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House of Lords: Peers’ Car Park

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

Motion to Resolve

Moved By

To move to resolve that the arrangements in respect of access to Peers’ car park be restored to those in force before 3 January 2012.

My Lords, the difficulty with the car park arrangements are well known to Members of your Lordships’ House. I have spoken about them before and have no need to dwell on them, but the House will know that we have never had an opportunity either to debate or to decide on these car park arrangements.

When I raised the issue with the Chairman of Committees, I was told that it was a matter of security. Security? We have had a Black Rod since 1361 and it is very insulting to all of them to be told that they have left us in danger of possible terrorist attacks. The plain fact is that a terrorist would have to be an idiot not to know about the arrangements for coming in and leaving this House. To give “security” as a simple answer is simply not good enough. Black Rod himself has now slightly amended the rules. We did not know about that and we have still not had an opportunity to discuss the issue at any stage. I gather that at long last these new arrangements were put in place yesterday. They are a slight improvement but it still means that disabled Members of your Lordships’ House will be put in huge difficulty.

I said that I would not speak for long and I do not intend to, but the plain fact is that it was done without this House having an opportunity to debate the issue at all. That is why I tabled the Motion on the Order Paper. Members should decide for themselves what they want to do. In those circumstances, I beg to move.

My Lords, following the comments that we have just heard, it might be helpful if I were to say a few words. Following his remarks on 16 February, I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, laying out all the details of the decision-making process on the trial in the Peers’ car park and the ways in which this had been communicated to the House. I also pointed out that the Floor of the House is not the appropriate place to discuss matters of security and I therefore regret that this matter has been raised again on the Floor of the House, especially at such short notice.

However, I would like to take a few moments to explain to the House why the Administration and Works Committee has reached the conclusions that it has on this matter. The committee first considered the new arrangements for the Peers’ car park on 29 November 2011 and concluded that they were necessary on the grounds of security. Following that meeting, I made a Written Statement to the House on 8 December, and before the Christmas Recess a display was erected in the Peers’ cloakroom with details about the new arrangements, along with a diagram. Following concerns from Members about the new arrangements in the new year, I made a brief Oral Statement on 16 January, announcing that I had asked Black Rod to produce an interim report on the trial and that the committee would consider this again at its meeting on 7 February. At that meeting, the committee unanimously agreed that there were compelling security reasons for the new arrangements to remain in place.

I understand, of course, that some Members have found the new arrangements problematic, but I am grateful to those who have put forward constructive suggestions for improvements. The committee recognised that there were some practical difficulties with the new arrangements and therefore agreed that further permanent changes should be made to improve the Peers’ car park in the future. These changes will include: creating a specially designated lay-by for taxis, which will allow taxis to drop off and pick up passengers without impeding pedestrian access and without causing congestion; locating the lay-by directly opposite the Peers’ entrance to shorten the distance between the taxi drop-off point and the Peers’ entrance; altering the exit arrangements for leaving the Peers’ car park to speed up exit times; rearranging the street furniture to remove the short section of contraflow traffic; and providing a clearly delineated walkway for pedestrians. It is expected that these changes will be completed by the end of the Summer Recess. I hope that they will address the points which noble Lords have raised.

Following the committee’s agreement to those changes on 7 February, I made a Written Statement on 9 February outlining our conclusions, not yesterday as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said. A diagram of the proposed changes is now on display in the Peers’ cloakroom. I would like to point out that the Administration and Works Committee contains representatives of all the major parties and the Cross-Bench Peers, including the Whips and the Convenor, and is the route by which Members of the House are consulted about such matters. My Statement made it clear that both Black Rod and members of the committee were willing to discuss this matter further with other Members in person. I therefore maintain that the committee has conducted its business in a completely open and transparent manner. Furthermore, I believe that the members of the committee have done as much as possible to ensure that Members have been kept informed of the changes to the Peers’ car park, that Members’ feedback has been acted on and that future changes have been communicated to the House.

The changes to the Peers’ car park have been considered in great detail and agreed for good reasons. The parking of cars in the Peers’ car park without a prior vehicle security search has been identified clearly in successive reviews of the security of the parliamentary estate as a significant vulnerability to the Palace of Westminster and to those who work and visit within. The Joint Committee on Security has understood and accepted this.

While there is nothing in our rules to prevent security matters being debated, it is a long-standing convention that security is not discussed in the Chamber, and it is common sense that it would clearly be unhelpful if any discussion of security, which might well expose weaknesses in the House’s security arrangements, was conducted in public. While there can, of course, be a discussion about the detail of the measures that are in place to lessen the vulnerability, which they clearly do, as was affirmed by the Joint Committee on Security earlier this week, the parliamentary security director advises strongly that this discussion should not occur on the Floor of the House. He has advised that,

“such public disclosure of a security issue at Parliament would thereafter need to be included in security risk assessments about the safety of the front of the Palace and arguably would lessen the flexibility for change, and could lead to a requirement for more stringent measures”.

For these reasons, I strongly discourage debate on these matters of security, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will feel able to withdraw his Motion.

My Lords, I rise reluctantly because everything the Chairman of Committees has said is wrong, and I intend to make that very clear. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Barnett for persisting in his demand that we discuss this matter. In my 25 years here, I have never known any attempt compared with that of the powers that be at present to stop a Member of this House airing his views on a subject of major importance. What the powers that be have been up to is an absolute disgrace, and I would like to hear at least one of them apologise to my noble friend and thank him for bringing this to our attention rather than the contrary.

In connection with that, there is no rule that we cannot discuss security, and there never has been. There is no convention, and there never has been. I say that in terms in case Members have believed what they have just been told. It is not the case. If the powers that be thought that there ought to be such a rule, the proper procedure would be to propose a Motion to this House saying that and saying that in their view that is how we ought to proceed, and then we could discuss whether we want that rule and agree it one way or another. They chose not to do that, which is why I am speaking in such strong and angry terms. I do not know what noble Lords would say if such a Motion were put before them, but how could I know if no one puts that Motion before us?

Let me say in addition that it is my view that what is being proposed does not remotely make your Lordships’ House or, more importantly, the people who come here, including those who work here, more secure; in my judgment, it makes them less secure. I sit on the Joint Committee on Security. Indeed, I am the longest serving member of it. My favourite joke is that when I was first put on it, I was told, “Of course, this is a complete formality. The committee will never meet”. That is what happened for a great many years, but then suddenly it seemed to meet regularly.

The committee met on Monday and these proposals were discussed. I went on record as opposing them. I hasten to add that I was the only person on the committee to do so. I do not mind being a lone voice. As noble Lords know, I am fairly frequently a lone voice in this House on matters of the economy. On this occasion I was rather puzzled because at least two other members of the committee were present who had spoken at earlier meetings and whose very important interventions had very strongly influenced my view about what was being proposed. However, on that occasion they decided to keep their mouths shut.

Let us use a little common sense. There is nothing secret about the new parking arrangements. When they were first proposed, vast numbers of bits of paper were left lying around telling us what they were. Those documents were available to all. Even a terrorist of below-average intelligence could see that we had new ways of going in and out of the car park. The idea that, if we discussed it here, that would be the first time any of these potential terrorists had heard about it is preposterous. I keep using strong language because we are being offered the most ridiculous arguments by the Chairman of Committees.

If these potential terrorists walk by, they can see the cars being searched. It is not news to them that they had better not arrive in a car because it might be searched—they can see them being searched and they know that. That seems to have escaped everyone’s notice, but have the Chairman of Committees and others noticed that large numbers of tourists come to the Palace of Westminster? They all have state-of-the-art cameras. They photograph the Victoria Tower and its environs, including the area in which we park our cars. Even if none of them is a terrorist, I would have thought that your average terrorist might approach them and say, “Can I have a printout of what you have just been filming?”.

The idea that our taking part in any of this discussion is of help to the terrorists is simply absurd. Indeed, the way to deter the terrorists is to let them know that we know what is going on, we know what the threat is, and we are determined to do something about it—not to let it drift along.

Let me give an example—I can give many others, but I do not want to go into detail—of why I believe we are in more danger with this new system than we were with the old. Before, we simply drove in, we wore our badges, we were waved in and we parked our cars. When we were ready to depart, we simply drove out. At no point were we standing still, waiting to get in or out, other than showing our badges for a brief moment. Under the present system—and this is particularly true of our leaving—because of the taxis all appearing just at the exit, very frequently I am sitting in my car for quite a while. When I complained about this, the poor old policeman, who had enough troubles without me moaning at him, said, “Black Rod has told us that we must give taxis priority and you have to wait”. So I wait and I become a target.

When this first came up, I pointed out that in my judgment we were not getting the true story of what is driving it. None of this has been demanded by your Lordships. Sitting as I do on the Joint Committee on Security, at the start the chairman said that the Commons is doing this sort of thing and is demanding that we do. It is not us driving this issue but the other place.

My Lords, I do not think that we should prolong this debate, but I am sure that it is not proper to discuss security issues in relation to this House on the Floor of this House. I also believe that Black Rod has a duty to ensure the security of this House and that we as a House have a duty of safety to our staff as well as to its Members. However, I understand the concerns expressed by my noble friend on behalf of many Members of this House, especially the elderly and disabled Members. I admire the doggedness and determination with which he has pursued this issue.

I regret that the Statement made by the Lord Chairman on 9 February was a Written Statement and not an Oral Statement. I also regret that, having taken into consideration the views of Members of this House such as my noble friend and others on the new arrangements, changes have been made but Members of this House have not properly been made aware of the necessary changes. I do not know why that has taken so long. I certainly accept that it will take some time to implement the new changes. I pay tribute to my noble friend for raising this issue but, as I have said, I do not think that it is proper to discuss security issues on the Floor of the House.

My Lords, I am a member of the Administration and Works Committee. I hope very much indeed that the House will reject this Motion. The committee has gone into this matter in greater and greater length. As a member of that committee, as well as the Joint Committee on Security—the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has referred to other committees as well—when it met recently, I was not one of the members who remained silent. I pay tribute to the chairman of the Administration and Works Committee and to Black Rod for the thought that has been given to this issue.

In simple terms, if the committee receives a security report which we take seriously, we can do nothing; we could close the Peers’ car park and rob the House of important car parking space; or we could take some action to reduce the risk. This is an iconic building that has appeared on the lists of many apprehended terrorists. It would have been irresponsible of the committee not to have taken action. For very good reasons, it wants to keep the car park and therefore some other arrangement had to be made.

These plans were shown all around the building. The reasons for them have been adequately explained. The arrangements will be improved. There has already been an indication of the way in which they will be improved over the summer. I agree that we have discussed this at enormous length and I hope that the House will reject this Motion.

My Lords, I, too, am a member of the committee that made these recommendations. The committee was unanimous and it is important that noble Lords hear a brief contribution from each of the Benches. The committee came to its view only after the most careful deliberation and the very clearest security advice. I, too, regret that this is being taken on the Floor of the House where the advice we were given simply cannot or, at least in my view, should not be discussed.

The committee listened very carefully to the concerns raised by Members of your Lordships’ House. We will continue to do so and will try to be responsive to need, but I believe that we have to be driven by very real security considerations. To provide any support for this Motion would be foolish and culpable in the extreme.

My Lords, I am also a member of the committee and I oppose the Motion moved by my noble friend. I have one very brief thing to say. Like my noble friend on the Front Bench, I have a regret, and my regret is quite simple. It is that my noble friend Lord Barnett, who is a distinguished privy counsellor, was not told on Privy Council terms the real reason why we have introduced the changes. My belief is that if he had been informed on Privy Council terms, he would not be moving the Motion today.

My Lords, I think that someone should say something from this side of the House. As one of the disabled people who has been inconvenienced by these arrangements and who, to be honest, was initially very stroppy about them, I have two things to say. The first is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It is not a question of whether we are banned from talking about security: the plain fact is that you can talk about security only if you talk about risks, and not just the risk which might have been headed off with this action but also a lot of other risks which might not have been headed off. By doing that you alert people to all your anxieties—which is one of the general points about risk registers overall, but I will not go down that path. The second point is that after some initially rather tetchy conversations with senior people in Black Rod’s office, I found myself persuaded by the information that was conveyed to me privately. That rather picks up the point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will not press the Motion. I have a deep affection for him, but I could not vote for him.

My Lords, I think that it is absolutely clear that Members of this House would be able to discuss any matter if they wished. On the other hand I believe that Members of this House exercise a wise discretion in not having a public discussion about matters of security, and that the arrangement by which these matters are left to a committee has worked well in the past. It is obviously necessary when making arrangements that seek to eliminate security risks as far as possible to take the convenience of Members of the House into account. Therefore, I think that it was very necessary that the consideration of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the difficulties that he and others faced with the new arrangement should be taken into account. As I understand it these have now been taken into account; whether that has been done to the noble Lord’s complete satisfaction, I am not absolutely certain. Anyway, I hope that that can be done.

These are lessons to be learnt in the way in which the committee may be administered. However, I do not believe that it is at all wise for us to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House, not because we cannot do so but because it is just unwise for us to do so. I hope that all of us may subscribe to that. I have every confidence in the committee and in Black Rod and in those who advise the committee on security matters. However, I do not believe that it would be at all advisable for us discuss these matters here. I hope that the noble Lord—for whom, as he knows, I have the greatest respect and affection—will find it a success that he has brought these matters so far to the attention of the House; that his difficulties will be considered even further if that is necessary; and that he will withdraw this Motion. I believe that that would be a sign of what I know he is: a very great man.

My Lords, this intervention will be very brief indeed. I speak as a member of the committee and I endorse totally the view, particularly of the right reverend Prelate, that it would not be appropriate for us to describe here the sort of threat that was described to the committee and which led to this decision being taken. It is important that Members of this House should understand, as others have said, that the committee’s decision was taken unanimously by the Chief Whips of all the three political parties, who were present, by the Convenor of the Cross Benches, by the right reverend Prelate and by the other Back-Bench Members such as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and myself.

I want to refer briefly to one issue that was raised in the committee but which has not been properly referred to today. The committee received representations from staff working in the west front of the building who were concerned about their security. They do not have a voice in this House unless someone here articulates that view for them. However, that point of view is one that we need to take into account as well. I certainly hope that my noble friend will not press his Motion but if he does I shall vote against it.

My Lords, I am grateful for the short debate that has taken place, and I shall attempt to deal with some of the questions that have been raised. I am very grateful to other members of the Administration and Works Committee: the noble Lord, Lord Laming, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for their support. As they have all said, it was a unanimous decision, taken after a great deal of consideration by the committee, that this was the way forward.

I am afraid that I cannot say that I agree with very much of what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said. First of all, I already addressed in my opening remarks the issue that it was not against the rules to talk about security. There was no rule against it, but it was undesirable to do so—and unwise to do so, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, have said. I could not follow, I am afraid, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about it being no secret that the cars are now searched at Black Rod’s Garden entrance. They are, and anybody can see that. We have no worry with the fact that anybody can see it. The whole point of this is that they were not searched at all before when they came into the car park.

There are no secrets to be revealed. Why is the noble Lord trying to stop us discussing something if nothing is secret?

I think that we have already dealt with that problem about the desirability. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, it really is not a good idea to talk about detailed security matters.

I take the point that the noble Baroness made about whether I should have made an Oral Statement on 9 February. Maybe I should have done, but I did give these details in the Written Statement. Although I know that we have only produced the new plan within the last day or two, the plan only reflects the details that I announced on 9 February. I really think that they will make an improvement to the situation. The taxi drop-off and collection lay-by will be much closer to the front door of your Lordships’ House. In fact, I am told that the distance from the new drop-off point will be almost exactly the same distance as going down one of the Division Lobbies. I noticed yesterday that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, voted several times in the Division Lobbies; the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has no doubt done so as well. It has been no worse than that.

I take up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, made. He is absolutely right, as I hinted in my opening remarks, that we have a responsibility to protect not only ourselves but everybody else working on and visiting the parliamentary estate. The remarks made by Members about the new arrangements have not gone unnoticed by staff of the House, who are understandably concerned about this matter. In fact, I understand that when the Lord Speaker attended an all-staff meeting on 13 January, two days after this issue was first raised on the Floor of the House, the very first question she was asked was whether, in light of those comments, the safety of the staff of the House was a priority. I think that from today’s debate we can confirm to the staff that it is indeed a priority. I really do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will feel able to withdraw his Motion.

My Lords, if there is one thing that this whole debate has told us, it is the ridiculous way in which this whole thing has been handled. Not a single word has been said in reply to the detailed comments made by my noble friend Lord Peston; we are just told that we should not discuss it, as the right reverend Prelate and others have said. However, nobody has answered in detail the points made by my noble friend Lord Peston. Of course we can discuss it. The idea that terrorists are idiots and think that you can get in only by taxi is so absurd that it does not bear contemplation for a moment. On 7 February, when the committee met and reviewed this as I had previously asked, the Chairman of Committees eventually told me that he had answered the point. How did he do it? It had been done in a Written Statement, deliberately to prevent us discussing it. That is why this House has never had an opportunity to debate this issue. We are told now, once again, briefly, that we should not discuss security. Yet nobody has said why we should not discuss security.

I am glad that I have opened this discussion and I hope that the matter will be handled in future rather better than it has been so far. An answer has never been given to us. When I am told that all the Chief Whips agree I immediately want to disagree. If they all agree then I know that something is wrong. They also do it secretly. When I described it as a secret I upset the Chairman of Committees—but what else was it? We were not told what they had discussed. I have never known a committee report to be answered by Written Statement. Eventually he had to tell me that the answer was there in a Written Statement. That is how it was done.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity of, I hope, eventually changing this whole process, and I hope that the matter is handled rather better in future. As I say, we have had a Black Rod in this House one way or the other since 1361. None of them felt it necessary to do what has been done today. They have put the fear of God into the committee—not into me but into the committee. I hope that no Member of this House thinks for a moment that they will not be affected by what the Chairman of Committees has said. However, I thank noble Lords who have spoken. With their permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.