HL Deb 21 July 1982 vol 433 cc864-71

4.2 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

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

"When I reported to the House on 12th July, I said I would make—as soon as I could—a further Statement about the major breach of security at Buckingham Palace on 9th July. I have now received and considered a further report from Assistant Commissioner Dellow. I thought it right to place in the Library, and make available to honourable Members in advance of this Statement, a detailed account of the incident, the background to it, the failures that occurred and the subsequent action.

"On 19th July I informed the House of the resignation of Commander Trestrail, the Queen's Police Officer, following his confession to having had over a number of years a homosexual relationship with a male prostitute. The confession raises further grave questions concerning the arrangements for the Queen's security. Accordingly I have invited Lord Bridge to investigate the appointment as Queen's Police Officer and the activities of Commander Trestrail with a view to determining whether security was breached or put at risk; to advise whether in the light of that investigation any change in security arrangements is necessary or desirable; and to report. Lord Bridge is chairman of the Security Commission, but would conduct this inquiry sitting alone. I am glad to say that he has agreed to undertake this task. I shall of course inform the House of his findings. Although I have no evidence of a connection between this matter and the incident on 9th July, I am arranging for Lord Bridge to see all the papers relating to the events on 9th July so that he can make any further inquiries he considers necessary and advise on the adequacy of the police inquiries.

"I turn now to the events of 9th July. Mr. Dellow's inquiry has revealed that although there were technical failures, the basic cause of the breakdown of security was a failure by the police to respond efficiently and urgently. Furthermore, the incident revealed slackness and weaknesses in supervision. The Commander 'A' District has resigned from the force and the Chief Inspector at the Palace has been transferred to other duties. Those were the two officers charged with the supervision of the uniformed officers at the Palace.

"Mr. Dellow has also outlined the serious errors and omissions which exposed the Queen to danger. As a result, four other police officers are subject to disciplinary inquiries. One of these officers has been suspended and two have been removed from their former duties. I am sure that the House will accept that the officers concerned have a right to a fair hearing. I must remind the House that I have an appellate responsibility in police discipline cases; and it is not proper for me to comment further on these individual cases.

"I have considered with the Commissioner what further arrangements are needed to ensure efficiency, greater professionalism and effective supervision. I have accepted his proposal that the protection of Her Majesty the Queen, other members of the Royal Family, and their residences will be the single responsibility of a deputy assistant commissioner reporting directly to the Commissioner. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Colin Smith has been appointed to this new post. He will head a new department responsible for all aspects of Royalty protection. The senior officers in the new Royalty Protection Department, including DAC Smith, will work from Buckingham Palace. This will ensure the closest supervision at senior level and also effect the most direct links with the Household and staff of the Queen and the senior officers of the Household Division, who have promised their full co-operation.

"Operational responsibility for all protection will thus be brought together. DAC Smith's first task will include a remit to make recommendations for revised arrangements for posting and training and to keep them under review. He will pay particular attention to establishing and maintaining a regime of duty which is adequately varied and testing.

"Since the incident, the number of uniformed police officers on protection duties has been increased. Some new technical security devices have been installed; some existing devices relocated; and all thoroughly tested. Mr. Speaker, Assistant Commissioner Dellow's inquiry will continue in respect of assessments of further physical security measures. In this task, I have asked Mr. Dellow to draw on all sources of available expertise, in the public and private sectors. The results of this work will enable the completion of Mr. Dellow's inquiry. The work of keeping these matters under review will then be carried forward by DAC Smith. But all physical measures depend ultimately on the people who operate them being of high quality and properly supervised. The new leadership and arrangements I have outlined are designed to ensure this.

"I have asked the chief officers of other forces in England and Wales, who have responsibilities for Royal residences, to review the arrangements they have made, and make any further recommendations beyond those measures which have already been implemented. The chief officers concerned will work closely with DAC Smith. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has done the same within his area of responsibility.

"I have decided to institute a new permanent group, comprising representatives of the Royal households, the police, the Household Division and the Property Services Agency, chaired by one of my senior officials. This group will meet regularly to examine the effectiveness of the arrangements made. It will not in any way lessen the operational responsibility of DAC Smith and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The group will report personally to me.

"I believe that the bringing together under a DAC of the responsibility for all protection for the Queen and members of her family, the changes in staffing, the improvements in equipment, and the monitoring of the new arrangements I have announced, constitute the best approach to improving Palace security. I have also announced the terms of Lord Bridge's inquiry. And although I have no evidence that the incident of 9th July and the resignation of Commander Trestrail were connected I have arranged for Lord Bridge to see the papers relating to the former event.

"Mr. Speaker, the shocking events of 9th July were handled by Her Majesty the Queen with great composure and resolution. But it is intolerable that Her Majesty should have been exposed to this intrusion and put at risk in this way. It is not the wish of Her Majesty, her Ministers or, I am sure, of this House, that she and other members of the Royal Family should be confined by measures of high security that deny private life and public accessibility. But the safety of the Sovereign must be paramount. There has been an appalling lapse of security and I know that the whole House—and the country—will demand that the lessons of this incident must be learned so that the protection that we give to the Queen and members of her family is the best that can be provided".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating that Statement. We would also extend our thanks for the speed with which Assistant Commissioner John Dellow has reported. The extreme gravity of this Statement is all too plain. It reveals a deplorable and astonishing sequence of failures which amounts to a devastating indictment of security at Buckingham Palace and the Minister and the Home Secretary have been commendably forthcoming about this. Setting aside the defence of the Realm itself and all that that implies, when it comes to personal security there can be no higher priority than the protection of the Sovereign, the Head of State. We must, I think, all accept—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton—that it is not possible ever to safeguard against every conceivable contingency. That course would not be acceptable to the Queen and would thwart the basic aims of our free democracy.

Against that background there is one question in particular that I am bound to ask, obvious though it may be, and on which the nation will wish to be completely satisfied. While we welcome the changes announced and the separate matter of the appointment of Lord Bridge to conduct the inquiry, I would ask this. Are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that everything possible is now being done, so far as is practicable and appropriate, to ensure the safety of the Queen and the Royal Family? In asking this, I also ask the Minister to confirm that he is satisfied—and it is encouraging to see the indications in the Statement—about the proven competence of the personnel now to be involved and that all appropriate security aids which modern technology can provide are to be used. I say all this bearing in mind the lengths to which the terrorist will go, as is all too clear from yesterday's grotesque, indeed obscene, criminal acts, and that there is an even greater need for tighter security and a constant high level of vigilance. If we cannot be satisfied about the Queen's security, how can we be satisfied about other people's security?

I would ask this specific point on these matters. Can the noble Lord say whether the Home Secretary or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis visited the Palace on any occasion to review security between the series of earlier incidents which took place since 1979? I would ask this additional question. Very serious concern has been expressed because no criminal charge is possible arising from the intrusion into the Queen's bedroom. We understand this and of course appreciate that intent has to be established by the prosecution. Can the Minister say whether either the Law Commission or the Criminal Law Revision Committee is doing any work at all in this sphere at the moment? If not, can he say whether an urgent reference could be made to whichever of them seems most appropriate to see whether there is a gap in the law which could and should be filled?

I end by expressing again—and joining with the noble Lord the Minister—the admiration of us all for the signal courage once more shown by the Queen and our sense of relief that no injury was caused to Her Majesty when that horrifying intrusion took place.

4.14 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, it is indeed fortunate that it was a comparatively harmless intrusion into the Palace that has given rise to the discovery of the ludicrous laxity of the security arrangements there. I say, "comparatively harmless", because I do not think that one should ever underestimate the shock and distress that can be caused to any occupant of any premises by behaviour of the sort about which we have heard. I join in what has been said in total admiration of the self-composure that was so obviously displayed by Her Majesty at that difficult time.

The inquiry clearly has disclosed defects in the security system, not only as against the improbable risk which can sometimes be understood, but as against the probable risk, too. I do not believe that this is a moment for calling for heads to roll or for demanding political scapegoats of one sort or another. It is a moment for seeking to ensure that the arrangements are going to be wholly efficient in future. Having listened to the account which has been given by the noble Lord the Minister of the detailed arrangements which are now about to be set in force at the Palace, I do not think that any comment need be made except that clearly much will now turn upon the skill and efficiency of those who have to put these arrangements into effect. I do not think, either, that it helps to add to what might become a somewhat hysterical consideration of this topic if one proceeds to make any more wide-ranging remarks than that.

As to the rather sad postscript about the Queen's Police Officer and his private life, that is a matter that of course must be left now to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge. Unless and until the noble and learned Lord discovers that there was any actual or potential security risk, I suggest that that unfortunate individual should be left to live his own life in his own way.

The only other comment that I wish to make is this: I should like to ask the Minister whether he is not deeply concerned at the quite outrageous breaches of the law of contempt which have been committed by most of the newspapers and most of the broadcasting and television authorities too, to such an extent that the UK press Gazette—which is not by any means opposed to the interests of the press—referred to the prima facie contempt as being numerous and too plain to require explanation.

Is there not a real danger that in the sensational case, such as the Yorkshire Ripper or this one, the media decide that provided they all break the law they are all absolutely safe? Is it sufficient for the noble Lord's right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General to issue a mild warning a day or two too late, and is it not desirable that some action should be taken in order to establish the supremacy of the law in this matter and the right of anyone, whatever he is alleged to have done, to a fair trial?

4.18 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the way they have taken this very important Statement and which has emphasised the fact that it lies at the heart of the concern of this nation. If I may reply to Lord Boston's first question, I think the answer must be that we shall never be satisfied that everything possible is being done; we shall always exert ourselves to find out new ways to make security more secure. But at the moment—and I think that the noble Lord will see this borne out when he reads in Hansard what I have said—we have taken a very wide range of organisational, management and technical steps to remedy the faults which were discovered on these two occasions.

The noble Lord was anxious about whether or not a criminal act had been perpetrated and whether there was a charge available on the second occasion. The Law Commission reported on offences of forcible entry and their findings were implemented in the Criminal Law Act 1977. My right honourable friend would wish to reflect on this suggestion in the light of recent events. Likewise, Parliament considered the law on contempt most recently and passed the Contempt of Court Act 1981. My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General will no doubt take note of the comments made today and the forceful way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has expressed them.

As to the question of visits to the Royal Palace, my right honourable friend has had the privilege of visiting the Palace on a number of occasions; but of course it would not be appropriate for him to involve himself directly in operational matters. That is a matter for senior police officers who have made a number of inspections. I agree with your Lordships that it is important that this should not be treated with hysteria and that the press should not develop a sort of "pack" psychology. The measured way in which the two noble Lords from their Front Benches opposite have received this Statement has done a good deal to bring this back into the serious perspective which it is owed.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us will agree with the sentiments he has just expressed, and that one of the least attractive features of this whole situation has been the relentless search for scapegoats? If I may say so, speaking as someone who is not a member of the same political party as the Home Secretary, I deplore the very venomous and, in my opinion, unjustified personal attacks which have been made on the right honourable gentleman. Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that many of us welcome the proposal to have a new permanent group headed by a senior official of the Home Office, who is going to bring together, as I understand it, all the various interests involved in guaranteeing the security of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, including the police and officers of the Household Division and of the Property Services Agency? This seems to me an extremely sensible proposal.

Also, if I may, I should like to associate myself very warmly with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, about the quite deliberate breaches of the law of contempt by virtually every newspaper in this country. I would put it to the noble Lord that it is a serious matter when this takes place and it denies to people the right of a fair trial. I hope that the noble Lord's right honourable and learned friend will take the matter with the appropriate degree of seriousness.

Finally, is he aware that there have indeed been some serious errors committed by officers of the Metropolitan Police, quite obviously? However, as the noble Lord recognised in the Statement, there are to be disciplinary procedures and it would clearly be most unjust to make any observations which would in any way prejudice their right to a fair hearing.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I welcome the endorsement of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, of a number of the steps that my right honourable friend has taken and I welcome also his personal endorsement of the stature of my right honourable friend, which I believe to be considerable. I will, of course, bring to the attention of my right honourable and learned friend the concern expressed by the noble Lord and by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, regarding the matter of contempt of court.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as the Criminal Justice Bill seems unlikely to come before your Lordships for Third Reading until nearly a fortnight has passed, would it not be possible for this gap to be filled by a simple amendment to be tabled by the Government, rather than having to wait for legislation in the next Session of Parliament? Would my noble friend agree that, if that gap could be filled as soon as that, many people would sleep more quietly in their homes meanwhile?

Lord Elton

My Lords, if such an amendment could be drafted and tabled in the time; although it would be unusual in the conventions of this House to achieve legislation in that way, it might be a useful thing. However, my right honourable friend has been considering this matter and he feels it is not really the way to legislate on such a fundamental matter at such very short notice, quite apart from the need for parliamentary consideration, and that really the patient solution is likely to be the better one, whatever our anxieties may be at the moment.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when the first Statement on this matter was made a few days ago I put forward the view that it would be perhaps not futile but certainly foolish if the security measures to be undertaken were confined simply to Buckingham Palace, because the Queen and her family on numerous occasions during the year do repair to other residences? Can the Minister therefore say that we shall not wait until something happens in one or other of the royal residences before there is a security examination there? Ought not all the other royal residences to be included in this examination as well as Buckingham Palace?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as the noble Lord will find from perusing Hansard, this work is already in hand.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can my noble friend give an undertaking that the Government realise that it is quite intolerable for it to be legal to go in this way and sit on the end of the bed of anybody at all in this Kingdom and not to commit an offence? This appears to be what has happened; somebody has gone and sat on the end of the Sovereign's bed and has not been prosecuted. I find that a quite extraordinary state of affairs. It is an extraordinary state of the law that anybody can go and sit on someone else's bed at seven o'clock in the morning—without being invited to go there, I hasten to add; and I find this an intolerable state of affairs. Would my noble friend please make sure that we look at this matter very urgently and very rapidly, in order to make sure that it comes within the criminal law as quickly as possible?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can undertake that it is a matter of great urgent concern. I cannot undertake that the problem will be elucidated as quickly as the noble Earl, and indeed we ourselves, would wish it to be. However, it is not at all a simple matter to construct an offence, even if it is differently expressed from the aspirations expressed by the noble Lord in his first question.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I suppose we have got to accept that this intruder has not committed an offence and therefore cannot be punished, but is there any way of preventing him and members of his family from making substantial sums of money from the newspapers over this?—otherwise we have a situation in which it is positively profitable for people to behave in this manner.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that crime must not pay, and non-crime should not pay either. I take to heart what the noble Lord says and I will put it to my right honourable friend.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Press Council issued a judgment long ago that newspapers should not glorify the life of criminals by publishing their memoirs or those of members of their families? Should not the newspapers bear this closely in mind in the present instance?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think it is useful for your Lordships to deplore the conduct of the press when it is not as it should be, and of course the Press Council exists also for that purpose.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, if there was no crime, I find it difficult to see how there has been contempt.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think we should not get too deeply into this matter but, if the noble Lord will recall, two occasions were involved and for one of them there is a remand in custody.