Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 2 JULY
Q40 Mr McWalter: There are also provisions
about the protection of witnesses and about false evidencethey
are Resolutions rather than Ordersand they express the
House's intention to use its fullest powers to punish intimidation
and false evidence but not intrusion. Do you think that those
resolutions could act as a salutary reminder to everyone even
if they are, strictly speaking, unnecessary?
Mr Sands: I think if there were
to be one of the existing resolutions to be kept just for the
sake of it, that would be the one I would pick. I think the truth
of the matter is that interference with a witness before a Select
Committee, either prospectively or after the event retaliating
on a witness because of the evidence he has given, would be regarded
as a grave contempt of the House with or without the Sessional
Order. There is a section in Erskine May, page 127, on
tampering with witnesses and that power and the case law surrounding
that is there whether we pass the Sessional Resolution or not.
So I think that the existence of the Sessional Resolution on the
Journal of the House does not make a substantial difference to
the protection witnesses would be accorded if there were a serious
case of interference.
Q41 Mr McWalter: Are the powers of
the House sufficient to punish attempts and such things and does
the Provision of Witnesses (Public Inquiries) Protection Act 1982,
actually provide sufficient protection of witnesses? Do you feel
that the powers you have are strong enough to do the job?
Mr Sands: If the House decided
that something was serious enough to proceed with under the statute
law, we would have to turn the case over to the prosecution authorities
and that would be a different matter from dealing with it as a
contempt. The same Select Committee can take the matter up after
all. If one of its witnesses complains after the event that he
has been intimidated on account of the evidence he has given,
that same Select Committee can always summon the person who has
done the intimidation.
Q42 Mr McWalter: The date of this
legislation is worrying, 1892. There may be all sorts of ways
of getting round it that were not envisaged at the time.
Mr Sands: The Act is slightly
separate from the power of the House to pursue, as the Sessional
Order says "with the utmost severity", people who have
committed a contempt against the House which would be done within
the House. Yes, the direct penalties which are available to the
House are very limited, but the sanction of being pulled up and
given a rough time by a Committee is
Q43 Chairman: Can you give us an
example of when somebody was summoned to the Bar of the House
for contempt of the House? Do you have any example that you can
quote to us?
Mr Sands: Not in the context of
intimidation of witnesses, no, I cannot. The lack of recent precedentsmy
predecessor obviously could not find any or I am sure he would
have mentioned them in the memorandumdoes suggest that
this is not in fact a very live problem.
Mr McWalter: As a supplementary to that,
the behaviour by that journalist, on which I started this line
of questioning, was actually a contempt of the House, not under
the terms of witnesses but it does certainly look as if the person
was minded to, as it were, bring the House into disrepute or whatever.
Q44 Chairman: Is that trespassing
in an area in which you would hesitate to respond at this time,
Sir Michael Cummins: The only
thing I would sayand I am not a lawyeris that, as
I understand it, if one wishes to take trespassing more legally,
it requires some element of causing damage or that sort of thing
and, having checked Portcullis House thoroughly, there is no incidence
of damage having been caused by that individual. He gained access
probably under devious means to areas he should not have done
but no damage was caused.
Chairman: I think my colleague is implying
that what he did was really contempt of the House. He was seeking
to bring the House into contempt by his action of coming into
the House and going into places which clearly he was not supposed
to be in.
Q45 Mr McWalter: There is quite a
difference between trespassing in somebody's wood, walking through
it and not knifing any of the trees and what was done in this
case, where somebody went into areas of Parliament. There is an
issue about whether laws need to be framed to give Parliament
a special status or not. Talking about normal trespass seems to
me quite different from what the offence is here.
Mr Sands: We have had incidents
of this sort periodically over quite a time. I can think of at
least two others in the not too distant past where the press have
thought it was an amusing thing for their readers to try and demonstrate
holes in the Palace of Westminster security arrangements. None
of them has ever been pursued as a contempt in the technical sense
of the word because to do that you would have to show that what
they had done was seriously obstructing Parliament in its parliamentary
proceedings and operations. No one has sought to pursue the matter
on that basis. What has tended to happen is that Speakers have
got very cross and have threatened to take press passes away and
so on. Sometimes editors have been contrite and sometimes they
have not, but still it happens again. It just seems to be one
of these easy stories which every now and again journalists resort
Q46 David Hamilton: Part of the order
about elections prescribes what should happen if a Member is returned
for more than one seat. On page five of the memorandum you suggest
that either the House could agree that the current provision should
continue to be the practice of the House or that the House could
pass a specific order if the situation ever recurred. What is
Mr Sands: It is a remote possibility
that this situation might recur. I think it is very remote and
I cannot in practice see it happening outside the confines of
Northern Ireland where it is just faintly conceivable that it
might happen. My recommendation, if the Committee was going to
recommend that we no longer pass the sessional order on this subject,
would be that the Committee at the same time recommend that the
practice embodied in the sessional resolution be acknowledged
to be the House's practice, which would be applied if the situation
were to recur. If and when the House agrees to your report, which
I think would be a necessary precursor to us getting rid of the
sessional resolutions, that agreement of the House with that recommendation
would be sufficient authority when the situation arose again.
Q47 David Hamilton: As a Scottish
MP, they are moving the number of MPs down from 72 to 59 and a
number of us would be quite pleased with that sort of problem
coming up. English regions are now under discussion within the
House. We already have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly
and a Northern Ireland Assembly. We also have the European Parliament.
There is the possibility of individuals who stand for each of
these areas. Would that not come into conflict or would that not
be in the remit?
Mr Sands: That is not covered
by this sessional resolution. It tends to be covered, if at all,
by the Act which sets up the relevant new Parliament or Assembly.
In other words, if there is going to be a cross-disqualification
from sitting in both a regional assembly and the central parliament,
that would have to be provided for in the legislation setting
up the regional assembly.
David Hamilton: It would not be appropriate
for us to make that decision here?
Q48 Chairman: I think this Committee
can consider virtually anything which relates to the procedure
and the process of procedures in the House of Commons. It is not
appropriate for us to get involved in matters relating to the
Scottish Parliament or the European Parliament or the Welsh or
Northern Ireland Assemblies. I hope that the Clerk of the House
would confirm that.
Mr Sands: I think that is correct.
Q49 Chairman: Can I come back on
security and access to the Palace of Westminster? Am I right in
saying that you would like to see legislation replacing the sessional
orders and resolutions in respect of guaranteeing access to the
Palace of Westminster and to enable the police to take appropriate
action should any individual or group of people seek to block
Parliament Square and access to Parliament, either with their
own physical beings or with any other equipment, vehicles or whatever?
Am I right in saying that is what you believe would be necessary:
legislation to enable the police to act? You have highlighted
it to us and it causes some concern, particularly if groups of
people use children. People clearly are very concerned about the
welfare of boys and girls. The police could take appropriate action
to remove such individuals or equipment if it was barring access
to the Palace of Westminster.
Sir Michael Cummins: Yes, I would
like that sort of legislation to be well known to Members, staff,
to various people who wish to come to the House and well known
and applied by the police, even if it were in terms of having
to be made clear to those people who are potentially demonstrating
that that legal process was easily made available to those people
whom they may have to warn; but that the whole thing was much
more clear cut and readily understood than it is now.
Q50 Chairman: You may say it is not
appropriate for you to answer this question but one or two of
my colleagues have mentioned the European Convention on Human
Rights, civil rights and all the rest. Why is it that it affects
our police in that they are reluctant to take action, when in
France no such reservation appears to exist? Yet they are governed
by the same human and civil rights.
Sir Michael Cummins: With respect,
that may be a question you wish to ask the Commissioner. It may
be that our own police force is highly conscious of what we resolve
within Europe and it may not be the same in other countries.
Q51 Chairman: Can I ask our legal
wizard, the Clerk of the House?
Mr Sands: I am not a legal wizard.
You are taking me well beyond the law of Parliament. I can only
hazard a guess that perhaps up to now the citizens of France have
been less litigious than the citizens of the United Kingdom so
the French police feel they have a slightly better chance of getting
away with it.
Q52 Chairman: Are you currently concerned
about the ability of the police and the officers and staff of
this House adequately to provide security for the Palace and those
who work within it?
Sir Michael Cummins: We have an
awful dichotomy here within the Palace. On the one hand, we need
to make the Palace available for Members to meet with their constituents,
their overseas visitors and other visitors who come and see them.
I think Members would take it very badly if we in any way attempted
to obstruct that ability of access to the Palace, both to attend
the chamber, committees, meeting with Members in the central lobby,
for example, so from that point of view I very much respect Members'
views. On the other hand, it would be very easy for us to bring
this place to a halt with overbearing security arrangements. Somehow
we have to strike that balance. It is a very difficult balance.
I think generally we have it about right. We have a very strong
perimeter, even recognised by the journalists as we discussed
earlier. The mail journalist was properly searched and checked
when he came through. By having that strong perimeter backed up
by armed police, we have gone a long way towards achieving what
we want to achieve. What we now lack is the ability of our security
force to make the necessary checks on maybe Members who have not
got a pass on, maybe other individuals who are not carrying passes,
to say, "May I please see your pass?" That is not done
sufficiently well enough at the moment. We want desperately to
encourage both the security force and our own staff and indeed
Members to make those checks on anyone they see around this place.
We could not possibly have a police or security officer patrolling
every corridor. The committee corridor and these corridors here
are freely used by a number of people, so we do need that level
of security consciousness throughout the whole of the parliamentary
membership and staff, including the security staff, to bring those
security considerations more into being.
Q53 Chairman: I came here when the
security was entirely the Metropolitan Police. Today, the number
of police officers has declined and the number of security staff
has dramatically increased. The security staff do seem to change
quite frequently. Whether they are going off to another job or
whether they are being transferred from one job within the Palace
to another I am not sure. Do you feel there is a problem with
the security staff as against the police because they appear to
not know the House and its Members and staff as well as the longer
serving members of the police force? Is there a problem, in your
view? How are they trained? How long is the training of the security
personnel, leaving the trained, professional police officers on
Sir Michael Cummins: The security
personnel are recruited by the Metropolitan Police centrally.
They are then apportioned to the Palace of Westminster in whatever
numbers they are required here. At the moment, we have just over
300 security officers throughout both Houses. They are trained
for about six weeks when they familiarise themselves with the
practices of the Palace and with those elements of Metropolitan
Police procedure and law which they need to absorb. That is the
basis of their training and their being here. It is a sad but
very relevant fact that in budgetary terms they are not paid even
half as much as the average police officer. Our security budget
at the moment for police officer and security officer staffing
is about £22 million a year for both Houses. It is a tremendous
amount of money. We are always very conscious of that amount and
how we spend it. We hope we get the best value for money out of
those security officers but by no means could we, as we would
wish to in a perfect world, replace them by police officers. We
try to have the more repetitive, mundane, internal tasks done
by security officers and we try to supervise them as much as we
can, as do their own senior officers. They are by no means perfect.
We are at the moment trying very hard to make them more security
conscious, as I have described, and I hope that will bear fruit
in the near future.
Q54 Chairman: Can I raise one personal
matter? To me, one of the most vulnerable periods for people,
particularly Members coming into the House by car, is when they
come through Carriage Gates and are stopped by security which
is inside the area of the Palace of Westminster, before Members
of Parliament go down into the car park. There are occasions when
quite a lot of vehicles are coming in at the same time. Vehicles
are almost parked out into Parliament Square. Does this cause
you any anxiety? Members have commented to me that a Member sitting
in a car in Parliament Square is very vulnerable, should anyone
wish to commit some offence against them or the vehicle that they
are in. It does occasionally, particularly at peak times, take
quite a long time to get through the security. Is it not sensible
that at some times both lines of routethat is, the one
that appears to be used exclusively by ministers' carsmight
also be used by Members' cars?
Sir Michael Cummins: We are working
on this. We hope to have some progress on that second line very
shortly. We are installing another camera in that position too,
so that will help to ease the flow of traffic.
Q55 Chairman: Coming in by car, we
are all searched. You will then find people coming in on motor
cycles, scooters, or even bicycles, with panniers on the back,
which are not searched. There could be a bomb in the basket of
a bike, a pedal cycle or a scooter just as well as in the boot
of a car. Is there a rule that, in relation to security, they
do not examine pedal cyclists or motor cyclists or those on scooters?
Sir Michael Cummins: At the moment,
our provisions are to establish the identity of those people on
bicycles and motor cycles but we do not search them.
Q56 Chairman: Even if they have panniers
Sir Michael Cummins: It is unusual
to search them.
Q57 Huw Irranca-Davies: This is in
relation to David's comment earlier on about the attraction of
having some opportunity. There is a potential here for quite some
conflict of objectives. If we do have right outside on our path
freedom of gathering for people, I can see it would be very attractive
for myself as a Member of Parliament to take up an issuelet
us say Post Officesand say to a group, "Come up. We
will have our day." When I talk about conflict of aims and
what that place may be used for, that also ties into what plans
Mr Livingstone might have for that area. I am conscious of the
fact that last year the Palace was rated as number one tourist
attraction in the United Kingdom. Does he have plans that would
conflict with whatever, with the best intentions in the world,
we might want to do with some sort of regulated assembly there
that would conflict directly with it? The extension of that of
course is if David, myself and lot of other MPs were to suddenly
leap on this opportunity and say, "There is a regulated form
of assembly now right opposite us", are we going to find
that square filled on many days, particularly as we approach the
summer period, with a lot of people of different groups? How do
we regulate that? I am just flagging this up because I can see
the potential for issues within my constituency that we could
bring up in addition to the EDMs and so on.
Mr Sands: If you ask me whether
it would be filled up, I can guarantee you it would be filled
up because that is the story of this place whenever we provide
a facility. My favourite example is the siting of exhibitions
in the upper waiting hall which was originally provided as a one-off
favour for somebody or other and is now booked every week, months
Q58 Chairman: Is that your view,
Sir Michael Cummins: Yes.
David Hamilton: And no bad thing for
a democratic country. Could I make one observation? I have been
stopped twice this morning. I was stopped coming in through the
gate for a security check because I had some visitors with me
and that was quite right. They were hospitable. I was stopped
when I came into Portcullis House this morning. I have been stopped
three or four times but that was just a phase. They have always
been hospitable and I have never taken exception to it so I think
the balance that you are trying to achieve is right.
Mr Luke: Last night, I was waiting at
the Members' entrance. I was speaking to a policeman and a car
pulled up. Mr Lammy got out of the car and he was stopped by the
police who said, "Can I see your security pass?" I do
not think he had it on him. I had to vouch for him as being a
minister before the police would let him in the building.
Chairman: You are clearly going places.
Q59 Mr McWalter: I regard it as a
great privilege to go round here without a credential on. It creates
a wonderful atmosphere in the place, particularly if you are with
a party of guests. If somebody is new to the job comes up to you
and says, "Excuse me, let me see your credential", it
does rather evaporate some of the sense that your guests otherwise
have, particularly if there are five other MPs walking by and
you are the one that they select. There is a very light touch
and it is a remarkable achievement that the House has made it
that way. Maybe Members need to be a bit more security conscious.
Relying on police and security all the time might not be too sensible
a thing. We know who the Members are; the police know who the
Members are; most of the security staff know who the Members are
so, in a sense, that is a good basis. Perhaps we could find some
way of Members taking a bit of responsibility. If someone is lurking
round Members' offices, at some stage or other we are going to
get somebody who wants to do a lot of damage. Members are quite
vulnerable anyway. We all go wandering around housing estates
in the dark as part of our canvassing duties and our surgeries.
What the sessional orders relate to consistently is the view that,
where Members' work is in some ways a special place and it has
special rules that characterise it, the sessional resolutions
and orders are about those special rules. I would be very reluctant
if in the end we lose sight of that and say the law of trespass
will do here; the law of cacophony will do there, when in actual
fact what we are trying to do is to keep that special character
and protect Members and the traditions of the House.
Sir Michael Cummins: It would
be my idea of heaven and nirvana if every single Member and every
single member of staff wore his or her pass conspicuously. It
would be a tremendous help to our security staff and it would
do away with all causes of embarrassment because everybody would
be in the same boat.
Chairman: I have a feeling that the Serjeant
at Arms is getting at one or two of us and maybe I fall into that
David Hamilton: I think a number of people
do. The hands on that has been put through at the present time
is delicate. It is very rarely that I am challenged. That comes
out of the continuity of the police force. I do not get stopped
by the police. It is normally security and that may be more to
do with the turn around of personnel than anything else. In that
sense, I am one who carries my ID with me but I do not show it
all the time.
Chairman: We have gone slightly beyond
sessional orders and resolutions. We have raised a number of matters
that are of relevance certainly to security and the way that you
provide security in the Palace of Westminster. Can I thank you
for the excellent evidence which you have given, the excellent
memorandum which you have supplied to us and, if I may say so,
the suggestions which you have made which I personally hope may
well feature in the final report which we publish. Can I thank
you very much for coming before us this afternoon.