Wed, 14 Jan 2009

The House of Common server was not accessed by the police

During the Parliamentary, debate last month, about the police raid on shadow immigration minister Damian Green's office in the Palace of Westminster, the Leader of the House failed to answer the concerns of several MPs:

Mark Harper (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Forest of Dean, Conservative): I should like to mention one of the reasons why it is important that the Committee should be able to do its work. My right hon. Friend and I asked the Leader of the House a question at business questions last week, but it has not been adequately answered. We asked whether last week the police were granted access to data belonging to other hon. Members. That has not been properly answered. [Interruption.] No, it has not been properly answered, and the Leader of the House needs to answer it properly for the House.

Theresa May (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Parliament; Maidenhead, Conservative): I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House referred to the fact that Mr. Speaker said that the issue would be looked into, but—I am very happy for the Leader of the House to intervene on me and confirm this—she did not confirm that the police had not had access to the shared drive or the servers. If they had, they would have had the ability to access every Member's correspondence and e-mails. I invite the Leader of the House to intervene on me and confirm that that was not the case. Her silence suggests either that she does not know, or that she is not able to give the House the assurance that it requires, and that is of concern to each and every Member of the House.

SpyBlog suggested its readers contact their MPs to attempt to find out what happened to the Member's private correspondence:

If you have contacted your constituency MP via email in the last 2 years or so, your private correspondence could well have been trawled through by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command.

Please risk another email (or a fax or letter) to your MP, e.g. via, simply asking them if, as a result of the Damian Green Police raid on Parliament, copies of your confidential email or fax correspondence with your MP, have been seized or rifled through by the Police.

My MP sent me a letter dated 2008-12-15; here's the content of her letter:

Thank you for your email of the 8th December about the presence of police in parliament and the security of my correspondence with you.

I was interested to hear your views on this important matter and I would like to reassure you that none of my correspondence has been affected by the police raid on the office of Damien [sic] Green.

The Speaker has confirmed with MPs that the House of Commons server was not accessed by police during the incident involving Damien Green and in future no access will be given without a warrant. The Speaker has also published a wider draft protocol for future searches of the House of Commons and I enclose a copy for your information.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me in the future, on this matter, or any other.

And the enclosed document (this document was OCR'd so any typo may have been introduced in the process and not be present in the original):


1. In my statement of 3 December 2008 (OR col 3) I said I would issue a protocol to all Members on the searching of Members' offices. In future a warrant will always be required for a search of a Members' office or access to a Member's parliamentary papers including his electronic records and any such warrant will be referred to me for my personal decision.

2. Although much of the precincts of the House are open to the public, there are parts of the buildings which are not public. The House controls access to its precincts for a variety of reasons, including security, confidentiality and effective conduct of parliamentary business.

3. Responsibility for controlling access to the precincts of the House has been vested by the House in me. It is no part of my duties as Speaker to impede the proper administration of justice, but it is of equal concern that the work of the House and of its Members is not unnecessarily hindered.

4. The precincts of Parliament are not a haven from the law. A criminal offence committed within the precincts is no different from an offence committed outside and is a matter for the courts. It is long established that a Member may be arrested within the precincts.

5. In cases where the police wish to search within Parliament, a warrant must be obtained and any decision relating to the execution of that warrant must be referred to me. In all cases where any Officer or other member of the staff of the House is made aware that a warrant is to be sought the Clerk of the House, Speaker's Counsel, the Speaker's Secretary and the Serjeant at Arms must be informed. No Officer or other member of the staff of the House may undertake any duty of confidentiality which has the purpose or effect of pr--venting or impeding communication with these Officers.

6. I will consider any warrant and will take advice on it from senior officials. As well as satisfying myself as to the formal validity of the warrant, I will consider the precision with which it specifies the material being sought, its relevance to the charge brought and the possibility that the material might be found elsewhere. I reserve the right to seek the advice of the Attorney General and Solicitor General.

7. I will require a record to be provided of what has been seized, and I may wish to attach conditions to the police handling of any parliamentary material discovered in a search until such time as any issue of privilege has been resolved.

8. Any search of a Member's office or belongings will only proceed in the presence of the Serjeant at Arms, Speaker's Counsel or their deputies. The Speaker may attach conditions to such a search which require the police to describe to a senior parliamentary official the nature of any material being seized which may relate to a Member's parliamentary work and may therefore be covered by parliamentary privilege. In the latter case, the police shall be required to sign an undertaking to maintain the confidentiality of that material removed, until such time as any issue of privilege has been resolved.

9. If the police remove any document or equipment from a Member's office, they will be required to treat any data relating to individual constituents with the same degree of care as would apply in similar circumstances to removal of information about a client from a lawyer's office.

10. The execution of a warrant shall not constitute a waiver of privilege with respect to any parliamentary material which may be removed by the police.

11. In view of the concern shown by Members, I am circulating this document without delay, but I shall take into account any representations by Members for its revision and will issue a revised document, should this be necessary.

The Speaker

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said last week about whether to bring charges against Damian Green "We have some material, I anticipate more. We are now at a very, very sensitive stage. But it is not a decision that can be hurried."

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