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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Establishment Of A Community Fisheries Control Agency

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 9149/04 and Addendum 1, draft Council Regulation establishing a Community Fisheries Control Agency and amending Regulation (EC) No. 2847/93 establishing a control system applicable to the Common Fisheries Policy; takes note of the Government's welcome of the proposal and supports the Government's objective of playing a constructive part in detailed discussion of the proposal whilst seeking to ensure that the role of the Agency will not undermine the control and enforcement responsibilities of individual Member States or cut across the policy aim of increased regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy.—[Mr. Watson.]

Question agreed to.

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Buckingham Palace (Security Breach)

10.15 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett):

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement to the House on the incident earlier today at Buckingham Palace. Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, I authorised a review of external security at the main royal palaces, which was conducted by the Security Service, MI5. The work resulted in an extensive new alarm and camera system outside and inside the palace and the strengthening of the palace perimeter.

As the House will be aware, a separate review of the internal security of the royal households also took place earlier this year, but it is not relevant to today's events. The facts as set out to me tonight by the commissioner and deputy commissioner are as follows. At about 2.20 pm this afternoon, three men erected a ladder outside the palace walls. Their presence directly outside the palace triggered an alarm, and police both inside and outside the building took immediate steps to protect the integrity of the palace. An armed police officer on the other side of the railings confronted the intruders as they approached the colonnade. Within minutes, the external perimeter of the palace had been sealed and armed police had secured the palace from within. One of the men moved quickly along the roof of the colonnade adjacent to Constitution hill. Police officers took the entirely correct decision that that individual was a protester not a terrorist. That judgement was made easier by the fact that no members of the royal family were present. The palace, as the House will know, is open to the public at this time of year. It will also be aware that the Metropolitan police have now arrested the protester and one accomplice.

Sir John Stevens has stated quite clearly tonight that, if the individual had been assessed as a threat, he would have been shot before he could have entered the building. I am also clear that the alarm and camera systems installed over the past three years worked and that the police acted correctly in assessing the threat that he posed. Nevertheless, the speed with which the intruders were able to scale the wall is of concern and the Metropolitan police and my officials are urgently reviewing with the royal household any further measures required. However, it is worth bearing it in mind—this has been true for many years—that the royal family have always wanted the palace to remain accessible to the people of the United Kingdom and tourists from around the world, as it is; they do not want it to become a fortress. I share that view.

We live in a time of a heightened terrorist threat, when our police and security services are fully stretched in protecting our safety and way of life. While today's protest showed that the alarm and camera system worked, the protester could have been killed and the Metropolitan police have once again been diverted from protecting the public from terrorism by the need to deal with a public stunt. I hope that people who support such action will reflect on that and recognise that it is not just themselves they put at risk by their actions. That is why
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we treat such incidents with the seriousness they deserve. They should be treated seriously, but they need to be put in their proper context as well.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement and I commend him on coming straight to the House to make it this evening. That at least is exemplary, but it is the only part of this sorry business that is.

This is the fifth or sixth breach of royal palace security since June last year, following security breaches at Buckingham palace, Windsor castle and the Palace of Westminster. At a time when the terrorist threat has never been so real or so great, the latest episode is extremely serious. The Home Secretary said that the security commission report on a previous breach of security at Buckingham palace is not relevant. I beg to differ. I quote:

After the penetration of Windsor castle by Aaron Barschak dressed as Osama bin Laden, the Home Secretary said:

Then, five months later, after the breach of Buckingham palace's security, the right hon. Gentleman made a statement to the House in which he said,

Nevertheless, the Home Secretary admits today that the speed with which the intruder was able to scale the wall is of concern. He does not point out that the intruder got a further 30 m and climbed another wall. The right hon. Gentleman quotes Sir John Stevens saying that if the intruder had been assessed as a terrorist, he would have been shot. Will the Home Secretary tell us how anyone can ever be sure that such an incident is a prank, and not a terrorist masquerading as a prankster? In the terrible logic of these events, the terrorist has only to be lucky once. We have to be lucky every time.

In the hours since the protest, has the Home Secretary been able to establish the following aspects of what went wrong today? Were procedures not followed and the failure therefore operational, or were the recommendations inadequate and the failure therefore one of policy? Does he accept that today's irresponsible action advertises weaknesses in our security and that the long series of security failures could itself encourage terrorist attempts? Will he tell the House tonight how many times Members of this House, the British public and the royal family will have to tolerate such scandalous incompetence?

Mr. Blunkett: I am deeply sorry that the shadow Home Secretary has adopted the tone he has tonight—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. As has already been stated, I always encourage Ministers to come to the House to
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give statements. This the Home Secretary has done. It does not help when hon. Members barrack a Minister who has been good enough to come to the House.

Mr. Blunkett: The point that I was about to make, Mr. Speaker, is that there is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable role for Opposition parties in holding Ministers to account for their failings. However, an Opposition who aspire to Government have to address issues in the way that they feel they would were they in government. The question raised tonight might have been about whether we had done enough to ensure that the alarm and camera systems worked. The answer to that question is yes, we did so on the recommendation of the Security Service, and we had put new and enhanced measures in place since 2001. I spelled that out. Following the incident at Windsor, having learned the lessons, we massively enhanced the system there.

Whenever there has been an incursion into a palace, lessons have been learned. They were learned twice in 1992, when there were two incidents at the palace. They were learned again in 1994, and again in 1995, when my predecessors had to deal with similar incursions. We will take any action necessary to ensure that, and we will do so with the royal household—because we are dealing with its palaces, not our own property—in a way that is acceptable to it.

The cameras worked, the electronic alarms worked and the armed police were in place and secured the palace inside and out. The police also ensured that the individual could move no further and the accomplice was ordered down at gunpoint from the palisade, but subsequently attempted to escape. All those things worked.

The judgment to which Sir John Stevens referred was whether the police should take pre-emptive action by firing on the individuals concerned. Is that what Opposition Members are advocating? If there are—no matter how good security is, there are and always will be—people who will attempt to breach security, the police have to make a judgment about the level of armed force that they use. They do that day in and day out when any major incident takes place, particularly where there is a threat to life. They did it today, and I commend them for it. The proportionality of their response was in keeping with their judgment. The way they handled the incident ensured that it was dealt with so that people were taken down safely without loss of life or limb.

Someone engaged today in a publicity stunt and it was a foolish, silly thing to do that has harmed a very reasonable cause. Let me make it clear that if anyone in the House believes that they would have had greater wisdom than the security services, the Metropolitan Police, Ministers and my officials, let him or her get up and say so. Let them not criticise what was done, but say what might have happened had the police not acted in the way that they did to secure the palace and the lives of those involved. The police did not overreact in circumstances that would have led to fatality. In that case, I would have been answering very different questions tonight, and I would have been deeply concerned if I had had to do so.

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