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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Let me reply to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

The right hon. Gentleman is right: it is a House of Commons matter, but Whips like to tell people what to do—that is the nature of the beast. I can assure him that they were acting in a private capacity.

Mr. McLoughlin: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you think that, as one of the intentions of
 
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the vote was to ensure that the debate gets no publicity at all, had we moved to sit in private it would have got more publicity?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman may have a point.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If Whips were acting in a personal capacity, should that not result in a deduction of one day's salary in respect of all those who receive public funds?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker: Order. When I was in engineering, there was a practice called quartering workers—but that was not a day's salary.

Mrs. Browning: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was acting as a Whip in a personal capacity, so does that mean I will get paid?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Further to the serious and genuine point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), Mr. Speaker. When I voted in the No Lobby, two Government Whips were at the desk telling us when the next votes were likely to be. In such circumstances, it is important that, when the Leader of the House moves the motion, he again assures us that the vote is genuinely free—I did not have that impression when I was going through the Lobby.

Mr. Speaker: Not even I know when the next vote is likely to be, so perhaps a Whip will tell me, as I shall have to come back to the Chair.


 
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Security Screen

1.48 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): I beg to move,

Mr. Speaker: I reiterate that I have agreed that both amendments will be considered.

Mr. Hain: First, I shall respond to some of the points that have been made. I confirm that copies of an explanatory memorandum are available in the Vote Office; it includes a photograph showing what the new permanent screen would look like, and I think that Members will find it unobtrusive. I assure the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) that the vote will genuinely be a free one, and there is no Government policy on the matter.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Tell your Whips.

Mr. Hain: The orderly business of the House, in the event of a surprise motion such as the one that was moved earlier, is a different matter.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I hope that the Leader of the House is not going to suggest that the piece of paper available from the Vote Office provides a basis for a proper discussion in the House. It contains a description of the visual impact, ventilation and acoustics, and some poor-quality pictures, but it is not fair to suggest that it is a basis on which we can assess the nature of the risk that precipitated advice from the security services and warranted extraordinarily swift action by the Leader of the House and the Commission in advance of a debate in the House. The public need to know that we do not have the information before us. That document is not information.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman may not think that the information is adequate, but to say that it is not information is simply incorrect. I think that the pictures are rather good, and show the situation quite clearly.

Mr. Howarth rose—

Mr. Hain: No, I shall not take any more interventions, as I should like to explain the background. The hon. Gentleman may find that helpful in understanding the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Two motions on House business are before us this afternoon. The first deals with security, and the second, which will be moved by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, deals with the welcome that we give our visitors. For the first time, there will be a proper reception facility that makes our visitors feel at home in their Parliament.

The temporary security screen that Members can see at the front of Strangers Gallery has been installed with the agreement of the House of Commons Commission in the light of clear security advice at the highest level. The House will appreciate that it is difficult to debate
 
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that advice in a way that does not endanger our security, but I can give the factors that did not contribute to the decision. The decision was not made to shield the House from the protest shouts that we have experienced from time to time, most recently over Iraq, which can still be heard through the glass. To those who say that the screen is about protecting senior Ministers, I point out that the Prime Minister and other individuals are already subject to extensive security protection.

The installation of the screen is about protecting the whole Chamber—the very centre of our democracy—from terrorist attack. Terrorists use a range of weapons undreamt of a few years ago, many of which are not always apparent or easily detected, and we have to respond to that changed threat. We cherish the accessible relationship that we enjoy with our electors, which is a vital part of our democratic life. Indeed, we are reinforcing it with the better reception facilities that are the subject of the second motion. Over the years, however, we have had to introduce successive security procedures, including searches on entry and, more recently, armed police guards. None of those measures was subject to the formal approval of the House, but the present measure rightly is.

Acting on clear intelligence, which she explained to me, the director general of the Security Service made an unequivocal recommendation that the screen be installed. I felt that I had a duty to bring that matter to you, Mr. Speaker, and to fellow members of the House of Commons Commission. The House would expect no less. Commission members received the same background and recommendations from the director general and considered the matter in great detail and at great length, as did the Serjeant at Arms. Consultations were held on Privy Council terms with senior Members of the House. This was not, I stress, a decision lightly taken.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Instead of installing a screen, why do we not take guns from people before they come in?

Mr. Hain: Guns would already be taken from visitors under the normal security procedures. It is not possible to bring a gun into the Chamber or the House—at least, not without a serious breach of security—as security procedures are in place. We are talking not about guns but about other terrorist threats to our security.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): What consultation has the Leader of the House had with other Parliaments? I remember that there was a shooting once in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, but I do not believe that there is a screen there. I do not believe that the United States Congress has a glass screen either.

Mr. Hain: Congress, I believe, and certainly Capitol hill, were recently subject to serious anthrax attack. When the hon. Gentleman hears what I am about to say,
 
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he will understand that that is the sort of thing that is involved. He will know that the Dail has a security screen.

Mr. Mackay: It is the only one with a screen.

Mr. Hain: That may well be the case, but let us make some progress—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the House of the House speak. Members will have an opportunity to rebut his argument later.

Mr. Hain: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab): I understand that the risk is not so much from guns being brought into the Strangers Gallery but from chemical or biological weapons, as I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree. Can he explain how we would increase security if we cannot stop somebody bringing chemical weapons into the Parliament building? The screen may prevent people from throwing things from the Gallery into the Chamber, but if our security outside the Chamber is not sufficient, it will not prevent them from using them anywhere else in the building. In addition to putting up a security screen what is being done to increase and improve security in the rest of Parliament?


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