Terrorism: Protection of Public Buildings

– in the House of Lords at 3:03 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Crossbench 3:03, 27 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek ways to ensure that the substantial obstacles placed before public buildings in order to withstand terrorist attack are made more aesthetically acceptable.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, when providing specialist protective security advice to site owners, the police and the Security Service work closely with planning and transport authorities from an early stage to ensure that security, transport, environmental and design considerations are fully identified and addressed. The Government's research and development programme currently includes work to update techniques to mitigate the potential effects of hostile vehicle threat in line with the latest information about terrorist attack methodologies, and that has already resulted in a range of temporary and permanent measures that can be deployed in urban and rural settings.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and I realise that security anxieties are likely to last a long time. But do not the Government think that it would be appropriate and in keeping with our national traditions and urban standards if some of the eyesores which we encounter, particularly when arriving at this House or looking at the Foreign Office from St James's Park or looking at the Cabinet Offices from Horse Guards, might be replaced in keeping with aesthetic designs without any loss of security, that work perhaps being undertaken in collaboration with an architect with industrial and engineering experience?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the Government are very conscious that some of the temporary measures are not perhaps as aesthetically pleasing as one would like but they are effective as regards risk management. I certainly assure noble Lords that the design of such structures is very much taken into account. Although short-term measures may not be as pleasing to the eye as we would like, other measures are well in place and could be used in the future.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the security arrangements outside the Italian parliament building in Rome comprise concrete blocks which we know and love, but that theirs are filled with flowers which look beautiful? May I invite my noble friend to come on a trip of inspection with me to see what is possible?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I would be delighted to go anywhere with my noble friend, as he knows. However, I reassure noble Lords that we understand the ways in which these measures can be adapted and changed. Those issues are being very carefully looked at. Short-term effective reduction in vulnerability is one thing, longer term permanent structures are another. Those issues are of real importance.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, how far have the plans for pedestrianisation of the Westminster area advanced, particularly outside Parliament? Would such obstacles be necessary with that approach?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I cannot comment on pedestrianisation as noble Lords will know that that is not within my ken. These structures are very carefully calibrated. The most important factor is for them to be effective but the design issue is also important. Noble Lords will know that there are other buildings which I am not at liberty to name with precision which have more aesthetically pleasing barriers. That is something to which we can aspire in due course.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness indicated that these arrangements may have to continue for some considerable time. Does she agree that the American Embassy constitutes one of the most hideous examples of security arrangements in the capital? As it is clear that security arrangements at the embassy will have to continue for some time or for as far as one can see into the future, cannot steps be taken with our American allies to ensure that it no longer looks like a temporary labour camp in some east European country but that something is done to make it aesthetically acceptable as well as secure?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I reiterate that these issues are being looked at. One of the difficulties I have is that noble Lords would hate me to give a timetable which would be alighted upon by others. All I can say is that there are more aesthetically pleasing structures elsewhere. Those issues are being looked at. Your Lordships can look forward to a delightful future when the concrete blocks may not be here although I cannot tell your Lordships when that will be.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, Horse Guards Parade has been mentioned. My noble friend will be aware that the horrible concrete blocks across the end of it have been replaced by proper bollards which look very aesthetically pleasing. Will my noble friend explain why the concrete blocks have been put back inside the bollards as a second form of defence? It seems to me rather a waste to spend all that money on pop-up bollards as a security measure and then put concrete blocks back inside them.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, every metre of stand-off counts in relation to security. The scientific assessment is made with real precision. We are advantaged in as much as there are new, great precision blocks that can be used and will be used. The most important thing for the moment is to ensure that there is a visual deterrent and that it is discreet and effective. Security is of primary importance. Other matters, such as aesthetics, are important but cannot impinge on the fundamental security of the buildings.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, are the blocks of any use at all? I believe that the concrete blocks are not shatterproof, so they are in fact worse than useless. If there was a bomb outside Parliament, we would all probably be killed by the shattered blocks rather than by the bomb. What are we about?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that the blocks have a really substantial effect. When you look at the science of how the blocks are shaped and created and the way in which they can better protect, it is absolutely clear that they may not be pleasing to the eye, but they are better than not having them there. I can certainly assure your Lordships of that.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend look into the case put by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain? What she said is true. Is it not the case that they simply provide a physical barrier against vehicles that might want to come nearer to this institution? Is there not every need for very early action to be taken to ensure that they are replaced by something more aesthetically pleasing? There can be no excuse for delay.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, there is no delay; energetic efforts are being made. I reiterate that it would be very foolish indeed for me to indicate when one sort of security will be there and when another sort of security may be replaced. Therefore, I am not able to tell noble Lords when it will happen. However, I assure your Lordships that the design, the nature, and the issue that was raised by the noble Baroness are of real importance and are very much at the forefront of the minds of the security services and of others who are responsible for these matters. They are being dealt with well.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

My Lords, have the blocks been physically tested in a laboratory or anywhere else; and if so, when?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, the design of all the barriers that have been put up has been scientifically tested. I repeat that we have discovered through bitter experience that every metre of stand-off counts. Noble Lords know that the threat that we now face has mutated and changed, and the barriers that we put in place are there to meet that threat.