HC Deb 18 November 1993 vol 233 cc2-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to the House be kept free and open and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.

2.33 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This morning, I experienced an unhappy incident when driving my car to the House of Commons. I was stopped at the Millbank roundabout and told by a police officer that it was impossible to proceed further because of the parked cars of distinguished visitors, and so forth. I was also told, perfectly properly, that I could go over the river and approach the House from Westminster bridge. I did so, although the traffic was rather heavy, but I was stopped at that bridge by another officer. I find that I was not alone, as at least two other Members of Parliament were similarly inconvenienced.

I told the officer that I had every right to come to the House of Commons—this did not happen immediately before the Royal carriage arrived but well and truly half an hour before that event—and I then spoke to a senior officer. I can only describe him as an officer with a certain amount of silver on his cap—I was unable to recognise his exact rank. I said to him that I had every right to come to the House of Commons, because that was the right of all Members of Parliament.

The officer told me that the police had received instructions from the Chief Whip, who had agreed that the approaches to the Palace should be stopped, for Members of Parliament as for others, from a certain time. I said that that was extraordinary and that I would take the opportunity to raise the matter at the first moment. I have done so, Madam Speaker, and I hope that you will make sure that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police fulfils his duty to the House under Sessional Orders and that the parliamentary privilege of all Members of Parliament to come to this place will be maintained.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

May I say on behalf of the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) that she was equally inconvenienced. It took her about a hour and a half to get to the House this morning, even though she left in very good time.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I am coming to the hon. Gentleman. I shall take all points of order.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The Sessional Order is debatable, Madam Speaker. We are not required to make points of order to raise issues. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the importance of the Sessional Order. There are times when Members of Parliament need to come here immediately from some activity outside. I recall a student demonstration three or four years ago which was disrupted with what some of us regarded as excessive ferocity by the police. We wanted to raise the matter in the House.

If we are not given the right to enter this place rapidly, we cannot do so with the urgency which the break-up of such a demonstration demanded. Of course, the privilege is not for ourselves. It is to allow us to attend on behalf of our constituents and use the right of free speech to raise issues.

The tradition of the police in the House, organised by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has always been that Members are known by their faces to the police officers stationed on duty at the various entrances. Any machinery that is established to be operated by cards does not apply to Members, because the absence of a card could unnecessarily impede a Member's entry to the House. The tradition of the experience of police officers cannot be replaced by any card system, no matter how complicated the magnetic record on the card. I hope that the Sessional Order that we are about to pass carries that clear implication. I hope that when complicated electronic devices are installed members of the Metropolitan police force will always be on duty nearby to allow Members access to this place so that we can represent our constituents unimpeded.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker——

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not necessarily have to raise a point of order. This is a debatable order.

Mr. Lester

In support of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), may I say that I had precisely the same experience as him. I started at Westminster bridge at half-past nine. I was challenged at the Embankment and in Great Marsham street. Eventually, I managed to find one sensible police officer who accepted that Members of Parliament should be here in time for the ceremony.

Mr. Robert Hughes

This morning at 10.15, I was stopped at Westminster bridge and told that I could not proceed any further. However, as soon as I explained my purpose, I was immediately and courteously allowed through. Could you, Madam Speaker, make inquiries to discover which Chief Whip said that I would be allowed through, but not my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore)?

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I rise to support the comments of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. I was one of the hon. Members who were delayed at the end of Westminster bridge when there was plenty of time to allow Members of Parliament through the Carriage Gate in their cars. I heard nothing of a Chief Whip giving such an order, but I heard a great deal about the order coming from senior officers of the Metropolitan police. The constables who had to deliver the message to us seemed extremely embarrassed. Fortunately, the officers were able to park us in New Bridge street, but it was a totally unacceptable situation.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The Sessional Order goes wider than the problem raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. At 9.50 this morning, well before the state opening, police officers told me in Trafalgar square that I needed a special parking sticker on my windscreen, which I did not. I understand that that and, presumably, other problems arose because the police officers brought into the area for the state opening are not familiar with such orders. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) rightly said that we are entitled to an unimpeded right of entry into the House of Commons. We ask for no special privileges such as being able to jump red lights, but we have the right—on production of our pass if necessary—to have that right of entry respected. Will you, Madam Speaker, consider raising the issue with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to ensure that all his officers, including those brought in from outside forces, are aware of our pass and the rights attached to it in attendance of the House?

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

May I confirm everything that has been said? A police officer told me that it was more than his job was worth to allow me through. If that police officer were to come forward and identify himself, would you, Madam Speaker, give him a red hat? [Interruption.] Yes, the red bag that is given on some television programme.

There is always great difficulty in crossing Bridge street, so will you ensure that that area is properly policed during Divisions? Bridge street is extremely dangerous and there are only a few seconds to get from our offices across the road. If it is properly policed, we would be able to get to the House for Divisions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I came here at 7.30 am and nobody stopped me.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

In spite of the early riser on the Opposition Benches, it seems churlish that, on agreeing the Sessional Order this year, the House thus far has not seen fit to thank the police for their excellent policing of the Palace.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Contrary to what has been said by some hon. Members, I am sure that Chief Whips on each side of the House have not been involved in any restrictions on access to the House. Nor do I believe that the fault lies with the officers manning the barriers or that the problem arose because of their unfamiliarity with procedures. The three constables who prevented me from having access to the House were well aware of the contents of Sessional Orders, but had had specific orders from their superior officers that roads were to be closed to Members of Parliament. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney that it is a serious abuse and one which needs to be pursued with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I have written to him today to point out there is little point in the House promulgating Sessional Orders if he and his supervising officers choose to ignore them.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I understand that the problem has not arisen only today. During the previous Session, the police, whom I have found to be most helpful for the past 15 years, had a letter from their superintendent instructing them not to help hon. Members crossing the road to come to vote. That is unacceptable. I should be grateful, Madam Speaker, if you would take up the matter with the Metropolitan police.

Madam Speaker

I have listened very carefully to what all hon. Members have said and I shall follow through the points raised. It is probably appropriate for me to make my comments on some of these matters.

The purpose of the Sessional Order is to authorise the police to deal with obstructions put in the way of hon. Members coming to Parliament. Hon. Members do not enjoy—I am sure that they do not seek to enjoy—immunity from the ordinary operation of the law relating to traffic regulations. Nor do I believe that they seek permission to leave their cars unattended in areas where there are signs saying, "No parking".

I am aware—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members should listen to this. I am aware of the recent complaints about difficulty in access for Divisions. The head of security has issued new guidance to his police officers and I hope that the problems that some hon. Members have experienced—I know of them—will not recur. However, I make it clear that the primary responsibility rests with hon. Members themselves. They must ensure that they allow adequate time to reach the Division Lobbies.

May I make a point about automatic access control? In doing so, I remind the House that the second report of Session 1987–88 from the Services Committee, which was approved by the House on 30 January 1989, recommended that consideration be given to extending the use of automatic access control arrangements to appropriate entry points in the Palace of Westminster. The Committee also said that hon. Members should be willing to set an example by using the new systems. May we now proceed?

Question put and agreed to.

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