HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1823-4
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the security in the Palace of Westminster.

At the Government's request, with the approval of Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has agreed that the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. James Starritt, should arrange for a special assessment of security in the Palace of Westminster to be made under his direction by the present head of the Metropolitan Police Crime Prevention Branch. With the co-operation of the authorities in both Houses, the police will work in close liaison with the Security Co-ordinator, the Chief Inspector in charge of police in the Palace of Westminster and the Superintendent of Custodians. The assessment will cover both Houses of Parliament and will pay particular attention to the question of public access and the security of individual rooms. Mr. Starritt will report to Mr. Speaker and to the Lord Chancellor.

I feel sure that the Deputy Commissioner will wish to take full account of the valuable work that the Services Committee has been doing on security matters.

The House will wish me to express our thanks to Mr. Starritt for undertaking this review.

Mr. Heath

The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Perhaps he could indicate whether it is mainly concerned with the security of papers in Ministers' and other Members' rooms or also includes the question of possible terrorist activity in the Palace as a whole.

Could the right hon. Gentleman also indicate why it is necessary to have a review of this kind and extent when we have the appointment of our own security co-ordinator? Many of us have been under the impression that it was his responsibility to recommend action to the Services Committee about the security of the Palace as a continuing matter. Naturally, if that is not possible, we wel come the fact that there should be a review, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us the extent of its coverage.

Mr. Short

The review goes very much wider than the security of papers. It is a very wide review indeed. The present security arrangements in the House are based upon a review carried out by the then head of the Metropolitan Police Crime Prevention Branch in 1969, and I understand that all our security arrangements are based on that report. However, there is now a number of new factors in the situation, and we felt that there should be another independent review of our security arrangements. That is why I have asked Mr. Starritt to undertake it.

Mr. Bottomley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind reference to the Services Committee. Is it intended that those conducting the inquiry will take over some of the work at present carried out by the Committee?

Mr. Short

I feel sure that Mr. Starritt will work in very close co-operation with my right hon. Friend and the Services Committee. I think that my right hon. Friend knows Mr. Starritt personally and will therefore confirm that he has a tremendous feeling for Parliament and parliamentary democracy.

Mr. David Steel

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but can he indicate the time scale of the survey and when we may expect the report? Will he confirm that any action resulting from the report will be a matter for both Houses themselves to decide?

Mr. Short

I have not set any time limit, but I have told Mr. Starritt that if he wishes to submit interim reports along the way we shall be glad to receive them. I think that in most cases what he recommends will be a matter for the two Houses, but of course there may well be some confidential matters which will obviously not come to the House.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the survey will cover some of the outlying premises used by hon. Members—for example, Dean's Yard, Palace Chambers and Bridge Street?

Mr. Short

It will cover all premises used by the House and by hon. Members.