-General is always available, by convention, to advise the House authorities and Speakers in both Houses and, should the committee deem it necessary, that they will seek such advice? Police searches of Parliament in general, and in the particular instance that we know of, should not be embarked on without careful consideration and legal advice to clear up any uncertainty.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, I believe that the noble and learned Lord is right and that the Attorney-General is always available to give advice. I see a nod of assent from the Attorney-General.