Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:07 pm on 22nd March 2004.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 4:07 pm, 22nd March 2004

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. You will know that I tabled an urgent question this morning about the serious incident here on Saturday, when demonstrators were able to climb St. Stephen's Tower. I have voluntarily withdrawn it because I recognise the difficulties in examining detailed security matters on the Floor of the House. However, would you agree that it was highly irresponsible of the people involved to take such action and that it was worrying that the response was so slow? Last week, I wrote to you setting out in confidence a range of issues on how to protect the Palace of Westminster. Can you assure the House that all aspects of security, including those set out in my letter, are now under the fullest possible review, and that even if security measures cause inconvenience to hon. Members and their staff, they will be fully considered with action taken as appropriate? What assurances are you able to give to the House, Mr. Speaker?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Let me reply to the hon. Gentleman.

I do not intend to discuss the details of our security measures on the Floor of the House, but I assure the House that I take the incident at the weekend extremely seriously. I have received a full report from the Head of Security and have inspected the area where the breach took place. An urgent review is being undertaken, both of the security precautions in that particular area and of our security arrangements as a whole. The House should be aware that any significant tightening of security in this building is likely to give rise to some inconvenience for Members, staff and visitors. I look to Members to set a good example in this respect and not to make the job of our security staff any more difficult than it already is.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are most reassured that you are taking a close interest in this matter, but can you assure us that those who are responsible for advising you and, indeed, for the security of the building and the premises generally are taking an equally serious view of the matter? You cannot be expected to supervise the process personally, so I hope that we can have your reassurance that they are taking it seriously and that you have had their reassurances that everything will be done to ensure that the situation cannot be repeated.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

When I heard of the situation on Saturday, I was, of course, in my constituency in Glasgow. I told the senior Officers of the House responsible for security to be at a meeting this morning, and told them not to meet in my study but to get their overcoats on because we were going outside to see exactly where the breach of security took place. Every senior Officer is well aware of the fact that I want better security in this building. I reiterate that that will mean inconvenience for hon. Members. If they are taking guests on to the Terrace and are stopped by security staff, I do not expect them to give any security officer who is acting under my instructions any difficulty whatever. I say that because that has happened time and time again in this House of ours.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I very much welcome what you just said and your personal involvement in the security case. Will you confirm that the very people who failed to secure the House properly and allowed the breach of security to take place are the same people who are advising you and the House—in my view, quite wrongly—that we should have a security screen in the Public Gallery?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I do not wish to go into serious detail about security matters on the Floor of the House. My predecessors always felt strongly about that, and so do I.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that it is almost unprecedented for a Minister to disclaim responsibility for the policies pursued by his or her Department. In those circumstances, it behoves the whole House to seize every opportunity to hold that Minister to account. There seemed every possibility that we would have an opportunity to question a Home Office Minister on the apparent lack of control on the crucial issue of immigration, which concerns all our constituents, when we reached question 10, tabled by my hon. Friend Angela Watkinson. Yet you will have observed, Mr. Speaker, that because of an organised attempt at filibustering, with long and unhelpful answers to previous questions, we only just got to question 10 at the end of Question Time. The Minister concerned then gave what was, in effect, a statement rather than an ordinary answer, thereby depriving us of the opportunity of holding her to account for her denial of responsibility for the policies pursued by her Department. Can you make it clear to Ministers that an irresponsible Minister is worth as much as a three-pound note?

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Our prisons are full to bursting, in crisis and only a small number of places away from being at full operational capacity. At Home Office questions, I asked the Minister about operational capacity and said that the number of people in prison was 75,073—only eight places away from being full. The Minister replied that that was incorrect. I left the Chamber and checked the statistics for the Prison Service on the Home Office website. Indeed, the website confirms that the operational capacity is 75,073 and that there are only eight places left.

Can you advise me, Mr. Speaker? Either the Minister or the official Home Office website is wrong. In dealing with such a sensitive matter, how are hon. Members supposed to get their information? Should not the Minister come to the House and apologise either for the inaccuracy of Home Office information or for his response in Question Time?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

The hon. Lady well knows that Home Office questions last an hour. It seems that she is trying to go beyond the hour. She can always seek a meeting to take up the matter directly with the Minister concerned.