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Mr. Blunkett: On the hon. Gentleman's third question, I make it clear that if people who had not been correctly security checked or who had a criminal record were allowed through the vetting procedure, there would be the kind of risk that he outlined. However, that was not true in this case. There was no doubt about Mr. Parry's identity, where he said he had been or what he said he had done. He acknowledges in this morning's Daily Mirror that all the statements that he made, except that relating to his immediate employment with the newspaper, were correct. That gives the lie to the suggestion that we allowed a terrorist into the palace, and we must be aware of that when we put the matter into perspective.
None of that undermines the key point that people who are vetted and have security clearance must also go through stringent and sensible procedures as precautions against what they might carry into the palace or the Palace of Westminster. I entirely accept that it is right and proper that screening should take place to ensure that people do not abuse their positions. Yes, previous breaches in the House of Commons, including those investigated by the Security Commission, have been dealt with, and procedures were tightened up when necessary. When they were tightened up, Members of the House understandably often became irritated and annoyed with those who increased security and the surveillance of people, including Members of Parliament. I ask people to bear with us when that happens because we do it for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman raised.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in an imperfect world, events such as these will happen from time to time in all institutions? Does he also agree that vetting at the palace over the years has not been very good anyway? In the years when the Tory Government were in power, a fellow finished up in the Queen's bedroom. There is a question of the Fawcett fellow, George Smith and Burrell. They did not do a very good job of vetting Princess Diana either, did they?
Mr. Blunkett: I thought my hon. Friend's opening point was valid. All hon. Members, from whichever side of the House, will want to ensure that past and present events are treated with appropriate weight and seriousness, that we learn the lessons and that we go forward in a spirit that helps us to sort out security instead of scoring political points.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire): What action did the Home Secretary personally take in advance of the President's visit to ensure his safety and that of the Queen? Why did he fail?
Mr. Blunkett: Other people will make a judgment on that. I do not accept that I failed. As Home Secretary with responsibility for the security service and the police, including SO13, I undertook, as hon. Members would expect, to meet those groups a number of times to go through the measures they were taking, to reassess those over the past 48 hours, to ensure that I was satisfied that the measures they were taking to protect both the President and the people of London were adequate and satisfactory, and to ensure that any lessons from the past had been necessarily learned. I did not surveille the personnel procedures at the palace. I do not think that even the most vehement opponent of mine in the House would have expected me to do so.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Although security is important, is it not also important that people can go about their lawful business? While passing Buckingham palace on my way to the House today, I saw people doing precisely that. Is that not a guarantee of our democracy? We should be very proud that despite all the security precautions, which are obviously necessary, people can go about their everyday business.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend makes a profound point in terms of both the ability of the householdI made this point in relation to the incident at Windsorto conduct itself as a family and the ability of people to demonstrate by taking advantage of the freedoms that we built up over the last century. When my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I met the President this morning, there was no doubt whatsoever that the Metropolitan police had rightly allowed those demonstrating to get close enough for the President to hear their messages. If we had not done so, people would have rightly criticised us for being too draconian, as they did with the visit of the President of China. Finding a sensible middle road has to be the way forward if our democracy and freedoms are to be upheld.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): As the Home Secretary has ultimate responsibility for these matters, is he entirely satisfied that everyone working in Buckingham palace and all those who will serve tonight at the state banquet have been properly checked and their previous employment records vouched for? Is he completely satisfied that there is no remaining risk?
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of the review. When such incidents occur, as they do from time to time, they nearly always happen not because the system itself is badly designed, but because an individual within the system has failed to carry out his or her proper responsibilities. Will he assure us that the review will look not just at the design of the security systems, but at the methods that will constantly be in place to check how they are carried out in practice?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I can, but I have to respond to the point that my right hon. Friend's question raises. There will always be the potential for human error. That is a simple fact. I want to ensure that the processes of robust
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): As the Home Secretary is clearly responsible for the security of both the palace and the Metropolitan police, why did he not come to the House to make a statement? Why was it only through your good offices, Mr. Speaker, that you allowed an urgent question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)? Should not the Home Secretary have lived up to his responsibilities?
Mr. Blunkett: I do not know what point the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make. When I returned from the palace this morning, I found that more than one Member had tabled an urgent question. I was happy to accept the one from the shadow Home Secretary. Is there any point
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Why did you not volunteer?
Mr. Blunkett: Well, I could have rung the right hon. Gentleman and said, "Would you withdraw your application to the Speaker, and I'll make a statement of my own," but how silly can you get?
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): As it has been reported in the press that Mr. Parry got his job on the basis of a bogus letter of recommendation, will the Home Secretary say whose task it is to check letters of recommendation? Is it for the police or for the palace authorities to do so? Given that Mr. Parry clearly misled his employers, is any action against him being contemplated?
Mr. Blunkett: I have not addressed the latter issue with the Crown Prosecution Service. On the first question, the task is clearly one for those who undertake the personnel policy and review work.
There is a wider issue on which we can learn a valuable lesson. When people use e-mail and fax, it is much more difficult to ascertain the true nature of the individuals with whom one is dealing and the veracity of the statements made, not least the addresses given. The lesson to be learned by all of us is that one should check. It would have been necessary to check with Companies House to determine whether the individual had been working for a company that existed, or whether the company that had responded by fax or e-mail to the request for information only appeared to exist.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): Does the Home Secretary accept that although he was right to point out that on this occasion a terrorist did not get into Buckingham palace, he was wrong to invite us to assume that that could not have happened? Much terrorist activity is committed by people with no criminal record. The right hon. Gentleman needs to reflect further on his answer. He told us that he was willing to take responsibility for the changes that are to
Mr. Blunkett: First, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that I said that that could never happen. Had the security and criminal record checks not been conducted properly, we would clearly have been open to the potential for the individualin this case, Ryan Parryto have links with terrorists or to present the danger of committing terrorist attacks. I would accept that in those circumstances, but not in the present case.
Secondly, I have not accepted that an individual in the Home Office failed in their duties. I have indicated that both the security and the criminal record checks were undertaken correctly, but there are major lessons to be learned and we are learning them. That is why the Security Commission is being engaged in the question of employment checks, even though the only check that should have been carried out but was not was related to the individual's previous job and the veracity of the reference given to Mr. Parry. I think that we shall learn the lessons from that.