HC Deb 12 July 1982 vol 27 cc645-8 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

I have to report to the House that a man was arrested in Buckingham Palace on Friday morning after entering the bedroom of Her Majesty the Queen. The House will admire the calm way in which Her Majesty responded to what occurred. It will also share my grave concern, and that of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, at this most serious failure in security arrangements. A man appeared in court on Saturday, having been charged in connection with an earlier incident at the Palace. I understand that the facts have been reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is considering the possibility of charges arising out of the latest incident.

In recent years a number of additional security measures have been introduced at Buckingham Palace, but the latest incident shows that the position is still not satisfactory and that more needs to be done. I have, of course, fully discussed the incident with the commissioner, who is operationally responsible for Royal protection matters. On Friday he appointed Assistant Commissioner Dellow to carry out an urgent inquiry into what went wrong and what lessons are to be drawn for the future. Immediate steps were also taken by the commissioner on Friday to strengthening security arrangements at the Palace. Mr. Dellow has today submitted to the commissioner and myself an interim report on this incident; we shall see a further report later this week.

I am determined, as is the commissioner, that the arrangements for safeguarding the security of the Queen should be as comprehensive and effective as possible. The rapid implementation of the measures resulting from his inquiry will require the closest consultation between the Palace authorities and the police, and will be pursued with the utmost urgency.

I shall make a further statement to the House as soon as I can.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I am sure that the whole House will agree that what the Home Secretary has reported to us today is, to say the least, a wholly extraordinary state of affairs. On behalf of my hon. Friends, I express our relief that the incident ended without harm to Her Majesty.

Will the Home Secretary clarify part of his statement, in the certain knowledge that the security arrangements at Buckingham Palace give us all cause for serious concern? Will he clarify that part of his statement, which is less than precise, involving the first incident? How closely was the first incident, to which his statement refers, related to the occurrence on Friday? Was the same man, as has been rumoured, involved in both incidents? Most important of all—indeed, it is absolutely crucial—will the Home Secretary say what steps were taken to improve Palace security after the first incident; or was it necessary for the Daily Express to enjoy its extraordinary scoop before matters were taken with the seriousness that the situation warranted?

I hope that the Home Secretary will accept from the official Opposition that we welcome the urgent and immediate inquiry that he has promised. We look forward to the further statement that he has undertaken to make to the House in the hope and belief that it will make it absolutely plain that security at the Palace is being improved in the way that is obviously needed.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Naturally, everyone will welcome what he has said about the relief that no harm came to Her Majesty.

I am advised that for me to discuss further the details of the latest incident, at a time when there is a possibility of criminal charges being preferred, would be wrong, and that I must not respond to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Improvements to the security arrangements were made immediately on Friday and in no way awaited the publication of the report in the Daily Express.

Mr. Hattersley

With respect, I press the Home Secretary not on what he calls the latest incident but on what his statement refers to as the previous incident. I have no wish to break the sub judice rule, but I believe that I am entitled to ask, and the House is entitled to be told, whether, after the first incident, attempts were made to improve the security at the Palace.

Mr. Whitelaw

They most certainly were.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that security is an attitude of mind? Is it true that security duty within the Palace is regarded within the police force as unpopular on account of the boredom, because people believe that electronic devices are carrying out the surveillance, and that the only officers who go in for this duty tend to be either those at the start of their career or those at the end of it who want a quiet life?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is very important for us to consider what Mr. Dellow has to say on the question of the policemen deployed and on the technical arrangements. The incident certainly underlines that, although substantial improvements in physical protection arrangements have been made in the past 18 months, it is crucially important to ensure that the arrangements as a whole are comprehensive and, above everything else, that they are made to work effectively.

Mr. David Steel

The whole House will wish to join the Home Secretary in the admiration he has expressed of the way in which Her Majesty dealt with the incident. While the Home Secretary has, naturally, a desire to respect the wishes of the Royal Family not to be surrounded by too close a personal barrier of security, nevertheless, he must surely have in mind that the security of the buildings that the Royal Family occupy is of the highest importance.

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, and it is for that very reason that in my statement I said that The rapid implementation of the measures resulting from his inquiry"— that is Mr. Dellow's inquiry— will require the closest consultation between the Palace authorities and the police, and will need to be pursued with the utmost urgency. It is clear that on this occasion there were technical errors, but it is equally clear that there were human errors, too.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is sufficient use of modern protective technology in safeguarding the Palace?

Mr. Whitelaw

It was thought that there was but, if extra measures are now needed, they will be provided at once.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

While there is general relief that the Queen was not harmed by the incident, is not the evil of such an incident that it creates temptation in the minds of others? In those circumstances, should not the Government now consider the security precautions, not only for the Queen but for others, to see whether there are other defects that have grown up within the system over a period?

Mr. Whitelaw

The security arrangements of all other Royal residents are also being reviewed at the present time.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Is the Home Secretary aware that the British public are shocked and staggered that this event could have occurred, and that his reference to security being not satisfactory must be the under-statement of the year? How could it possibly have happened that a man who had previously been charged with an offence concerning the security at Buckingham Palace was able again to commit a similar offence? It seems incomprehensible.

Mr. Whitelaw

No one is likely to have been more shocked and staggered than I was. We shall have to await Mr. Dellow's report before I can give a further explanation.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will be satisfied if we have two further questions from either side.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

(Bury St. Edmunds). Although the House will be anxious to see the results of the inquiry, does not my right hon. Friend agree that the remedy is important? Will he assure the House that no technical measure will be excluded from the future safeguarding of the Palace and all other residences of Her Majesty and that that will include thermal intensification devices? Also, will the review deal not merely with Royal residences but with No.10 Downing Street?

Mr. Whitelaw

The security of all the residences is reviewed constantly. No technical measure that is believed necessary would be excluded.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, although he may not feel it proper to resign, such is the bewilderment throughout the House that whatever remedies are proposed they must in the end mean changes in the management of the personnel security system? May we have an early statement on that?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have promised that when I see the results of Mr. Dellow's inquiry I shall make a further statement to the House.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the shock suffered by the nation was that if the man had been a determined terrorist the result could have been catastrophic? Does he agree that all hon. Members welcome his immediate investigation, because the Queen and the Royal Family should have maximum security protection, especially now that terrorism is rife? When the person comes to trial, I hope that the do-gooders will not say that it was not his fault.

Mr. Whitelaw

As to my hon. Friend's latter point, that will inevitably be a matter for the courts and what he described as the "do-gooders" themselves. It would have been a catastrophe had this been a terrorist incident. It is vital that we provide the maximum possible security for the Royal Family and for all people in vulnerable positions. That is what we shall do.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)

Will the Home Secretary reflect on President Reagan's stay at the Palace and the risk to which he was subjected? Can the right hon. Gentleman suggest confidently to a visiting Head of State that he should stay at Buckingham Palace?

Mr. Whitelaw

President Reagan stayed at Windsor Castle, but security must be the same at all the Royal palaces.

Mr. Hattersley

No hon. Member wishes this to become a matter of controversy across the House, but, in view of the bland answer that the Home Secretary gave to my second question, I must press him once again. He told us that security had improved recently. As that improvement resulted in a man entering the Queen's bedroom, how bad was security before the improvement?

Mr. Whitelaw

That must be considered by all Governments over a long period. In the past 18 months, substantial physical protection arrangements have been made. They have undoubtedly improved the position because they were important. There was a review, the results of which have been substantially carried out.