HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1943-8
Mr. Edward Short

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity of expressing, on behalf of the House, appreciation of the speed and thoroughness with which the Services Committee has examined these issues in the general interests of the House. I feel sure that Mr. Starritt will wish to take very full account of the valuable work it has done.

The present motion is likely to be the first of a series of measures tightening up procedures in this field. It is, however, I believe, an important and necessary one, and I commend it to the House.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Everybody will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman both for what he has said and for the promise he gave earlier this afternoon in his statement.

I wish to make two points. The first concerns Members' wives. It would be a very good thing if all Members' wives were asked to have the kind of photographic pass to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Hon. Members are to have them and it would seem sensible that our wives, or husbands as the case may be, should also have these passes.

My second point, although it is obviously premature to come to any conclusion on this, particularly in the light of the announcement made this afternoon, is that the time is possibly approaching when we must consider the credentials of everybody who presents himself at this Palace. It is relatively easy for people to come to St. Stephen's entrance and to say that they have an appointment with a Member of Parliament. It is equally easy for the hon. Member, if that is true, to furnish the necessary letter. Possibly the time has come when people should be required to furnish some evidence of the fact that they have an appointment with a Member.

I say this with extreme reluctance because obviously one of the great traditions is that we all of us, wherever we sit, are accessible to our constituents and they have a right to come to see us. Nevertheless, we have an overriding duty to preserve the security of this place because in preserving this we are also preserving our democratic way of life. I hope, therefore, that when the security adviser examines this he will look most seriously at this suggestion.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman again to give consideration to the question of passes for Members' wives or husbands. I believe that the whole House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done and for what he said this afternoon.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I wish to make one point on this as you seem to indicate, Mr. Speaker, that we are moving rather quickly away from it. It is a general caveat on the whole tendency that we are now accepting. There is a clear case for protecting factories, public buildings, law courts and wherever people are working—and the House will know that I am never in any way critical of those who want to provide the maximum defence and security against criminal gangs who are operating under the false pretences of being engaged in politics when they simply endanger innocent lives.

I have often spoken against the IRA and the extreme paramilitary organisation of Protestants. I am now in no way amending anything I have said on that subject. But this is the House of Commons. It would not be right to treat this place in the same way as we treat all the other institutions I have mentioned. It is not just an empty phrase. The House of Commons derives its meaning from what happens in the Lobby as well as in the process of passing legislation in the Chamber to which we attach the greatest importance.

I do not believe the introduction of new measures which might discourage access to the House would be right or in the tradition of the way in which democratic institutions in this country have grown up and are a model to the world. There are many people who have not the time to make arrangements to write to see hon. Members in advance. This is well known, but it should be said. People wishing to see their representatives often write to us and when we reply we tell them to show the letter to the policeman at the entrance. That is normal practice, and was the practice even before the recent events. However, a number of our constituents have not time to write in and we deliberately encourage such people if they want to see us. This happens when they have something which they think to be important to take up with their Member of Parliament. We should be most careful not to upset that arrangement.

I am not a member of the Services Committee and have no knowledge of the internal discussions which have taken place on this topic. Obviously every member of that Committee will be aware of what I am saying and its relevance, but I feel that it should be said in public and should be considered carefully before decisions are made. Anything that would have the slightest tendency to discourage people to come to the House of Commons would be a triumph for terrorist gangs. It would be taken as showing to some of their leaders that, if they carry on long enough, they might have an effect even on this House of Parliament. That would be an evil result. I have always been against negotiation with leaders of terrorist gangs and I have taken this view with various Governments over the years. Equally, I am bitterly opposed to taking any action which might allow the terrorists to feel that their efforts are beginning to have an effect.

Of course, what I am saying involves certain risks. We must make a distinction between taking risks for ourselves and allowing other people to be put at risk. This is one reason why I am not categoricaly opposing the new proposals, because obviously, as we know from the recent tragic events, there are irresponsible people who give instructions to make murderous attacks. On the occasion of the Tower bomb it was not an attack against politicians or political leaders, but it was an attack on ordinary people. For those people there must be special protection and we must be careful to provide it. As far as we are concerned we must take considerable risks here and in other places. I think that must be agreed among us and I am sure it is not controversial.

I do not regard the showing of a pass as of any real consequence. I do not believe the people who are responsible for undertaking these long-prepared attacks will be mistaken for Members of Parliament. I do not think that the change in the system is very relevant, and in certain quarters it may be said, "Look at the House of Commons. Its Members are beginning to show the signs of wear and tear which we the terrorist leaders desire."

I say no more on this topic. I agree that these measures need not be decided immediately but can be considered later. I feel that the general purpose of the strategy in this respect should be pointed out, subject to the detailed points which my right hon. Friend has made.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough)

I rise only to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that every member of the Services Committee will echo his sentiments. However, I am sure that he will agree that anything that can be done to stop these foul attempts by evildoers to harm this institution is worth doing.

I remind my hon. Friend that we are concerned not only with Members of Parliament. There are 2,500 people who use the Commons and the surroundings, and the recent incident illustrates the perils which they face. We are ccncerned about their welfare, too.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I agree with almost all that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) said. I have had one of these passes for some time. In case any hon. Member has doubts about their value, I can assure the House that they are better than credit cards.

I wish to ask the Leader of the House one question. We understand the reasons why we are to be required to carry passes. I echo what the hon. Member for Penistone said. Will the Leader of the House take note of the view of most hon. Members that we do not want to take steps which will make it more difficult for our constituents to visit us here, especially those without appointments? It is very often people in distress who come here at short notice, not knowing where else to turn. I shall be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that there is no intention of making this the first of a number of steps.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short

With the leave of the House, perhaps I might make a few brief comments in reply to the debate.

I agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) said. In all our security arrangements it is a matter of holding a balance between adequate security and reasonable access to a free Parliament of Members and constituents alike. This should be borne in mind when we consider security. If we sacrifice that free access, we sacrifice something very valuable. I hope that our security arrangements will never have to go that far.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That Members and Officers of the House, the staff of the House and all persons who require to enter the precincts regularly on official duty or on the business of the House shall produce a photographic identification pass, provided by the authorities of the House, whenever so requested by the police officers or officials of either House responsible for security within the precincts or in the other parliamentary buildings in the vicinity; that the authorities of the House prepare and distribute such passes; and that the authorities of the House provide similar passes for Members' spouses, if so requested.

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