HL Deb 27 September 2000 vol 616 cc774-6

2.56 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to review security procedures at the MI6 headquarters as a consequence of the recent missile attack.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, security procedures are naturally reviewed after any incident such as the attack on the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service on the evening of 20th September, and, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police, such a review is in progress. My noble friend will, I am sure, appreciate that I am not able to discuss the detail of any existing or future security measures that are or will be in place at government buildings.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that understandably reticent reply. I am sure that we all appreciate the speedy and effective response of the Metropolitan Police to this incident. Is my noble friend in a position to give any indication as to who may have perpetrated this attack or the origin of the weapon that was used?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as my noble friend rightly said, a full scale police investigation is in progress, for which we are grateful. No particular group has acknowledged responsibility for this attack. As I said, the matter is now the subject of a detailed police investigation. The police have made clear that a number of groups could have had access to the type of weapon used. It would be wrong at this stage to enter into any speculation as to which of them might be responsible.

Lord McNally

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the decision to house the Secret Intelligence Service in this particular building was made during what might be described as Mrs Thatcher's "Ceausescu period"? Does she not agree that it has sent all the wrong messages, both to the staff and to the general public, to have our Secret Intelligence Service housed in such a ludicrously flamboyant building?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as tempted as I am to be seduced by the noble Lord's rhetoric, this building is located where it is through the choice of a previous government. However, in these days when such a building is likely to be identified anyway, it is not a matter which need cause us any real concern.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I hope that it will not sound frivolous if I say that this enormous building, which I believe is often described as a wedding cake, has in the age of the hand-held missile become a sitting duck. I believe that there are serious implications for the future, given high technology's ability to smuggle dangerous weapons into the centre of London and aim them at any prominent building. Will the noble Baroness assure us on two matters? First, now that everyone knows where the Secret Intelligence Service is housed, will she assure us that all possible steps will be taken to fortify that enormous building more effectively? Secondly, will she suggest to the mandarins and masters of the Secret Intelligence Service that when they expand further—as no doubt they will—they might consider returning some of their staff to the shabby anonymity of the building over St James's Underground which no one knew about except the bus conductors who always referred to it as "Spys' Corner"?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am grateful for that suggestion. If no one knew about it before, they certainly do now.

Any building would be subject to attack. However, I can reassure the House that the expenditure that was engaged in has enhanced the building to such an extent that the attack did not unduly disrupt matters in that building. It was able to withstand the attack with the appropriate robust response. We need not be worried that the effective fortification of this building has been impeached. It has not.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will the Minister confirm two matters? First, I understand that the Secret Intelligence Service did not choose that building. It was built for some other department and it had unfortunately to inherit it. That point should be noted.

Will the Minister also confirm that, since the weapon used is not infrequently in the armoury of various branches of the IRA, one of the best measures the Government might take in future would be to remove from the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill the weakening measures designed to reduce the effectiveness of the Special Branch of the RUC? That Special Branch is our chief protection against such attacks if they are IRA attacks—as they have been and will be.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say again that we do not know the origin of the attack. Noble Lords will know that the type of weapon used in the attack was an RPG 22 rocket-propelled grenade. That, regrettably, is a device used by many groups. For that reason the police, with great energy, are trying to discover who is responsible. I cannot concede what the noble Baroness says about an amendment to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill. Appropriate steps have been taken and will continue to be taken to ensure that our nation remains secure.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, will the Government consider including in the review of the incident by the Metropolitan Police the reasons that so many of London's streets and the railway line into Waterloo Station were closed for so long? As well as gaining publicity from hitting the building, there is no doubt that terrorists also draw great comfort from the disruption which is caused to the life of the capital by such incidents.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, security is very much an issue for the police. They took the steps which were appropriate at the time to make sure that the area was secure not only for their investigation but also so that members of the public were not put at risk. That must be their first priority. I respectfully suggest that everything done on that day was done in the most appropriate and convenient manner.