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Completion of remaining stages

1. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House and on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.

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Committee of the whole House

2. The Bill, as amended in the Select Committee, shall be considered in Committee of the whole House in the following order, namely, Clauses 1 to 17; Schedule 1; Clauses 18 and 19; Schedule 2; Clauses 20 to 22; Schedule 3; Clauses 23 to 29; Schedule 4; Clauses 30 to 32; Schedule 5; Clauses 33 and 34; Schedule 6; Clauses 35 and 36; Schedule 7; Clauses 37 to 40; Schedule 8; Clause 41; new Clauses; new Schedules.

3. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at half past Nine o'clock.

Consideration and Third Reading

4. Any proceedings on consideration, and proceedings on Third Reading, shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at half past Ten o'clock.

Programming Committees

5. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House or on consideration and Third Reading.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and further messages from the Lords

6. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any motion to vary or supplement this order for the purpose of allocating time to proceedings on consideration of any Lords amendments, or on any further messages from the Lords, and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

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Armed Forces Bill

As considered in the Select Committee, further considered.

[Relevant documents: The Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-I and II.]

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Special Provisions As To Access

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

7 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Mr. Haselhurst, I should be grateful if the Minister--

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Not quite.

Mr. Key: Sir Alan, I should be grateful if you would forgive my impertinence in failing to recognise your status. I should be even more grateful if the Government would clarify one point in clause 6. It concerns reservations expressed by the Newspaper Society and the National Union of Journalists, who have sought clarification of the implications of the clause.

The Bill contains special provisions for access to excluded material or special procedure material. In the Select Committee, the director general of service personnel policy, Mr. Miller, stated that the point of the clause was to introduce the same protection as applies in civilian law to such searches. The clause allows for provisions that will almost certainly be equivalent to those under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow such material to be seized. Mr. Miller thought that this was not important, as it applied only to people covered by the service discipline Acts.

Since then, however, it has become clear that people covered by the service discipline Acts can include war correspondents and journalists accompanying UK forces into the theatres of operation. In the so-called Green Book, which contains the regulations for correspondents, annexe A, entitled "Working arrangements with the media in times of emergency, tension, conflict or war", states that accredited correspondents

Journalists cannot be accredited, and therefore cannot enjoy the resulting privileged status, if they refuse to sign an undertaking to comply with the regulations. If they sign such an undertaking, I assume that that is a contract and that they come under the service discipline Acts. The Newspaper Society, in particular, is keen to discover whether, during the period that journalists accompany an operational force, premises used by an accredited correspondent as temporary living accommodation would constitute "relevant residential premises" under the Bill. That is an important point, which we hope the Government will clarify.

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Given that members of the Ministry of Defence police have the powers and privileges of constables in any part of the United Kingdom in matters related to anything done under a contract entered into by the Secretary of State for Defence for the purposes of his Department or the Defence Council, it seems to us that in the case of a journalist under contract, the Ministry of Defence police will be able to enter "relevant residential premises".

The NUJ gave the Select Committee a great deal of evidence relating to notorious cases in which people's homes were raided, but the case against them was subsequently dropped. That is a matter of concern, and I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the position.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): As far as I am aware, the provisions will apply if service accommodation is involved. The clause provides for Ministry of Defence police to search service accommodation for certain materials. I should point out again that there are associated safeguards: the powers that are given will be used only in the investigation of alleged offences under the service discipline Acts. It is extremely unlikely that they would be used other than in the rarest of circumstances. As we explained earlier in the proceedings on the Bill, it does not seem right that service police should be debarred from this area of investigation, should the need arise.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Power of commanding officer to authorise entry and search of certain premises

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Key: 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

which might be a hotel, for example--by

That would apply to a journalist who had signed the relevant agreement with the Ministry of Defence, or

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.

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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.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the Minister comment on one aspect of the clause, which relates also to clause 8? Clause 7(3) states that

The Minister will be aware of the case of Major Milos Stankovic, a former member of the Parachute Regiment who has now retired from the Army. He is not one of my constituents, but is represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley). The Minister will know of the anxiety that exists about the seizure of documents and other items that have not yet been returned to Major Stankovic. I know that the Government intend that procedures on judicial matters concerning the armed forces should, as far as possible, reflect the arrangements that apply to civilian life. In the light of that intention, should not there be more specific provision to ensure that where no charges are brought against an individual, it is presumed that any possessions obtained from that person through the use of a search warrant must be returned?

I realise that we shall deal with clause 8 shortly, but I should point out that it contains related provision. Clause 8(2) states:

--the review will be authorised by a senior officer--

Bearing it in mind that we are discussing clause 7, will the Minister comment on the extent to which any orders made under clause 8 might deal with the case of Major Stankovic, which is also relevant to clause 7? Of course, he might not want to speak about an individual case, especially when it is that of Major Stankovic. It would be helpful if he did so, as the matter has been aired a number of times on the Floor of the House. If he cannot provide a further explanation now, however, will he at least address the underlying principle?

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