HC Deb 25 March 1976 vol 908 cc629-32

Mr. Brotherton (by Private Notice) asked the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons whether he will make a statement about the employment of a member of the Provisional IRA in the kitchens of the House of Commons.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

Yes, Sir. The man who has been the subject of stories in the Press in the last few days was employed in the House on a casual basis between 3rd and 22nd March, when, I understand, the need for his services came to an end because the man whose place he was taking returned to duty on that date.

I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, and the House will not expect me to comment in detail on this case, other than to say that there is no reason to suspect that the person concerned either has been or is a member of the IRA. This incident has, however, highlighted the security problems which are inherent in the employment of casual labour. I held a meeting yesterday between those responsible for employment and those responsible for security to consider what could be done to tighten up the existing arrangements. Certain measures have already been agreed and those concerned are considering urgently what other measures are possible.

Mr. Brotherton

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. However, is he satisfied that the security arrangements for this place are all that they might be? We must obviously bear in mind the architectural limitations of the Palace of Westminster. Nevertheless, we must accept that there is a certain amount of risk involved for those who work here, and we must be concerned for the safety not only of Members of Parliament but of others who work in the Palace of Westminster.

On the question of the employment of casual labour, will the Leader of the House assure us that some form of screening will be introduced so that people who might put this place at risk are not employed here on a temporary or permanent basis?

Mr. Short

On the first question, the answer is "No, Sir". I am not satisfied with the security of this building, but we are constantly reviewing it and trying to improve it. Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, asked Sir James Starritt, of Scotland Yard, to undertake a review of security in the Palace of Westminster. The Report is now in your hands, and I understand that you will shortly be making a statement to the House on this matter.

On the second question, the additional measures about casual staff—I am sure that the House will not wish me to describe all the measures that we are taking-are that we shall be ensuring a very much closer liaison between the police and the departments employing casual labour; that we shall be demanding a much more stringent proof of identity from people employed casually; that search arrangements will be tightened; and that there will be much stricter control of the movement of casual workers in the Palace of Westminster. Other measures will be taken, too.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Why is it that when people come in as visitors to Westminster Hall their bags are opened and they are examined and screened, whereas when someone comes in here to work, he or she is not screened at all and has complete freedom to move over the whole building? Is that not all upside-down?

Mr. Short

On the last point, we shall be limiting the areas of the building in which casual workers may move and the police will know where they are working. Casual workers enter the premises through Chancellor's Gate.

Mr. Stainton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it would be in the best interests of the House not to pursue this question in further detail?

Mr. Speaker

I am proposing to call later the spokesman for the Opposition and, as I shall be making a statement in the very near future. I am then proposing to bring the discussion to an end.

Mr. Short

I agree with the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton). What I was saying is that all casual workers enter by one entrance, Chancellor's Gate, and there is a very strict check on them as they come in there. I have seen the list of times that the gentleman concerned entered the premises, with the time that he entered and the number of the pass issued to him. We are doing a great deal now to tighten up. I should be grateful if I am not pressed much further on this matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that anyone who has had responsibility as Leader of the House knows very well that there is great difficulty in balancing the needs of the working of Parliament as we would all wish it to be with the needs of security at the same time. However, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that an incident such as this—I should like to add that we support very much the measures that he has already taken—gives the Leader of the House and all those concerned an opportunity to remind everyone of their duties and to stop the inevitable slackness which always develops on security matters as long as nothing is going wrong?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who understands this place. There are two difficulties. One is that which he mentioned, of holding a balance between a free Parliament with reasonable access for the public, and, on the other hand, Draconian restrictions. The other difficulty is in running a department such as our catering department, which caters for about 2,000 people a day, but with a demand which fluctuates very much from day to day and week to week. That department employs casual labour. This is a great difficulty.

Those are the two difficulties, and we must hold a balance and do the best that we can.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has given me notice of the point of order he wishes to raise. Perhaps we may deal with it a little later, after business questions.