§ Sir Ian Percival
asked the Prime Minister if Her Majesty's Government will make funds available to assist with the provision of anti-terrorist security at party conferences; and if she will make a statement.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. I am aware that since the bomb at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, in 1984, a number of heavy security costs, especially to do with searching, are now incurred by political parties in connection with their conferences. In the view of the Government, the continuation of party conferences is essential to the public interest and the costs of these exceptional precautions, which will not be necessary in every case, should not be borne entirely by the parties themselves. Following discussions through the usual channels, therefore, the Government propose that a contribution towards these expenses should be made from public funds.
Under the Government's proposals the parties that would qualify for assistance would be those eligible under the scheme for financial assistance to Opposition parties in their parliamentary work (the "short money" scheme) together with the Government parties, but the scheme would not apply to conferences in Northern Ireland, where the arrangements for security are somewhat different.
It is proposed that payments from public funds should be made retrospectively against expenses incurred on specific measures, on the basis of certification provided by the chief officer of police whose force had been responsible for assessing the level of threat and the security measures required in consequence.
Discussion on detailed arrangements is now in hand. Parliamentary approval for expenditure will be sought in Supplementary Estimates. Pending that approval, any urgent expenditure will he financed initially by an advance from the contingencies fund. The working of the scheme will be kept under review.
I regret the necessity for this scheme. Party conferences have a special place in our democracy, however, and I am confident that in present circumstances these proposals to assist in safeguarding them will command general support.