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Menwith Hill and Fylingdales: Security

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 5th July 2001.

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Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench 3:21 pm, 5th July 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the security arrangements at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales are satisfactory.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, in light of the recent incursions by demonstrators at Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, Her Majesty's Government recognise that the security arrangements in place are not satisfactory in relation to this public order threat. It is not government policy to comment on specific security measures, but security at RAF Menwith Hill and RAF Fylingdales will be reviewed and appropriate remedial action will be taken.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Does he agree that although it would be wrong to suggest that these silly people from Greenpeace are a security threat, what happened suggests that it might be possible for serious intruders with a serious design to get into two very important and sensitive establishments?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, what happened was serious but the noble Lord is right to say that the people who took this action were peaceable protestors whose aims were limited. It is important to point out that a peaceable protest required a proportionate response. The noble Lord knows that minimum force that is proportionate to the event is to be used and that this event received a proportionate response. Equally, if there had been a serious attempt of the kind to which the noble Lord referred--an attempt to break into the operational functional mission of the base--the response would have been proportionate. That would have been a much more serious eventuality.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, is it the case, as was reported, that some of the intruders were at large in the compound for a considerable time before they attracted the attention of the security forces? Would that have been the case if they had not been peaceable intruders?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, some of those who got in were within the outer perimeter--there are several fences at this establishment. The noble Lord is right--some protestors were within the outer perimeter but it was known that they were there. That outer perimeter is not as secure as the inner perimeters because families live on the base inside the outer perimeter. A balance has to be kept between the requirements of the operation there and the needs of the families to live everyday lives.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as the former chair of the North Yorkshire Police Authority, noble Lords will know that I have always taken a keen interest in liaison matters between the Ministry of Defence Police and the local police service. Today, the deputy chief constable came to brief me carefully on operational matters concerning the demonstrations at Menwith Hill. I was pleased that the noble Lord did not in any way criticise the North Yorkshire Police Force, which was responsible for looking after the outer perimeter.

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the noble Lord please accept that there has to be good and close liaison between the local police and the Ministry of Defence Police? Does he recognise that we must be able to see with clarity that the two responsibilities are entirely different?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am delighted to answer the question of the noble Baroness, who has huge experience in this field, particularly in the area of England that we are discussing. She is right--in my view, no criticism is to be attached to anyone. We agree with the propositions that she put forward.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour

My Lords, while welcoming my noble friend's response to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, it is clear that although the event at Menwith Hill was good humoured and peaceable, there is still the risk, as my noble friend acknowledged, that demonstrators can turn nasty. That raises the risk that harm or injury may be caused to peaceful demonstrators or to staff in the targeted establishment. Are there any other establishments like Fylingdales and Menwith Hill which could become alternative targets if security is tightened at those two establishments? Will the Government make it absolutely clear that they remain committed to fulfilling the obligation that people and places shall be safeguarded from the risk of harm as a result of unsatisfactory demonstrations, such as those at Akrotiri earlier this week?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I can answer my noble friend in the affirmative. We are looking at other possible bases and we do indeed take what happened seriously. I entirely agree with what he said. While we must of course recognise people's right to protest and to demonstrate--that is the mark of a free society--irresponsible actions by protestors, such as we have seen in this case, put them at risk of coming to harm. It is then our duty--the duty of the Ministry of Defence--to return them to a place of safety. I hope that noble Lords appreciate that when the protestors entered the base, it became our duty to ensure that they were not themselves harmed. Fulfilling that duty in turn places our security personnel at risk of harm. I agree with my noble friend for those reasons.

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative

My Lords, before the election, we fought off a proposal by the government to extend the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police. It seems that we were absolutely right. Where were the Ministry of Defence Police, and why were they not fulfilling their proper function, which is to guard Ministry of Defence premises? Would it not be appropriate to do that before their powers were extended more widely outside Ministry of Defence premises?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I have to say that the noble Lord is going too far. A number of Ministry of Defence Police were on site--they work a shift system--and some were at the gate. I shall tell the noble Lord what happened. Thirty people alighted from a bus and a truck at the main gate and barged past the main gate guard. A number of those people were stopped by the normal number of Ministry of Defence Police who were on duty. Other people went to another part of the four-mile perimeter and scaled the perimeter fence using ladders that they had specifically brought for the occasion. That is what happened; no criticism is to be levelled at the Ministry of Defence Police who were present. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord sought to do that.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, should not those who protest by attacking the Armed Forces and their bases be reminded by Her Majesty's Government that their freedom and right to peaceful protest was gained for them by the victories won by the Armed Forces in years gone by?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, that is an extremely important point made by the noble and gallant Lord. Not only were victories won, but won at a huge cost to those members of the Armed Forces who fought for us then. It is perhaps something that protesters may care to think about when they next set out on their task.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, without in any way criticising either the Ministry of Defence or the local police, does the Minister agree that the demonstrators highlighted the fact that new construction works have taken place at Menwith Hill? Do not the Government consider that if those works are in preparation for Star Wars 2, prior authority should have been sought from Parliament?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the noble Lord, with his experience, will not be surprised at my answer. It is not and never has been government policy, whatever government is in power, to comment on specific security measures.