Palace of Westminster (Security)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West 12:00 am, 27th July 1977

I wish to inform the House of decisions which have been taken following the consideration of a report about security in the Palace of Westminster made to me and to the Chairman of Committees in another place by the informal Joint Committee of both Houses held under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison).

The House will recall that Sir James Starritt, formerly Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, made a comprehensive report on security here in 1975, and a number of proposals he then made for improving physical security have since been carried into effect. He also recommended some major changes in the organisation of security arrangements.

In particular, he recommended the establishment of a combined security force for the whole Palace of Westminster under a single command, and the integration of the existing custodian force, at present employed by the Department of the Environment, into the Metropolitan Police organisation.

It was with this aspect of security that the Joint Committee has been concerned. Following its report and consideration by Ministers of the consequent financial arrangements, it is now proposed to go ahead with the implementation of these recommendations.

The aim is to set up a combined security force for the whole Palace of Westminster to raise the operational standards of the officers concerned, particularly by giving to the police responsibility for the recruitment and training of custodians and to improve co-ordination between the security staff within the Palace and the Metropolitan Police generally.

The necessary steps are accordingly now being taken by the Departments con- cerned, in consultation with the police authorities and the staff directly affected, with a view to the new structure being operational by 1st October.

It has been agreed that expenditure on security within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster should in future be wholly borne on the Votes of the two Houses. This will involve the transfer of public expenditure at present being borne by the Department of the Environment and the Metropolitan Police. The additional public expenditure involved in these organisational changes will amount to about £100,000 a year.

I believe that these changes in our security arrangements will be to the advantage of Parliament and the personal safety of Members and staff of both Houses, and I am grateful to the Members of both Houses who served on this Joint Committee, and particularly to its Chairman, the right hon. Member for Wakefield.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you explain why in this instance it becomes your responsibility to read out a statement on such an important matter affecting many people working in and around Westminster? It seems to me that in these days of so-called open government it would have been better for a Minister, probably the Leader of the House, to present such a report.

Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst some members of the security forces and of the police about the shake-up and its starting on 1st October? Is there any way in which this matter could be investigated? Could it be put off so that representatives of the unions and other workers could make their opinions known more forcibly?

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove and Redditch

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the increased protection be extended to Old Palace Yard where there have been serious thefts over the last year from my hon. Friends, their secretaries and myself?

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support the submission made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Would you be prepared to take into consideration that at least the staff associations which have members in the police force and the entire Whitley system should be consulted before anything is decided?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. To what extent have the unions been consulted, particularly the existing security staff, who have done an excellent job? To what extent have hon. Members had an opportunity to express their opinion, particularly hon. Members who are members of a union? I find that almost invariably we in this House now appear to be treated ourselves and those who work in the House in a far worse fashion than people are treated in most factories and workshops and in industry generally. It is about time that we gave to our own staff in the House the same consideration as that which is given to people outside in other organisations.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull Central

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I agree that the unions representing those who work in the Palace of Westminster should be adequately consulted. Will you inform the House as to whom this new joint body is to be responsible and answerable? Is it to be answerable to the House, through you, and to the other place, through the Chairman of Committees, or is it to he answerable elsewhere? In a matter of this nature, it is important that the control of what goes on in this building should rest with those who work here.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

As a former member of the Services Committee, may I say that I fully support the statement you have made. Mr. Speaker? It is right that you, as Mr. Speaker, should make the statement. I hope very much that there will be no question of anyone other than you being answerable for security matters. It would be utterly foolish if we were to start having ill-informed debates on security matters affecting the House.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am much obliged to all the hon. Members who have raised this point. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) has underlined the fact that for as long as we can recall Mr. Speaker has been answerable to the House on this question. That is the way in which we have worked. Security is not a subject that is generally debated.

I assure hon. Members that I am informed that the Departments have been having detailed discussions with the unions concerned and with all the staff. In fact, the discussions had been going on for over a year before we reached this position about which I have spoken to the House.

The joint body will be answerable to me, and through me, therefore, to the House.