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Ministry Stores (Security)

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to increase security at Ministry of Defence stores in the United Kingdom.

Security at all defence establishments is kept under regular review. We look carefully at any general lessons which can be drawn from incidents such as yesterday's at Eltham.

Will the Minister confirm that £3·5 billion worth of military equipment is still stored in depots which do not meet Ministry of Defence fire regulations? Given the previous fires at Donnington which destroyed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equipment, is not that criminal complacency?

We have a continuing programme to improve the ability of our stores to withstand fires. It costs considerable sums and cannot be done overnight.

Although I appreciate that the IRA will always use its cowardly methods regardless of the amount of security that we maintain at our bases, and that it will just aim for ever softer targets, will my hon. Friend assure me that as far as possible we shall draw service personnel and activities within secure premises and that when we come to think of selling off MOD establishments which are surplus to requirements we shall bear in mind above all the requirements of security?

Yes, we always bear the need for security in mind when we relocate military establishments. If we ended up with a number of enormous military bases incorporating all our different military establishments, the IRA could claim a victory.

Does the Minister agree that there is little point in strengthening the outer defences if potential terrorists can gain access to the very heart of defence installations? Is there not an overwhelming case for a truly effective method of screening all who have access to those establishments?

I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there are about 2,000 military establishments in the United Kingdom, and it is extremely difficult to provide a high degree of security at all of them. He would not expect me to go into details of the security measures that we have taken, but it is significant that lives were saved and injuries avoided at Eltham by the precautions that had been taken. The laminated windows that had been put in stopped glass splintering across the room.

Has my hon. Friend any plans to replace with something rather more effective the current wire mesh fencing that is so commonly used around military establishments and which is so obviously not intruder-proof?

When my hon. Friend asks for something more effective he is talking about an incredible increase in expenditure on security fencing, if we are to use all the different available sensors and so on that are needed to make them effective. It worries me that people think that security can be enhanced merely by installing perimeter fences, which may create the illusion of security even though it is easy for people to break through them.