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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 533: debated on Monday 17 October 2011

I have a statement to make. Following it, I will not take questions or points of order.

In July, I instituted an independent review of security arrangements, following the attack on Rupert Murdoch while he was a witness before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I have now received a report on the matter and have had an opportunity to consider its findings.

The review found that at the time of the attack none of the security staff in the room was in a position to be able to reach the assailant before he got to Mr Murdoch. Those present commented upon the chaotic nature of scenes inside and outside the Committee Room following the incident. The inadequate security in the room was the result of a serious failure of planning for this event, based upon the wrong assessment of risk. These and other deficiencies should have been recognised and rectified in advance. They were not.

Public access to Committee sessions is of fundamental importance and must be protected. Not only is it a precious freedom, but it provides a valuable opportunity for engagement between this House and the people it serves. Equally important is our duty to protect the personal safety of witnesses appearing before our Committees and to ensure the effective operation of these Committees. Clearly, the personal safety of all involved—witnesses, Members, staff and the public—must be the guiding principle for those charged with security.

The review makes a number of practical recommendations. All of those relating only to this House I have accepted in full, and all of them either have been, or are in the process of being, implemented. In future, risk assessments for the most high-risk events will be reviewed, robustly scrutinised and formally approved by the most senior security official in the House. There will be enhanced physical security arrangements in Committee Rooms for high-risk events, and a regime has already begun to prevent visitors from bringing bags into a meeting room for such an event.

There is a recommendation that the establishment of a post of director of security be reconsidered. I will begin discussions—including with my counterpart in the House of Lords, the Lord Speaker—about whether that merits further attention, and could complement existing roles.

I have placed copies of the recommendations, and of an update on progress in giving effect to them, in the Library, the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website.

The safety of those participating in, or visiting, public Committee hearings must not be compromised, and I will do everything I can to ensure that it is not.

I have another statement to make. If Members will hold their horses, they will have their opportunity.

I wish to tell the House about implementation of the resolutions agreed on Thursday 13 October on electronic devices and e-tabling of questions for written answer.

The House agreed to allow the use of hand-held electronic devices, but not laptops, in the Chamber,

“provided that they are silent and used in a way that does not impair decorum”,

and to allow Members to refer to such devices in making speeches

“in place of paper speaking notes”.—[Official Report, 13 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 555.]

The occupants of the Chair will seek to enforce the resolution as from today, but in practice it is up to individual Members to give effect to the will of the House by complying with the resolution. I therefore ask colleagues for their co-operation in this matter. Implementation of the resolution in Committees is a matter for the Liaison Committee and the Panel of Chairs.

The House agreed to an experimental regime for a daily ration of five e-tabled questions for written answer and a 6.30 pm deadline for tabling such questions. This will have effect from the rise of the House on Friday 21 October, for an experimental period of three months. A detailed memorandum on its operation is available in the Table Office, it will be printed in the Order Paper, and it will be accessible on the intranet. A message will also be sent to all Members who are signed up for e-tabling. The Table Office will of course be happy to give further advice on the new experimental regime.