|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I endorse the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), but say to the Home Secretary that there have been concerns not only for the past few hours, but for many daysindeed, many Londoners have been extremely worried by the prospect of armed presidential bodyguards being on the streets of London. We need to know where the buck stops. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give urgent attention to ensuring that we have absolutely clear lines of authority during any future state visit, so that we can fully understand what is going on.
Mr. Blunkett: I reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that those lines are absolutely clear. They rest with the head of SO13 and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
To correct a mis-statement by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), there are not 14,000 police deployed; there are 14,000 shifts. There is a big difference between the two in terms of deployment. Contrary to statements made in the press, authorisation has not been given to hundreds of armed officers from the United States; at any one time, about a dozen are authorised to work with the President. We have relied on the good experience and skill of SO13 and our police to do the job. Lines of responsibility and who is responsible have been and will remain absolutely clear. On that basis, I am secure in the knowledge that every step has been taken to protect the people of London and the President of the United States and his entourage.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Just for a moment, I thought that we had got the answer on where the buck stopped, but I am left in doubt yet again. Will the Home Secretary tell us whether he is ultimately responsible in this respect, or will he continue to say that someone else is? We really deserve an answer.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the Security Commission, but will he consider widening its terms of reference to the Houses of Parliament? I am not sure that we can be satisfied that our own vetting arrangements are any better than those at Buckingham palace. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) said, the main threat is probably not from people with a criminal record, but from people without a criminal record. We must be satisfied that anyone who comes to work on these premises and gets a pass is vetted positively, so that we can be sure that we are beyond danger.
Mr. Blunkett: On the latter point, I acknowledged to the Liberal Democrat spokesman that there was a real issue relating to the Palace of Westminster, and I do not intend to repeat myself.
On the first point, I answered accurately a question on the co-ordination of operational activity and security. It ill-behoves Opposition Members, who constantly chide me for interfering with operational responsibilities, to say that I should interfere in that respect. I have said who has responsibility for co-ordination of security and policing, but the political buck stops with me. I made that clear earlier in my statement, and I am absolutely clear that, constitutionally, that is the case. I cannot be operationally responsible when I am not, but I can be politically responsible when I am, and that is what I have enunciated this afternoon.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Given that the Home Secretary has, rightly, accepted that the ultimate responsibility is his, but that there are royal residences and offices in all parts of the United Kingdom, may I take it that one issue that he will take up with the authorities in all those places is that all those who work for the paid members of the royal family, who do a job on behalf of the state, are checked as they go into the building and, if necessary, checked as they come out? Mr. Parry says that he went in and out without anyone checking that he was not carrying something that could have posed a threat. Such checks strike me as a simple measure that should have been in place and certainly should be taken from now on.
Mr. Blunkett: I responded to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) in a similar vein. I agree that there is an issuethat security procedures and vetting in relation to criminal records, no matter how good those procedures are, automatically secure us, and that we do not have to have additional procedures in place, is clearly a flawed presumption. That issue needs to be examined as part of the Security Commission report.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I welcome the statement and the commitment that lessons will be learned. Will the Home Secretary assure us that if the inquiry establishes that there was negligence on the part of a responsible officer, the price will be paid? Will he also assure us that the House will not have to wait for the Security Commission's report as long as we in Northern Ireland have been waiting for a report on the serious breaches of security that occurred at Stormont and Castlereagh?
Mr. Blunkett: I note the hon. Gentleman's final point. On his first point, I have already establishedit is important to understand thisthat the procedures and systems and those operating them will form part of the commission's review with the support of the royal household. Wherever a flaw is found, it will be for those employing the individuals concerned to make the decisions. Because the royal household is involved as part of the procedure, I shall say no more in that respect this afternoon. Under our constitution, the matter is delicate, and despite the requests made on some occasions for the Home Secretary to raise his power and on others to diminish it, I do not intend to get involved in a wrangle about managerial responsibilities. That will have to be defined later.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Does the Home Secretary agree that it is clearly in the national interest that security lapses should be discovered and remedied? Does he share my concern that there appear to be a growing number of stunts on airport, aircraft and VIP security, which appear to be motivated as much by generating publicity and increased circulation than by the desire to improve security? If it transpires that the reporter in question misled, in any way, those to whom he was giving information, in order to gain access to the palace, will the Home Secretary invite the police to make investigations to ascertain whether a crime was committed?
Mr. Blunkett: I think that that would form part of the review. I think also that the Crown Prosecution Service, as it does on these occasions, will have to take a view. At this moment, I am more interested in ensuring that we get this right than I am in looking behind the motives of the Daily Mirror.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The Home Secretary has mentioned his desire to protect the right of people to protest peacefully, and mention has been made of the Palace of Westminster. Will he confirm that it was not security considerations surrounding the Palace of Westminster that prevented an invitation from being sent to President Bush inviting him to address both Houses of Parliament? Alternatively, was it fear of peaceful demonstrations by some of his colleagues?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. That question is outside the scope of the statement.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Will the Home Secretary explain the inconsistency between the haphazard checks made on a bogus employee in the royal palace and the draconian checks that are made on voluntary organisations such as school governing bodies? For example, I and my school governor colleagues were required to bring our passports to school to demonstrate
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That, too, is outside the scope of the statement.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Following on from the good points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), will the Home
Mr. Blunkett: I have made it clear that both in terms of security checks and criminal records checks, the palace and the security service SO13 have undertaken their work perfectly reasonably. The issue for those employed in the Palace of Westminster rests not only with the House authorities but with us as employers. I ask the hon. Gentleman and others who have made similar points to check their own personal activity as well as pointing the finger at other people's.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Does the Home Secretary not understand that the simple fact is that someone who should not have gained access to such a private place as Buckingham palace did gain access? Does he not understand the sense of grievance and anger that we feel when double standards appear to apply? Voluntary organisations, such as Hereford and Worcester Dyslexia Association, have to jump through hoops backwards to get people whom they know and trust into employment, yet the Home Secretary cannot safeguard the security of the Queen and the President of the United States of America.
Mr. Blunkett: This silly, worked-up, artificial point shows a failure to grasp that Ryan Parry was put through the same Criminal Records Bureau procedure. I have repeated that, I think, 14 times this afternoon, but when people wish to be deaf, they are deaf.