Police Searches on the Parliamentary Estate - Committee on the Issue of Privilege Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 180-186)



  Q180  Ann Coffey: I understand that. For the Member involved, as you quite rightly say, it makes very little difference that their office is searched by a warrant or by the consent of the Speaker or the Serjeant because basically their office has been compulsorily searched without their consent. Interestingly enough, in the Johnston Report when it refers to this issue it specifically says: "The conditions of application for a search warrant specify that a justice of the peace is likely to refuse to issue a warrant if he or she is not satisfied that entry to the premises will be refused without a warrant. This, in effect, encouraged the police to consider use of the consent as the first option. Warrants can be issued for the Palace of Westminster". However, a district judge had already granted warrants for the arrest of Damian Green, searches of his houses and constituency offices. Do you think there was something the police thought was special about the Parliamentary Estate that involved a different kind of approach and consultation? Did they believe there was somehow a privilege accorded to Members which meant they had to approach things very differently, because why not simply get another warrant?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: They must have thought that. No-one knew that these meetings were going on between the Serjeant and the police. They did not hesitate in getting a warrant for a Member of Parliament's home and there could well be privileged documents in that home. In fact, I happened to have an office in my house when I was a Member of Parliament and there would have been privileged documents in that home. There would be privileged documents in a constituency office. I do not know a great deal about police operations but what I was told after the event was that they realised they would not have got a magistrate to sign a warrant.

  Q181  Ann Coffey: For the House of Commons?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: That is what I have been told. They would not have got a magistrate to sign a warrant and certainly a judge would have been the person that they would have had to go to. I think that the search by strange coincidence happened at the time when we were all going into prorogation.

  Q182  Ann Coffey: So you think that basically the police thought they could not get a warrant for this place and they were using this issue of consent, which was given by the Serjeant or the Speaker and not by the Member himself, as a way of circumventing that slight difficulty they had?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: There is a word in Scotland called "sleekit" and they would have been sleekit. They were doing it in a sleekit way to get in. I was not there. They did not tell me what they were doing.

  Q183  Ann Coffey: So you assumed that they must have had a warrant?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I keep coming back that I have been 30 years a Member of Parliament and seven years a councillor, and that goes back to 1973 and not all of my constituents were clean potatoes. The vast majority were but there was the odd citizen who cut a few corners. When they came to see me and said, "My house has been searched", I did not have to say, "Oh, by the way was it a consent form?" It was searched because it was a search warrant. I had the right to presume that was basic.

  Q184  Mr Blunkett: Can I just ask one supplementary. Lord Martin, it is clear what happened in terms of the search warrants that were obtained for Damian Green's home and office outside the Commons, but I am still struggling to ascertain exactly when you realised that there had not been a warrant obtained for the entry into his office here.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: I would say when I got the phone call, when I was at my brother's house, at five o'clock. These mobile phones are great but when you get near some rural areas you do not always get a signal. My understanding, and Angus Sinclair will be able to verify this, is Angus Sinclair was told to get in touch with me at four o'clock and, of course, his first port of call was at home and Mrs Martin then said, "If you can't get him on the mobile, he's at his brother's house". She had to go and get the number. It was five o'clock. The message that was put to me from the Clerk via the Speaker's Secretary was, "Yes, there's a search and there's a row but everything has been done properly" and that was when my alarm bells went and I said, "What are we talking about, "properly"? What does that mean? I want to see the paperwork". Angus did not have access to the paperwork at that stage. My alarm bells started at five o'clock that night and I had a priority, I had to get in touch with Mr McLoughlin because for a Speaker it is not normally the Leader of the Opposition who would get in touch with the Speaker, that contact is done through the Chief Whip of Her Majesty's Opposition.

  Q185  Ann Coffey: I want to be very clear about this. The discussions that took place that you were not party to, do you think that one of the reasons you were not party to them was because if you had known that they had not got a warrant you would have insisted that one be got? Is that what you think?

  Lord Martin of Springburn: That is exactly what I think. If I had an approach from an officer saying, "Look, there's a search but it's not going to be a search warrant, it's going to be a consent", I would say, "Wait a minute. No, no, what are we talking about here? No, it's got to be a warrant and let's get everyone concerned involved". I thought I was dealing with an officer who was on top of the situation and knew what she was talking about. I had no idea that these secret meetings were going on with the police. If I had been told, "Well, there's some doubt as to how they are going to get in", then everyone concerned, especially Speaker's Counsel, would have been involved. I am deeply disappointed Speaker's Counsel was not told on the day of that search. The Clerk discovered the search was going on via the television but Speaker's Counsel was not told. When I say "Speaker's Counsel", the department. There is always a duty solicitor in Speaker's Council even if the top person is out of town, but he was not out of town, he was at Heathrow and could have been recalled. That is exactly how I feel.

  Q186  Chairman: Lord Martin, we are very grateful to you for coming to give evidence and, as I said earlier, for giving us a very extensive memorandum. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence.

  Lord Martin of Springburn: Thank you very much.

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